Today is a big day in the western movement for Palestinian solidarity. Why? Because of two important pieces published in the Jewish press explain that the BDS campaign, or boycott, divestment and sanctions, is gaining traction right here in River City. And it’s a measure of the poverty of the US mainstream press that this news comes to us from the Forward and Haaretz.
First, there is Nathan Guttman’s article at the Forward on Haim Saban and Sheldon Adelson’s secret conference in Las Vegas this weekend to organize efforts against BDS. “Will Sheldon Adelson’s Push To Fund Anti-BDS Campaign Backfire on Campus?” is the headline; and the answer is yes.
The piece is full of shocking information. The Clarion Project will be attending; this is a group that circulates Islamophobic bigotry. The leading Israel lobby group, AIPAC, American Israel Public Affairs Committee, will not be attending; neither will two Jewish organizations that have been spearheading anti-BDS work on campuses already (I’d provide the names but it’s alphabet soup, comrades). Liberal Zionist groups were written out of the meeting, which we are informed will have a Shabbos “goy” to run electric equipment on Saturday so that the religious don’t feel compromised.
And Saban/Adelson’s initiative is to be led by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. This is truly bizarre. Boteach is religiously conservative and self-aggrandizing, he wrote a book about Kosher Lust and tweet himself schmoozing Ted Cruz Tuesday night, above. Adelson is a fool about hiring. Look at his presidential appointees. The Forward piece contains a savage read on Boteach:
A senior pro-Israel communal official added: “Shmuley should stay out of our bedrooms, out of our foreign policy and away from our campuses. He misunderstands and disrupts all three.”
Never forget that Samantha Power, an eminent establishment figure, was compelled to hitch her cart to this man in order to live down her mild criticisms of Israel and gain the appointment as ambassador to the United Nations; and that tells you everything you ever needed to know about the bipartisan character of the rightwing Israel lobby.
Also notice the conference’s emphasis on money:
A five-hour “Mega Philanthropists Session,” scheduled at the very end of the conference, on Saturday, June 6, will then “develop the conceptual framework for the anti-BDS action plan, assign roles and responsibilities to pro-Israel organizations, and create an appropriate command-and-control system to implement it,” the program announces. Those attending this session must make a prior commitment for an “average donation of $1M over the next two years.”
But money has nothing to do with fighting BDS. Young Jews are surely nauseated by this endless talk of money. Guttman frames the question correctly, as an argument over principle:
“The question is, do the Adelsons and the [Adam] Milsteins of the world have the right approach to progressives and liberals to keep them away from BDS?” an official with a major Jewish organization asked.
Of course they don’t. BDS is attracting young progressive Americans, and American Jews, because it speaks to their values, and their desire to make a difference.
The second important piece today is by Peter Beinart, in Haaretz and called, “The era of Iran is over; the age of BDS begins.” It says that the pro-Israel community organized around the supposed Iran threat for 25 years, now it’s turning to face the BDS threat. The strength of Beinart’s piece is his crystal-clear analysis and honesty about the importance of BDS.
“If American Jewish groups began focusing on the Iranian threat once the Israeli-Palestinian peace process was born, BDS is growing in large measure because the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has died,” he writes.
He also says that the three planks of the BDS campaign (end occupation, end discrimination in Israel, honor the right of return) unite the three Palestinian communities (West Bank, Israeli, exile) in a way that their leaders have failed to do.
Jewish Voice for Peace is now at the forefront of progressive Jewish organizing in the U.S. and J Street is a side show:
Already, BDS is changing the landscape of organized American Jewish life. First, it is making Washington less important, which may make AIPAC less important…
The second consequence of the rise of BDS will be to increase the prominence of Jewish Voices [sic] for Peace. Right now, many establishment-minded American Jews don’t know what JVP is. In their mind, J Street still represents American Jewry’s left flank. But as the only significant American Jewish group to support BDS, Jewish Voices for Peace will grow in prominence as the movement itself does. Already, non-Jewish BDS activists cite JVP as evidence that American Jews do not monolithically oppose their cause. The more that mainstream American Jews hear this, the more enraged at JVP they will become. How exactly that rage will express itself, I don’t know. But as JVP grows, its battles with the American Jewish establishment will make those of J Street look tame.
Is Beinart so competitive that he can’t get JVP’s name right?
But his piece goes straightforwardly to the right place: the battle over “Zionism itself,” and over Israeli policies — in immigration and public life — that privilege Jews. He ends with the challenge we have many times posed to Beinart and to others in the liberal Zionist establishment: justify Zionism. Explain why an ideology of Jewish privilege is legitimate in this age, let alone call itself “liberal.”
Justifying Zionism to liberals is not an impossible task. But neither is it intellectually or morally simple. And it will require establishment-minded American Jews to defend principles they have long taken for granted. Of all the BDS movement’s consequences for American Jews, that may prove the most significant of all.
I say it is impossible. The deliverance story of European Jewry that Beinart tells is a measure of his filial piety (he’s an overly-mature guy who gives a ton of weight to his grandparents’ story) but it doesn’t resonate for young liberal American Jews. They want a movement that reflects their experience, of enlarging the communities that are able to have human rights.
This awareness is surely dawning on Beinart himself. I say the day will come when he comes out as a cultural Zionist and endorses BDS, but with a stipulation or two.
Why isn’t Beinart writing for the New Yorker? His stuff has run in the New York Review of Books and Haaretz, but not in the tribune of the U.S. establishment. The New Yorker chose the wrong Zionist horse: Ari Shavit’s revival Zionism. It is time to pivot to Peter Beinart wandering in the desert.
One other thing: Beinart credits Trita Parsi’s great book The Treacherous Alliance for its analysis of the usefulness of the Iranian threat to the Jewish establishment. But he leaves out the most disturbing claim in that book, that radical Islam became the needed “glue” for the special relationship between the U.S. and Israel in the 1990s, after the Cold War ended, and Israel was no longer our aircraft carrier in the Middle East. So the clash of civilizations and all that came with it was orchestrated to some degree by Zionists fearful that Israel’s security and the U.S’s could no longer be conflated. Well look, they’re still conflated. They occupy, we occupy, they drone, we drone. Just what the neocons wanted.
Thanks to Annie Robbins.