In an era of polarization, there is very little middle ground; and yesterday the liberal Zionist group J Street offered an object lesson about this reality. Early yesterday morning the group’s student arm, J Street U, proudly tweeted that they would be attending a global summit against BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign aimed at Israel) at the United Nations that day. There was a photo of the young delegates, eager beavers at 6 in the morning.
To be sure, J Street opposes the Israeli occupation and the Israeli rightwing government. The students were affixing their own special message to their chests:
They were certainly taking a risk. The sponsors of the summit were rightwing pro-Israel groups who love the occupation. They included the feverish groups StandWithUs, the Zionist Organization of America, Camera, the Israel Project, and ACLJ (American Center for Law and Justice).
And sure enough, yesterday afternoon, when J Street reps said they were against the occupation, South Carolina State Rep. Alan Clemmons, a longtime opponent of BDS, called out from the stage, “You’re anti-Semitic.”
Every day, estab Jew ldrs tell me J Street shd do more re BDS. When
@jstreetu attends UN Summit, gets called anti Semitic, where’s estab?
Seems @RepAlanClemmons who called @jstreetu “anti-Semitic” at UN claim to fame is limiting voting in SC. He’s Jewish estab choice as ally?
Brooke Davies of J Street U wrote a post for J Street with the title that the summit empowered “fringe voices,” calling on Hillel and the Jewish Federations and other sponsors of the summit to “condemn the smear of J Street and J Street U.” She said why she went:
I was part of a delegation of J Street U student leaders who attended today’s anti-BDS Summit at the United Nations to engage with fellow pro-Israel advocates and to talk about effective strategies for countering the Global BDS Movement…
While we appreciated many of the perspectives that were shared at the summit, we were alarmed to see a platform given to a Republican state legislator who leveled a hateful attack on J Street, accusing J Street U’s pro-Israel, pro-peace students like us of supporting an “anti-Semitic” organization. At the same time, we were alarmed to see other speakers with long records of hateful rhetoric directed at Palestinians, Muslims and liberal American Jews given prominent roles at the summit.
These voices from the political fringes are the worst possible “Ambassadors Against BDS,” virtually guaranteed to alienate anyone with progressive values or real concerns about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict…
The only result of such an approach will be more and more young people giving up on Israel’s future.
What is fascinating to me is that if you watch the webcast of the morning plenary yesterday– hours before J Street was smeared to such outrage– Arab human rights leaders were smeared (as Davies acknowledges).
Danny Danon, the Israeli ambassador to the UN, calls Rima Khalaf an “anti-Semite.” Khalaf is a a former minister in the Jordanian government, and former head of a UN agency who resigned after submitting a report documenting an Israeli “apartheid regime.”
The great human rights activist Bassem Tamimi of Nabi Saleh, was denounced by Jay Sekulow of the ACLJ as a “terrorist” who encourages his children to throw rocks at Israeli soldiers.
Tamimi lives in a village whose lands and spring have been stolen by a Jewish settlement, Halamish. Tamimi is the hero of the wonderful new book on the Palestinian resistance to occupation, The Way to the Spring, by Ben Ehrenreich. Tamimi has toured the U.S. as a guest of Jewish Voice for Peace and Amnesty International. From JVP’s report:
Mr. Tamimi, who has been recognized as a human rights defender by the European Union in 2011, and declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International in 2012…
He relayed that despite everything he has endured – prison, paralysis, deaths of family members, and continuing brutal occupation – he believes and teaches his children that all people must love each other in order to bring about a world where there is peace and safety for all people.
In short, Tamimi is a John Lewis of the nonviolent resistance movement to occupation in Palestine. J Street’s friends are calling him a terrorist. Is this really the side they want to be on?
J Streets wants to fight BDS its own way. But this is what it means to fight BDS these days: going to an event with CAMERA and the Israel Project and Nikki Haley, heroine of AIPAC. Who else will they find for their coalition? Jeremy Ben-Ami warns the anti-BDS folks that if they don’t acknowledge the occupation, they’re going to lose. But those groups have defiantly made their choice on that question, and so has the Israeli government.
We have been saying that the polarization of the discourse in the Trump era has put the crunch on liberal Zionists. The rightwing Israeli government is more committed to the settlement project than ever, the 50th anniversary of the occupation is upon us, the U.S. government is only encouraging Israel; and meantime the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign aimed at Israel has been gaining strength; and Israeli leaders are crying out against it. There is less and less middle ground. There is a feeling that you’re either with Israel or against it.
P.S. I must say I was encouraged watching the Webcast. Advertised as Ambassadors against BDS, there were only two ambassadors there, Nikki Haley and Danon, and the whole event had a Soviet Politburo officialese alternative-fact feeling to it. We are alienated from world opinion but we’re gonna just keep carrying on. I imagine events in South Africa and the Jim Crow South had a similar atmosphere.