Over the weekend, The New York Times ran a full-page “explainer” about the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign targeting Israel under the headline, “Is BDS Anti-Semitic? A Closer Look at the Boycott Israel Campaign.” We were surprised — and pleased — that the piece was as fair as it was.
The biggest problem with the article is the headline/framing. The Times would never run an article asking, “Is Zionism Racist?” — although there is plenty of evidence that Jewish nationalism is as inherently intolerant of non-Jews as white nationalism is of people of color.
But the article does include many paragraphs that are fair. Just look at this one. The Times acknowledges that the demand by the BDS campaign for “full equality” for Palestinian citizens of Israel is threatening to Zionists.
But many Israelis say the movement’s real goal is the elimination of Israel as a Jewish state. Full equality for Arab citizens of Israel would require overturning or amending Israeli laws that grant Jews automatic citizenship and define Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
Reasonable readers are sure to ask, If a state is premised on inequality, what kind of state is it? As the Times suggests, discrimination is embedded in Israel’s laws. The nation-state law is a “basic law,” said to be equivalent to a constitution. In Israel, Jews have more rights than the 20-25 percent of the population that is non-Jewish, and the millions of Palestinians under occupation are denied rights altogether.
No wonder Palestinians support BDS, something else the Times points out.
Within the West Bank and Gaza, sponsors include a broad coalition of unions and nongovernmental organizations. B.D.S. enjoys at least the tacit support of a large majority of Palestinians, according to Khalil Shikaki, a Ramallah-based pollster.
NYT reporters Michael Wines, David Halbfinger and Steven Erlanger are also fair to the campaign by showing that a lot of liberal Jews support BDS!
Elsewhere, it appeals to those, including a significant number of politically liberal Jews, who are frustrated by the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, and the blockade and frequent bloodshed in Gaza.
The reasonable reader is bound to wonder, If a large majority of Palestinians support it, as do many liberal Jews — why have 27 state legislatures in the United States and the House of Representative tried to crush BDS? Because the political problem is here, too.
BDS is not very “entrenched in the U.S.,” the Times says, but it sees “significant” support for the campaign:
[T]he idea has significant support, and may be gaining ground. A survey released in February suggested that one in five Americans approved of B.D.S. as a way of opposing Israeli policy toward Palestinians. A December 2018 University of Maryland poll of a much larger sample put support at 40 percent.
Forty percent! Yet the House voted last week 398-17 against BDS with leading Jewish organizations pushing for the measure. And btw, the article says that many Americans support BDS to pressure Israel to end the occupation.
There are many concerns with the article. It offers a partial quotation of Omar Barghouti’s opposition to a Jewish state, and fails to report Barghouti’s complete statement: he opposes a Jewish state in Palestine for the same reasons that he would object to a Christian or Muslim state. Barghouti has an op-ed in The Nation explaining that AIPAC circulated a redacted transcript of his remarks.
The Times article also states that there “is some overlap between support for B.D.S. and anti-Semitism,” along with a photo of desecrated Jewish graves, but never substantiates that claim.
Today, maybe the Times started to get cold feet, even though Hasbara Central has been remarkably quiet so far. The paper partly walked back its “explainer” by running an op-ed from Eric Alterman of The Nation attacking BDS as politically “insignificant.” Alterman’s piece includes one key comment that undermines his central argument.
Representative Brad Schneider, the Democratic co-sponsor of the House anti-B. D. S. bill, admits: “Am I worried about the overall B.D.S. movement worldwide as an economic matter? No. As an effort to delegitimize Israel, of course.”
That of course is why the Israelis are going haywire over BDS. They see it as enormously potent in raising consciousness about Israel and Zionism in just the way the NYT explainer article helped to raise consciousness. Reminder: Full equality for Palestinian citizens is a threat to “the Jewish state.”
A commenter on Alterman’s post, Merlot in Philadelphia, points out the effectiveness of BDS:
Tens of millions of dollars have been given by pro-Israel donors like [Haim] Saban and [Sheldon] Adelson to counter BDS.
If BDS is so ineffectual, why spend so much time, effort, and money countering the movement? The reality is that BDS has significantly shifted debates. It has placed Palestinian voices at the fore and it has brought forward Israeli abuses. All of that at a time when Israel is becoming more repressive.
Alterman cites two rightwing Republicans approvingly, on the same AIPAC talking point about Barghouti:
[Senator Mitch] McConnell and [Rep. Kevin] McCarthy are not wrong to remind us that “Omar Barghouti, one of the movement’s co-founders, proclaimed in 2013 that ‘no Palestinian — rational Palestinian, not a sell-out Palestinian — will ever accept a Jewish state in Palestine.’”
Alterman is a professor, called “Dr. Alterman” in the Times‘s description of him. As such, maybe he should have learned to go to the source of the quotation — Omar Barghouti himself — instead of relying on a couple of Republican political hacks. Here is Barghouti’s full statement:
A Jewish state in Palestine in any shape or form cannot but contravene the basic rights of the land’s indigenous Palestinian population and perpetuate a system of racial discrimination that ought to be opposed categorically. As we would oppose a Muslim state or a Christian state, or any kind of exclusionary state, definitely, most definitely we oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine. No Palestinian — rational Palestinian, not a sell-out Palestinian — would ever accept a Jewish state in Palestine.
This ought to be fairly obvious to anyone calling themselves liberal. We think almost all Americans would not accept a religious state in our own borders. So you must ask yourself: If no Palestinians will accept a “Jewish state” in Palestine — is there something wrong with the idea?
H/t Donald Johnson, Scott Roth, Phil Weiss.