(Delivered on a panel at the J Street Conference on February 29, 2011)
On National Public Radio there was a project called “in this I believe” in which a variety of well-known and less well-know people described principles which helped guide their lives. In Hebrew, you refer to your “Ani Ma’amin” – I believe or my beliefs. I am going to start with my “in this I believe” to provide context to my brief opening remarks.
• I am a life-long Zionist and I view Zionism as the national liberation movement of the Jewish people
• I wrote my first editorial against the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and in favor of a Palestinian State in 1971 in our student newspaper, the Berkeley Jewish Radical
• I want to choose the most effective path to bring a two state solution
With that in mind, I will share my view on the BDS movement and BDS as a tactic.
The global BDS movement is a loose international network whose objective, by their own admission, is not ending the occupation as way of bringing about a two state solution. Instead they support the establishment of one state between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. They call for boycotts of Israeli products and Israeli academics, as well as divestment from companies doing business in Israel. They call on dock workers to refuse to unload ships arriving from Israel. This is an easy one for me; I can see no common cause with these people.
You then have those people who support a two state solution and propose using selected BDS tactics as a way of ending the occupation. While I understand the motivation of these activists, I think they are using the wrong tactics and will not help further their objective. Let me explain.
BDS tactics are by their very nature negative and one-sided, ignoring how complicated the situation really is. I will share a couple of examples.
First of all, boycotting of West Bank products.
I just returned from a visit to Israel yesterday, and while there I met with Talal Nasirudden, CEO of BirZeit Pharmaceuticals, and Avi Nudelman of the Israeli-Palestinian Chamber of Commerce. Together, they want to bring more Israeli businesses to the West Bank, not less, to employ Palestinians in production. During our conversation, Talal complained about the remaining restrictions on movement on the West Bank and other Israeli measures that impede economic progress. He also emphasized that without political progress, the economic advances are meaningless. However, he emphasized to me that the economies of Israel and Palestine will be intertwined. A boycott now hurts their efforts to build these economic ties and actually puts Palestinians out of work.
Secondly, I want address the popular campus tactic of calling for divestment from companies which provide military equipment to Israel. The rationale is that the weapons are used to maintain the occupation. The problem with this concept is that the same equipment they want to block is also used to defend Israel against Hezbullah sending some of their current arsenal of 45,000 rockets into Israel. The newer ones can now reach as far as Tel Aviv. I visited the Lebanese border last week, and as Tzippi Livne, Israel’s opposition leader, likes to say, Israel lives in a tough neighborhood. I, for one, am not prepared to participate in efforts that are aimed to deprive her of her ability to defend herself.
In addition. I believe that BDS plays into the hands of the “us against them” mentality promoted by the Israeli extreme right and the Diaspora Jewish right, and makes the attacks against Israel the topic of discussion, rather than the occupation or the search for peace. In this way, the BDS movement is not only ineffective but negatively impacts two state activists in Israel and abroad.
In short, it is a distraction from the critical effort of bringing peace.
I am not suggesting that you sit on your hands: there are alternative ways to express opposition to the occupation and support a two state solution. While I don’t have time to go into all of the options, here a few ways that we can express our opinion and support those who represent our values.
• You can support organizations involved with the Israeli peace camp, influencing public opinion both in Israel and here.
• You can publicize and support the activities of the demonstrators at Sheik Jarrah you heard about Saturday night as well as other grassroot activists.
• You can learn about TULIP – Trade Unions United for Israel and Palestine – and connect labor unions to their efforts. TULIP supports the efforts of Israel’s Histadrut and the PGTU, the Palestinian General Trade Union, to find points of cooperation, like improving cross-border trucking coordination. BTW, this is why the PGTU is uncomfortable with the BDS movement; it negatively impacts the lives of the Palestinian workers.
• Israel is a democracy and there is a direct way to impact the decision making process. Americans can donate to Israeli political campaigns!
• And of course, you can impact the U.S. gov’t through J Street.
As I mentioned in my opening, I am personally marking 40 years in my efforts to end the occupation. For this reason, I am laser focused on this task and I support all constructive efforts to achieve that goal. I just don’t think BDS are among them.