Addressing Israel’s addiction to settlements

A former J Street leader explains why he became a supporter of BDS.

By Seth Morrison

Many of us have friends or family who suffer from addiction, and all too often it is only when we cut them off and stop enabling their negative behavior that things can actually change. It is that model of tough love that led me to become a BDS supporter.

Unfortunately the Middle East peace talks started with the best of intentions by President Obama and Secretary Kerry are dead – a victim of Israel’s unfettered development of illegal settlements and Netanyahu’s decision to go back on his promise to free Palestinian prisoners. There is no longer any doubt that Israel has become addicted to settlements, occupation of Palestinian territory and to treating the 23 percent of Israelis who are not Jewish as second-class citizens.

I am a Reconstructionist Jew from Long Island, now living outside Washington DC and for most of my life I was active in Jewish and Zionist activities – as a member, leader and regional director for Young Judaea and over the years as an activist and leader in the American Zionist Federation, local Jewish Federations, JNF, the New Israel Fund, J Street and the Friends of the Arava Institute. For the majority of my life the Zionist perspective on Israel and Palestine was how I understood the situation and targeted my activism.

As I became more involved my eyes were opened by a combinations of factors, involvement in the New Israel Fund, work with well know Israeli peace activist Gershon Baskin – a member of Young Judaea when I was a leader – and work on environmental issues and co-existence with the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies since it was founded in 1996.

As the chair of the Washington DC Metro Chapter of J Street I attended many meetings where we were told that we must oppose any form of BDS because it was anti-Semitic and would only make things worse. That sounded good until I realized that in spite of my years of work in progressive organizations, my donations to left-wing Israeli causes and a lot of lobbying in Congress, I was actually enabling the status quo.

There has been lots of propaganda equating BDS with anti-Semitism but let’s look at the facts. Boycott is a completely legitimate political and economic tactic.  From the nearly world-wide boycott of South Africa – which Israel frequently violated – to the recent Hollywood boycott of hotels owned by the Sultan of Brunei, from the Montgomery Alabama bus boycott to Caesar Chavez’s grape boycott the tactic has been widely used to protest against injustice.

My friends at J Street and in so-called liberal Zionist organizations advocate that Israel should be exempt from boycotts based on a theory that BDS will somehow make things worse.  How is that possible when Israel has built thousands of new settlement homes while supposedly negotiating peace?  When Palestinian lands are confiscated and used to build Jewish only communities?

It is sad that the Jewish values I have been taught throughout my life are ignored when it comes to treatment of the Palestinians. The Torah teaches us to welcome the stranger, to treat employees fairly, not to steal, not to covet etc.  With no signs that Israel will take any meaningful steps to end the occupation I see no alternative.

This week I’m in Detroit attending the General Assembly of the Presbyterian  Church to share my perspective ahead of a vote on divestment from companies enabling the occupation. I made this trip because it is essential that individuals and organizations considering BDS recognize the depth of Israel’s addiction to the occupation and the importance role tough love can play in ending it.

Seth Morrison has held leadership posts in various local, regional and national Jewish organizations starting in college as a youth leader in Young Judea.  He is also active in LGBTQ organizations and local politics in Northern Virginia.  Professionally, Morrison is a consultant specializing in marketing and strategic planning for both for and non-profit organizations.

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