In 2005, one hundred seventy Palestinian civil society organizations began a global non-violent boycott, divestment and sanction movement (BDS) aimed at forcing Israel to abide by international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. BDS has since become a major factor in the ‘Israel debate’ as it has opened new possibilities for global civil society to stand in solidarity with Palestinians under occupation. Palestinian non-violence, which is under constant threat due to Israeli military repression in the West Bank, is going global through BDS. Just as the Israeli military fears non-violent demonstrations on the ground since they highlight the true exploitative dimensions of the conflict, the traditional Israel lobbies in the United States fear BDS as it highlights the weak arguments given for extensive support of Israel.
The ‘pro-peace, pro-Israel’ group J Street hosted a debate recently at Princeton University to discuss the ethics and efficacy of the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) movement. The panel of speakers included the author and journalist Max Blumenthal, Jewish Voices for Peace executive director Rebecca Vilkomerson and J Street U director Daniel May. Blumenthal and Vilkomerson both spoke forcefully about the laundry list of Israeli crimes against the Palestinians as well as the inability of a western state to call itself ‘democratic and religious.’
Max Blumenthal’s take on Daniel May’s speech captures its tone better than I can,
“Tragically, May’s case — and by extension, J Street’s case — against BDS boiled down to the Bible and the Holocaust: BDS undermines the 2000-year-old dream that Jews supposedly have of “returning to Israel,” he said, and it denies the persecution Jews have suffered “everywhere they went,” especially in Europe during the Holocaust. Aside from a few token nods May made to the Palestinian popular struggle (which ironically is linked the BDS movement), his case against BDS seemed contrived to trigger the most base emotional responses from Jewish-Americans, especially those who had been subjected to sustained Zionist conditioning.”
Palestinian non-violence and BDS are doing what armed resistance never could; holding a mirror to the face of Israeli propaganda. Companies and cultural groups across the world decline to deal with Israel over it’s inability to behave like a civilized country. However, U.S.- Israel lobbies are still using passe emotional devices like Holocaust guilt to attack BDS and by extension Palestinian non-violence. Palestinian non-violence is viable and growing despite violent Israeli repression. BDS is the global face of Palestinian non-violence and will continue to force groups like JStreet to either confront Israel directly on its behavior or become a gentle arm of Israeli propaganda in the United States. The question, as far as I am concerned, is whether American Jews support Palestinian non-violence. The answer seems to be no which means that any form of challenge to the status quo of Israel’s occupation will be met with attack. The BDS debate is where this issue is unfolding. For more on the Princeton event, please visit Max’s blog.