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Boycott Calls Against Israel
How to Fight BDS? A Guide for the Perplexed - Readers Comments


Editorial Note

The series has generated a large number of comments from our readers.  Since we could not respond to each individual comment, there are two broad categories of issues that the readers brought up.


First, there are those who expressed frustration that our series is called a Guide but has no suggestions for fighting BDS beyond pointing out the “negatives,” as they put it. The name Guide was a slightly humorous reference to the Guide for the Perplexed by Maimonides.  The title was meant to map out the contours of the BDS movement and its academic-intellectual roots, the complexity of the issues involved, and the cost and benefit calculations that need to be made when considering options.   The Guide is a much needed map for what is now a quite loosely constructed endeavor, with groups and individual players touting their own diagnoses and, more important, their alleged success in fighting BDS.  Unsurprisingly, BDS is mostly commonly diagnosed as subspecies of anti-Semitism and has generated a long list of conferences, workshops, books and articles on the subject.  While there is some overall between anti-Semitism and BDS, a much broader perspective needs to be adopted to fight the BDS phenomenon.  Our post is aimed to stimulate the discourse on the issue.


Second, some readers sent us their own plans for fighting BDS.  These readers also criticized the Israeli government for not leading the anti-BDS effort.   As we empathized before, there are a number of bodies in the Israeli government that are in charge of fashioning and implementing anti-BDS infinitives.  However, the efforts have been stalled because of bureaucratic turf war and the lack of agreement as to who are potential partners.  For instance, the professional staff of the Foreign Ministry are inclined to include the liberal J-Street, but political appointees oppose the group. 


Third, some readers seem to be confused about the remarkable pluralism of the American Jewish community on campus and beyond which is expressed in attitudes toward BDS.  By and large, American Jews tend to be secularized – a trend that is reflected in their solid pro-Democratic voting record. For instance, the more recent annual survey conducted by the American Jewish Committee, indicates that only 20 percent identify themselves as conservative or leaning conservative, with the rest self-described as moderate and liberal.   Given this make-up, Israel has become a highly polarizing issue in the community at large and on campus in particular, as we reported before.   The  respectable Jerusalem-based Jewish People Policy Institute conducted its own survey that concluded that  “Diaspora Jewry is increasingly critical of Israel and young Diaspora Jews are growing more alienated from the Jewish state.”   


The polarizing effect of Israel is not limited to BDS alone.  The nuclear accord between Iran and the P5+1 (United States, Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany), which Israel has bitterly opposed, has fractured the community.  In spite of the fact that major Jewish organizations are lobbying Congress against approving the accord, the majority of American Jews support the agreement, according to a recent poll.  In this sense, J-Street which is lobbying for the passage of the accord, seems to be more in tune with the majority of the American Diaspora.   A recent poll conducted by Steven Cohen, a leading expert on attitudes of American Jews, found that 49 percent of American Jews support it and 35 percent oppose it. But among the younger cohorts (below 40), 59 percent support it and 25 oppose it.  The disparity between the older generation and the younger American Jews should not come as a surprise as the 2013 Pew survey clearly demonstrated the emotional disengagement of younger Jews from Israel.  


This psychological distancing of the younger cohorts has a subtle but large impact on the BDS wars on campus.   The experience of Eliora Katz, a graduate student, is imperative in this context.  Katz wrote about the tense atmosphere on campus: “Most of all, we pay for it through the deep divide it has created within the Jewish community outside of Israel. Israel was once a unifying factor for Jews— secular or religious, Ashkenazi or Sephardi. Yet growing up in a post-intifada era, I have seen the Jewish Homeland transformed before my very eyes into a source of deep, acute division, a source of hatred and deplorable behavior [among Jews].   While anti-BDS activists like Katz battle it out with Jewish BDS supporters, other Jewish students have chosen to dissociate.    


Study: World Jewry increasingly critical of Israel

Study by Jewish People Policy Institute claims Diaspora Jews doubt Israel truly wishes to reach a peace deal with the Palestinians.

By JTA | Jul. 24, 2015 | 2:19 PM |  

Diaspora Jewry is increasingly critical of Israel and young Diaspora Jews are growing more alienated from the Jewish state, a new study has found.

The study, released this week by the Jewish People Policy Institute, an influential think tank based in Jerusalem, comes a year after Israel’s war in Gaza. Titled “Jewish Values and Israel’s Use of Force in Armed Conflict: Perspectives from World Jewry,” the report looks at how non-Israeli Jews view Israeli military actions and how Diaspora Jews should respond.

Diaspora Jews tend to support and understand the military actions, the study found, but also “doubt that Israel truly wishes to reach a peace settlement with the Palestinians.” The study added that “few believe it is making the necessary effort to achieve one,” particularly among younger Jews.

Israel’s military actions affect them, Diaspora Jews said, whether exposing them to physical attacks or changing their interactions with non-Jews. The study said that many Jews feel uncomfortable with being forced to serve as “ambassadors” for Israel.

Because of the effect that Israel’s actions have on their lives, according to the study, Diaspora Jews said they want Israel to consult Diaspora Jewry on sensitive issues.

The study was based on discussion groups with Diaspora Jews, as well as questionnaires and survey analysis.



BDS is driving a wedge between Diaspora Jews

On U.S. college campuses, the situation is particularly painful.

By Eliora Katz | Jul. 1, 2015 | 2:00 PM |

“My heart is in the East and I’m furthest West.” As a Diaspora Jew who must endure never-ending winters in Chicago, this now platitudinous lamentation by Yehuda Halevi strikes a chord with me. To cope with my displaced heart, I eat at Middle Eastern restaurants, listen to Israeli radio live on my iPhone, and cleave to the sounds of Hebrew, which is why, naturally, I have befriended the closest thing I have to Florentine — the Israeli graduate student community at the University of Chicago.

Recently, I found myself at a goodbye party for one of these students. I introduced myself to various people, making brief congenial small talk, and was happy to finally meet faces I had seen so frequently around campus.

Late in the night, the party was in full swing. Laughter and casual innuendo permeated the spaces between swaying bodies and intoxicating rhythms. I was engrossed in flirtatious repartee with a charming French exchange student, when suddenly, a girl I had briefly talked with earlier interrupted our conversation:

“I don’t know who invited you, but you’re not welcome here. Get out, you Zionist who writes from your Jewish privilege here in this country against my Palestinian friends."

The floodgates of my tears were opened.

She was referring to my article about anti-Semitic events ensuing from the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, but I have never written about my political convictions – pro-two state or one state, anti-occupation, pro-settlement or otherwise. One's political position is irrelevant to their experience of anti-Semitism.

The girl seemed to be treating me as Sheldon Adelson incarnate, as if I embody the rich and powerful establishment in this country that supports “evil” Israel. I must say, I found it ironic that I, a Mizrahi Jew, was being attacked by a white Ashkenazi Israeli several years my senior on the grounds of my privilege. But more to the point, what did this accusation of Jewish Privilege consist of if not an age-old anti-Semitic canard, dressed in contemporary liberal terminology, that Jews are wealthy and have sinister power?

Furthermore, isn't Jewish Privilege something I am born into – an inescapable set of circumstances? If everything I say or do as a Jew is an act of Jewish Privilege, the term becomes harnessed as a tool to silence pro-Jewish voices — I can neither say nor do anything except condemn the “occupation.” But even then, am I not doing so from a position of Jewish Privilege?

A mutual friend told me that that he didn’t agree with her action, but that he understood where she, a BDS activist, was coming from. He didn’t like the analogy, but to her, seeing me there was like having a Nazi at your party.

So that's what a pro-Israel American Jew who doesn’t actively write against the occupation is, a Nazi?

The concept of the “Good Arab” is well known. Arab-Israelis like Sayed Kashua and Norman Issa who are successful in Israeli society and are loved by Israelis and Jews alike. Implicit in this concept is the notion that these Arabs are in a sense complicit with Israeli oppression and as such are turning their backs on “Bad Arabs” who resist it.

But today, there is also the “Good Jew,” like the girl at the party. The Good Jew shows the world she’s morally superior to Israelis living beyond the Green Line and American Jews who support them. The Good Jew qualifies every statement with disgust toward Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel’s human rights record. The Good Jew refuses to go on Birthright because it’s unfair that the program is only for members of the Tribe. The Good Jew calls pro-Israel students “Hasbara Machines.” The Good Jew looks at Sheldon Adelson with disgust, and talks of perilous “Jewish money” and “Jewish Privilege.”

I have been to plenty of parties where I was the only person who didn’t use the word “Zionist” as a curse, and I have plenty of friends that are graduate students in Middle Eastern studies or fellow Iranians whom I completely disagree with on Israel, but that has never disrupted our friendship or the common decency by which we interact. As such, when the girl at the party confronted me, what disturbed me more than her accusations about my Jewish Privilege-inspired views on anti-Semitism was the fact that the criticism came from a fellow Jew; an Israeli nonetheless.

Benny Ziffer recently wrote in Haaretz that for Israeli BDS activists, the “boycott seeks to glorify the boycotter far more than it wishes truly to punish the boycotted.” If the boycott elevates the boycotter more than it reprimands Israel and its settlement policy, then who does it really hurt? Who really pays the price of BDS?

The answer is Diaspora Jewry. We pay for it every time a swastika is painted on a fraternity door after BDS passes in student governments, as happened at UC Davis and Stanford. We pay for it when our colleges become battlegrounds over Middle East policy and stages for mock checkpoints and “die-ins.” We pay for it when donors pour money into this fight when we would all much rather be doing better things with our time and resources.

Most of all, we pay for it through the deep divide it has created within the Jewish community outside of Israel. Israel was once a unifying factor for Jews— secular or religious, Ashkenazi or Sephardi. Yet growing up in a post-intifada era, I have seen the Jewish Homeland transformed before my very eyes into a source of deep, acute division, a source of hatred and deplorable behavior. Abraham Lincoln said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” With the challenges our community faces from external elements, we simply cannot afford to erode from within.

Eliora Katz is an undergraduate studying Economics, Philosophy and Persian at the University of Chicago. You can follow her on Twitter at @ElioraKatz.

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