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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.

After Kerry, only BDS may save the two-state solution
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First do no harm, J Street

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    1. Danny

      As an Israeli Jew, I support BDS 100%. BDS is a non-violent response to Israel’s exceedingly violent occupation and apartheid policies, and should therefore be considered the de facto measure to bring these policies to an end. I, for one, refrain from buying any product that is manufactured in Israel (not just the occupied territories), and wholly support a ban on all Israeli products so long as Israel continues to break, and refuses to adhere to, international law.

      And if you still have doubt about the morality of BDS – just listen to Israel’s demagogue-in-chief’s reaction to it: If he seems to be up-in-arms about it (and he does), you know it is good and it is working. Indeed, BDS is keeping him up at night, and I would support it only for the pleasure of denying him sleep.

      BDS on!

      Reply to Comment
      • Ginger Eis

        Danny the Jihadi, so now you are “an Israeli Jew”? Wow, what a transformation; what’s the rationale behind your announcement? “An Israeli Jew” that has explicitly called for the murder of Israeli Jews? “An Israeli Jew” that has explicitly called on others to “knock the teeth off” of Israeli Jews? “An Israeli Jew” that has explicitly called on others to “break the hands of” Israeli Jews and welcomes Hezbollah attack on Israel? “An Israeli Jew” that is now calling for collapsing the entire Israeli economy and by necessity the demise of the State Of Israel? Indeed, Danny the Jihadi, you are one hell of “an Israeli Jew”, as Jewish as Achmed Tibi – you little piece of shit!. No kidding!

        Reply to Comment
    2. Bar

      BDS is most certainly anti-Semitic. It is also, very precisely, a Palestinian political construct. Nothing you write will change those two pertinent facts.

      Go ahead and explain how it is Israel that needs to boycotted before China is boycotted – a country where 1.4 billion live under authoritarian rule, thousands of political dissidents are killed and Tibet lives under a true occupation with movement of a population that has entirely changed its demographics and culture. Or Iran, a country that tortures and kills political dissidents and gays.

      You can’t.

      Explain to us all which other country in the world has been under constant military and political pressure for decades and yet has maintained its democracy? You can’t. Explain which country has sought to offer land for peace on numerous occasions, without any boycott but primarily because it wishes to end the conflict? You can’t.

      As I write, in Iraq and Syria, murderous wars rage. In Egypt and Jordan, brutal authoritarian regimes thrive. In Crimea, Russia has just taken over land that belongs to another state, without getting into its actions in places such as Chechnya. This being a country where members of the opposition find themselves targeted for fake criminal trials and imprisoned for years.

      The list goes on and on and on. But you target Israel, a country that legitimately is threatened by numerous enemies including the Palestinians.

      Reply to Comment
      • Danny

        Hi hasBARrist,

        How do I know you are a hasbarist foot soldier? Simple – when you start making the “why us but not China” arguement, the same one used by your demagogue-in-chief and his numerous foot soldiers here and abroad, I know you are a hasbarist.

        Here’s the thing about China and Russia – when Israel becomes a self-sufficient global power that is able to produce most, if not all, of its needs, not requiring annual handouts in the form of cash and weapons, and independent of a U.S. veto that artificially keeps its had above water, then you can start to compare yourself to China and Russia.

        By the way, that’s pretty good company to keep – those great countries China and Russia. It really shows what you hasbarists (and your leader, the demagogue-in-chief) are made of by your constant wish to become more like those countries.

        Reply to Comment
        • Bar

          Right. So on the one hand, these are significant and established countries and on the other hand, comparing them to Israel proves Israel is like them. You’re not very clever are you?

          China is completely dependent on trade with other countries. Russia is completely dependent on its fuel sales to other countries. Boycotts would be extremely effective. Their violations of human rights make anything that happens in Israel a minor joke.

          But you’d like me to compare Israel to Belgium or France, presumably. Guess what? Neither country sits across from numerous hostile enemies or has had to do so for decades as Israel has. It’s quite easy to say that Switzerland or Canada don’t do certain things, but they are also in entirely different sets of circumstances.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ginger Eis

            China vs. Israel, casu quo Russia vs. Israel

            1. Population: China = 1,349,585,838. Israel = 7,707,042;
            2. Life Expectancy: China = 74.990 years. Israel : 81.170 years;
            3. Human Development Index: China = 0.762. Israel: 0.93;
            4. Literacy Rate: China = 90.9%. Israel = 97.1%;
            5. GDP per capita: China =$9,300 US. Israel = $32,800 US;
            6. External Debt: China = $770,800,000,000. Israel = $94,340,000,000;
            7. Political System: China = communist dictatorship. Israel = representative democracy.’

            Russia is doing worse than China against Israel. Indeed, Jihadis “are not very clever”. And you can’t fix stupid.

            Reply to Comment
          • un2here

            Which canton in Switzerland could you possibly ethnically cleanse without finding yourself surrounded by enemies? Honestly, I would really like to know since this sounds like quite easy money. Please help?

            Reply to Comment
          • Bar

            Well, you could empty a few countries in Europe of all their Jews, steal their property or buy it for a song and then lecture their descendants about “ethnic cleansing” for daring to defend themselves in a war of ethnic cleansing launched by their enemies who numbered in the tens of millions vs. their hundreds of thousands.

            Oh and if you really want to talk about Europe, do let us know how horribly Russia is suffering for its actions in Crimea. Next thing you know they’ll have to sign huge trade agreement with the Chinese as a consequence.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ginger Eis

            Un2here, honestly, if Israel acts like the barbarians in Europe and the Muslim world, the Arabs in Judea & Samaria would have been gone – a long time ago. The reality of Arabs in Judea & Samaria refutes your false (implied) claims: (a) the Arab population in Judea & Samaria grows at roughly the same rate or more as Israel’s population and (b) the Arabs build new villages and towns/cities in Judea & Samaria, they multiply and prosper in Judea & Samaria as well as in Israel proper, etc. Your accusation of “ethnic cleansing” has no basis in facts and as such a complete product of hate and envy. Watch. And Weep: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=86wZ0eOOrJM

            Reply to Comment
      • andrew r

        Go ahead and explain how it is Israel that needs to boycotted before China is boycotted

        Actually, it’s very simple: Low income families rely on basic needs produced by third world sweatshops (Welcome to Wally World) while most of the Israeli goods targeted for boycott are trinkets like Soadstream and Sabra Hummus. But if you think China should be boycotted, run that by the Isr. Defense Ministry. This isn’t the first diplomatic row over Israel selling high-tech junk to China.


        Reply to Comment
        • Ginger Eis

          Adrew R, argumentum ad non sequitur! What you offer is an excuse not a reason. As you make excuse for China, so can excuse also be made for Israel. The length you guys go to rationalize your abusive behavior towards Israel shows really how biased you are. Btw, it seems that you, like most BDSers, have no idea of the Israel economy. If your are serious about boycotts, stop buying flash drives/USB-sticks and throw away the ones you already have (!) because those products are NOT Japanese- or German technology, they are Israeli! (Let’s see how you cope after that. And this is just one of hundreds of examples).

          Reply to Comment
          • andrew r

            Yeah Ginger, and where do you think the flash drives are assembled? You might find Israeli high-tech will suffer from a boycott of China no less than if Israel were the direct target.

            Reply to Comment
    3. Gaudi

      Israel pays no price for the occupation and gains a lot.

      A boycott will change this math dramatically, aligning the incentives correctly. It is the fastest, most peaceful way to end the occupation.

      This is why the prime demagogue and his army of hasbarists are so freaked out.

      Reply to Comment
      • Bar

        Um, the Rolling Stones were just in Israel, Soundgarden is coming, the Pixies are coming, Horizon 2020 was just signed with the EU, trade relations with Asian countries are expanding and on US campuses, BDS has lost more times than it has won and student boards are becoming pretty sick and tired of the abuse of their time which should be used to take care of their constituents instead of unresolvable conflicts halfway around the world.

        Reply to Comment
        • Bar, you make some excellent points. But I wish you weren’t anonymous, as far too many commenters on articles choose to be (especially cowards who would be unlikely to write half of what they do if their names were provided). Have you considered standing behind your words with your identity. Cheers.

          Reply to Comment
          • Bar

            I have considered using my real name and may do so at some point. This is the internet and nobody gives you brownie points for using your real name, unless you make your living writing about the conflict. I don’t (though it would be nice to actually be paid to research and write!!!). I do use a real email address when I post as Bar, so that if the writers on this site need to reach me, they know how.

            Reply to Comment
        • Goldmarx

          The boycott of South Africa did not succeed overnight. In the beginning, there were far more losses than wins.

          Reply to Comment
          • Bar

            Of course, since there’s no comparison between South Africa and Israel, your point is meaningless.

            Reply to Comment
          • Dennis E.

            Is there a comparison between South Africa and Israel and its occupation?–yes. Are there differences between the two?–yes.

            “I have been to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and I have witnessed the racially segregated roads and housing that reminded me so much of the conditions we experienced in South Africa under the racist system of Apartheid. I have witnessed the humiliation of Palestinian men, women, and children made to wait hours at Israeli military checkpoints routinely when trying to make the most basic of trips to visit relatives or attend school or college, and this humiliation is familiar to me and the many black South Africans who were corralled and regularly insulted by the security forces of the Apartheid government. ” – Desmond Tutu

            Reply to Comment
          • Bar

            Obviously, Tutu either didn’t understand what he was seeing or was lied to. The roads aren’t segregated. Any Israeli Arab can travel on them. The checkpoints are not a segregation issue but a security one. How do we know he was wrong about this? Because in the height of the war (launched by the Palestinians to deflect international attention from their refusal to accept the Camp David offer), there were 500 checkpoints. Today, when there is far less Palestinian terror, there are either 11 or 7 depending on whose reporting you trust. Clearly this also undermines his statement.

            That’s without getting into Tutu’s theology.

            Hope that helps you understand that propaganda is just that and nothing more.


            Reply to Comment
          • andrew r

            Other than both states were founded by political movements dedicated to monopoly on land by colonial settlers, carried out forced relocation of the natives and expanded their territory through military occupation, there’s no comparison at all.

            Reply to Comment
          • Tzutzik

            If we are colonial settlers then our destiny is expulsion or death. Where do you propose to put those of us who would survive, Andrew dear? That is if any of us WOULD survive if we lose in this conflict.

            Oh and I thank you too for making clear what this conflict is about. You are making it clear that it is a life or death war of survival. That is why we fight so hard and that is why we have no other choice but to win every battle if we want to stay alive.

            Reply to Comment
          • andrew r

            Tzutzik, I’m sorry for taking the trouble to read Israeli academics who compare the first and second aliyah periods to other colonial movements (As Gershon Shafir did with Australia, Algeria and California) or for noticing that Herzl, Ruppin and Jabotinsky openly referred to what they were doing as colonization, but I can’t unlearn any of that just because you take it as an existential threat.

            Still, if I yawn through speeches like this, it’s probably because Israelis defend the occupation both on the grounds of self-defense and their right to settle the land. Well, if you tell me moving next door to the Palestinians is defense, for some reason I’m going to think settling the land is more important. Funny how that works.

            Reply to Comment
          • Tzutzik

            You mean useful Israeli idiots who profess the same ideology as you Andrew.

            I presume you know that there are also decent Arab and Muslim scholars and religious leaders who agree with the Zionist idea of Jews returning to our homeland but of course you choose to ignore them. What a surprise …

            People like Brigitte Gabriel, Irshad Manji and many others. Here read for yourself;


            Reply to Comment
          • Andrew, you are right to reference Shafir, but recall that Shafir carefully distinguishes between “colonization,” which Zionism was, and “colonialism,” which it was not. The former refers to settlement; the latter refers to dominating the existing population for the purposes of control by a metropole. In this phase, Zionism did not claim a monopoly of land by the settlers or force out people already living there. It certainly did during the 1948 war, because that was, well, a war. So I think that there is quite a significant difference in context between the pre-1948 period, and the occupation since 1967. All of which is to say that one can justify Israel inside the Green Line but not of course the post-1967 settlement process.

            Reply to Comment
          • Bar

            Why, if you accept Israel’s creation out of war and acknowledge that it was colonization, not colonialism, do you accept the 19 year Jordanian occupation as sacrosanct? It was the Jordanians who refused to accept a peace agreement and demanded that only the armistice agreement be implemented. It was the Jordanians who destroyed the Jewish Quarter and violated the armistice by preventing any Jews from being permitted to pray at their holy places. The Jordanians evicted every last Jew from their territory and even established a law ensuring they could never become Jordanian citizens. And the Jordanians attacked first in 1967. What is it that makes the ’67 outcome different than ’48?

            Reply to Comment
          • Bar

            Seems like you need some history lessons.

            Reply to Comment
    4. Vadim

      I don’t see a moral problem with supporting BDS. It’s your decision who to boycott and who to support.

      However, the term BDS should be clearly understood. Like Bar said, BDS is a Palestinian political construct with very clear political goals which go WAY beyond forcing Israel to conform to a two state solution. BDS is just another tool intended to destroy Israel, nothing less.

      So again, boycott anyone you like, just understand that the current BDS has a very different goal.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Thank god common sense has prevailed

      Reply to Comment
    6. Larry Snider

      Its always possible to take a bath in the left end of the pool and come out changed from all you,see and hear. Your use of the term “so called liberal,” applied to J Street is telling. As far as I know Gershon is still against BDS. For me there are twin problems: 1st it is negative and its attachment to the promotion of the Right of Return by the International Committee for BDS is unacceptable because it implies the end of Israel and 2nd it will increase the delegitimization and the necessary response by Israel which will push peace even further into the future.

      Reply to Comment
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