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BDS is not a Zionist movement

The Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions movement is not about the number of states, it’s about a just outcome that guarantees basic rights for everyone.

BDS graffiti on Israeli separation wall, Bethlehem, West Bank, June 17, 2014. (Photo by Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

BDS graffiti on Israeli separation wall, Bethlehem, West Bank, June 17, 2014. (Photo by Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

Liberal Zionists and progressive Jews have a hard time with the BDS Movement. Many liberal Zionists very much want to support the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign as a non-violent vehicle for opposing the occupation. Unfortunately, they quickly find that they have difficulties with its clearly-defined goals and tactics, the way it defines those goals, and sadly, the fact that it is a Palestinian-led movement.

Coming at the tail end of countless failed peace processes, BDS (short for boycott, divestment and sanctions) is at the helm of an effort to shift the world’s understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict toward a rights-based discourse. For subscribers of this paradigm shift, the Palestinians’ biggest problem is not the denial of national self-determination. Statehood, or the two-state solution, is a means, not an end in itself. Any political structure that grants Palestinians — and Israelis, for that matter — basic fundamental rights and equality is an acceptable outcome.

The liberal Zionist perspective cannot accept such an approach. In fact, it seems some liberal Zionists cannot even register it. In a recent Haaretz op-ed, Bradley Burston demands a set of crystalized goals from the BDS Movement:

I’m just asking for clear goals. And straight talk. I want to know if BDS wants to encourage two states … or if the goal is a one-state Palestine. I believe that a boycott can only work if its organizers are clear about what they want to achieve.

Short of disbanding the country altogether, is there anything that Israel can do, that would satisfy the conditions for an end to the boycott campaign?

Burston’s article is astounding in three ways, all of which are symptomatic of the wider, liberal Zionist community that at least partially defines itself with its opposition to the occupation.

Firstly, the BDS Movement has a website. It may not be the prettiest use of HTML in the history of the Internet, but it is easily navigable and states quite clearly what the movement’s goals and demands are. Here, let me Google it for you. Hell, you don’t even need to Google it: the Wikipedia page on BDS has an entire section outlining its goals.

Second is the binary paradigm through which liberal Zionists insist on viewing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and any resolution to it: one state or two states. This is not the fault of any one person. Decades of the Oslo Accords, the Clinton Parameters, Bush’s Roadmap and others have reinforced an irrational overconfidence that there is only one solution to the conflict, the outcome of which was preconceived, and which was more or less drawn to along Israel’s terms alone. And so two-state believers have adopted a “with us or against us” attitude, because it’s either two states or bust.

But the biggest, most astounding problem, is that liberal Zionists have trouble supporting BDS — because it is not Zionist. And they’re right; BDS is not a Zionist movement. It does not prioritize Jewish — or Palestinian — self-determination above all else. It does put national rights on equal footing with concepts like ending the occupation, full civil equality (a state by and for all of its citizens), civil rights, suffrage, and the rights of refugees to return to their homes.

And here we arrive at the real, core issue of the liberal Zionist problem with BDS: Palestinian refugees. The third point in the BDS call to boycott, is a demand that Israel, “[respect, protect and promote] the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.”

For defenders of Israel and opponents of BDS, talking about the right of Palestinian refugees to return is tantamount to calling for the destruction of Israel. As illiberal as it might sound, their vision of liberal Zionism includes such concepts as demographic threats to democracy. (Netanyahu was lambasted for having the gall to speak of that threat on election day.) In other words, guaranteeing electoral results by carefully choosing who gets the right to vote. In the United States it’s called gerrymandering; in Israel it is part and parcel of the national ethos.

That is how the peace process came about in the first place. Around the same time that the Apartheid government fell in South Africa, Israeli leaders realized that what they were calling democracy — a regime under which more than 25 percent of the population is denied civil and voting rights —  would not enjoy international legitimacy much longer. Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres devised a plan to gerrymander Israel’s democracy so that the outcome of its elections, and therefore the character of its regime, could be guaranteed.

Ironically, it is also one of the main reasons that the peace process has failed. The process, characterized by a vastly unequal power dynamic under the aegis of the United States, has always existed within a framework defined by Israel and Israel alone. A true end to the military occupation (Israel has never considered withdrawing from Jordan Valley, the West Bank’s eastern border) and a comprehensive and just resolution to the Palestinian refugee problem have never been on the table. Those two Israeli sticking points have meant that no prospective two-state deal has ever been acceptable for the Palestinians.

BDS takes those two issues, along with full equality for “Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel,” and makes them core demands that must be met in whatever political resolution takes shape. It prioritizes individual human and civil rights over national rights that inherently discriminate along ethno-religious lines. And that, is not Zionist.

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    1. Jello

      Indeed. BDS prioritizes destroying Israel over making peace. It follows a long tradition of Palestinian demands to destroy Israel and it does so in a way that gullible Westerners could choose to pretend that they are not in fact calling for destroying an existing country. Fortunately this ambiguity is precisely what limits the appeal of BDS to a closed ecosystem of Israel-haters, anti-Semites and the gullible.

      Reply to Comment
      • BigCat

        Jello gave you a perfect answer. In case you missed it, I will repost it to you again. Here you go, Bruce:

        May 27, 2015

        “Indeed. BDS prioritizes destroying Israel over making peace. It follows a long tradition of Palestinian demands to destroy Israel and it does so in a way that gullible Westerners could choose to pretend that they are not in fact calling for destroying an existing country. Fortunately this ambiguity is precisely what limits the appeal of BDS to a closed ecosystem of Israel-haters, anti-Semites and the gullible”.

        Is that clear to you now or are you still confused as to the goals and aims of BDS?

        Reply to Comment
    2. Bruce Gould

      I see no attempt to justify the idea that BDS aims to destroy Israel; are there any documents linked to the BDS movement, any quotes from BDS supporters…? I know plenty of Jews who support BDS, I’ve never heard any of them even hint about some secret desire to destroy Israel.

      There is indeed an attempt to legislate BDS out of existence in the U.S. When the issue reaches the Supreme Court we can start to have a national discussion about Israel.

      Reply to Comment
      • BigCat

        “We just have to be honest and I loathe the disingeneousness”. The BDS movement is a CULT, Silliness, Childishness and a lot of Leftist Posturing”. “It is a Cult. Step out of your ghetto”, says one of the most virulent anti-Israel critics. But of course, Bruce, when your source of information is exclusively anti-Israel and/or anti-Semitic websites like Mondoweiss and electronic-intifada, you will remain blind and badly informed. Here, Bruce, listen to one of the most virulent anti-Israel critics lecture you on the goals of BDS. When Israel and folks like Finkelstein agree on something, it might be time for you take a step back for some serious self-reflection.


        Concentrate on the BDS-discussion ONLY, because the rest is just nonsense.

        Reply to Comment
    3. Ben

      I expect this kind of thing will backfire mightily when you incense enough Jewish and non-Jewish Americans with these smear campaigns and dishonest, McCarthyite attacks on free speech. You can smell the panic and desperation creeping in on your side though.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Because it’s just a list right? I think it’s you who aren’t thinking this through. A list in the hands of witch hunters. You show scant awareness of the McCarthyite episode in American history and other witch hunts. And the value Americans put on privacy and not conducting political litmus tests on job applicants. Given the behavior of the AIPAC aunts and uncles, it won’t stay “just a list.” It will get repackaged as something more. People will get demonized. And their nieces and nephews might not take kindly to it not to mention other Americans. Talk about demonizing people! Any criticism of Israel is “demonizing” but a list like this is not? I participated in a BDS meeting somewhere so I should not be hired as a computer programmer or accepted into medical school or hired by the government? You’re trying to make BDS supporters it anyone who is “anti-Israel” (whatever is that?) into the equivalent of child molesters. Or the equivalent of “commies” during the red scare. Why not publish a list of where they live so we can all watch out for those eeeevil BDS supporters among us. It’s within your right to publish public information, just don’t expect a lot of people to be won over by your efforts. By the way the word is anti-Semitic not anti-Semetic. You’re one letter away from what you take when you’re nauseated.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          You’re demonstrating the Mcarthyesque slipperiness of this. You’ve slid from “affiliated with” to “students who bully and intimidate Jewish students for being Jewish.” And all convicted without trial and yet your fellow travelers on this website, when confronted with videos of IDF soldiers and police doing obviously nasty things (but their names and identities not listed so they can be denied jobs) screech “prove it or we don’t want to hear about it! And you’re an anti-Semite for even bringing it up!” Witness the jackass below who follows us around shouting “Jew hater” at us like a person with brain damage.

          Reply to Comment
        • Adam Dayton

          Ben –

          You said ” participated in a BDS meeting somewhere so I should not be hired as a computer programmer or accepted into medical school or hired by the government?”

          The answer is yes. Someone who participates in BDS against Israel is fairly opening themselves up to being BDSed themselves.

          I’m not seeing what’s controversial or weird about this. Do you want to attempt to have people boycott Israel? Fine, then we’ll attempt to have people boycott you.

          Reply to Comment

      A just outcome?
      How can this be right?
      Israel demanding its own existence versus those who seek its destruction?

      BDS = Bulls**t, Degradation & Shame

      Reply to Comment
    5. Harvey

      Poor Liberal Jews . They want their cake and eat it too . Viewed with equal distain by both BDS delegitimisers and Zionists such as myself . They are between a rock and a hard place . A sorry bunch indeed . Perhaps the one thing supporters of Israel and the BDS cult have in common

      Reply to Comment
    6. BOOZ

      No. They just pose to be human-rights driven.

      They are part of the problem, not of the solution.

      They have 2 discourses one for Western-liberal use another one for nationalist arab opinion.

      I would have supported a selective 67′ occupied territories boycott, subject to clear goals.

      Absent this… no way as far as I am concerned.

      (Besides,they methods of intimidation are particularly loathsome).

      Pretending they have no hidden agenda is particularly disingenuous.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        “I would have supported a selective 67′ occupied territories boycott, subject to clear goals.”

        I’m with you. This is what’s needed. I do think BDS has to mature. It has to evolve into a more explicitly moderate movement–it has gotten defined by ideologues on both sides–no matter what is or is not on their website currently–it has to evolve an effective, clearly delineated offshoot that is explicit about just this and explicitly disavows anti-Semitism and the charge that it wants to “destroy Israel.” And explains better it’s vision of the future. And this has to become the main movement. The boycott against South Africa was not saddled with charges that it was anti-Boer or anti-white people. The obvious difference here is that the country being boycotted has a more complicated and contentious history than South Africa, with the current power structure having its own history of being persecuted in a way that the Boers were not, it’s state threatened, etc. And anti-Semitism being still an issue that is both entirely real and exploitable by the right. BDS has to develop a nuanced approach that takes account of these complexities and appeals to Americans’ sense of fair play. Right now it’s too crude. So with respect to RoR too it should be explicit that it is not demanding some blanket, unconditional return of millions exercising an unlimited categorical right, but a mutually agreed upon solution to the refugee issue in the context of a comprehensive settlement, with all the finessing of that issue that practical people of good will know will be the real solution. BDS has to show more good will in its public pronouncements. This is what will appeal to Americans. Having said that, the extreme Zionists in the dominant position in Israel have no intention of extending any such good will because the solutions I refer to are sheer anathema to them. You know if the Israelis really want a Jewish majority state in which Jews and Arabs can live in a trustworthy and mutually beneficial relationship that gets better with time where suspicions on both sides are defused then they have to (1) let the territories go except for the close in blocs. And I mean let Ariel, Ma’aleh Adumim and Efrat and East Jerusalem go. And they have to be serious about stamping out Jewish supremacism and discrimination on their side of the green line. For too long now it’s wanting their cake and eating it too. They could end up with neither. Hasn’t worked out too well has it? The Israelis have to see the two state “solution” as a long term political project not some quick fix one-time solution and then we go back to business as usual inside our lines.

        Reply to Comment
        • BigCat

          “I do think BDS has to mature. It has to evolve into a more explicitly moderate movement…”

          That’s a confession, Benny! Right there you admitted that BDS is a RADICAL movement! What a slip of the tongue!

          You anti-Israel hate-mongers are already losing a battle Israel has not started fighting yet. Even as you try to sound “moderate” in your post, your anger and envy of the Jewish State show; your proposals are as radical as that of HAMAS and you put all the onus on Jews. You are really, psychotic, Brian Ben David T. Dekkers. Go find a job and start supporting yourself, moron, and quit fixating on Jews and Israel that are no way no how any of your fucking business!

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            “That’s a confession, Benny!”

            What an excitable dopey little pest you are. LoL!

            Reply to Comment
          • BigCat

            “Right now [the BDS movement] is too crude”!

            That’s another confession, Benny.

            Reply to Comment
        • BOOZ

          Your developpments are -more or less-those of Peace Now in particular and of quite a large number of Liberal Zionists.

          At this point, I feel I may question the ongoing compulsion of Omer Man in particular and of +972 in general to vilify and derail their positions .

          Reply to Comment
    7. Amerikanets

      As does the Pope now.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Jello

      That would be because 972mag isn’t about “ending the occupation”. It is about ending Israel.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Irena

      What I find astounding that the idea of turning Israel into an Arab country with a Jewish minority is defined as a just outcome by the so called “human rights activists”. There have been many Arab countries with Jewish minorities in the past, they are almost Jew-free to day, so this is what the BDS is trying to achieve. Shameful!

      Reply to Comment
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