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PODCAST: How BDS became such a big deal in American politics

Republicans are trying to criminalize boycotts of Israel, part of a broad push to delegitimize any criticism or pressure on Israel. By not unconditionally defending the right to boycott anything or anyone, Democrats are falling into a dangerous trap, Lara Friedman says on The +972 Podcast.

The capitol building of the United States of America located in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Wikipedia Commons)

The capitol building of the United States of America located in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Lars Di Scenza/CC)

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The United States’ approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has dramatically transformed since Trump took office, but a lot of those changes — from legislation to defund the Palestinian Authority to an attempt to criminalize boycotting Israel — actually came from Congress.

“This isn’t just a matter of the Trump administration, this is trends that have been coming since before the president was elected and have coalesced under him,” says Lara Friedman, an expert on everything Israel-Palestine on the Hill, and president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace.

When it comes to the Trump administration, “we’ve had an extraordinarily coherent and focused and effective policy on Israel-Palestine from Day One. If people are surprised where we are today, it’s because they had either the naiveté or the almost lack of respect for this president to not take him seriously and not take the people around him seriously, because they’ve done exactly what they said they would do,” she adds.

According to Friedman, the Trump administration has de-recognized the Palestinians as a people with a legitimate national narrative, instead engaging with then as individuals with aspirations. “By moving the embassy, by closing the consulate, and by effectively cutting off relations with the Palestinians, by throwing them out of Washington, we now treat the Palestinians as a people represented by the equivalent of maybe a mayor who is spoken to, if he is spoken to at all, by our ambassador to Israel. That’s how far we’ve moved things back.”

So where does that leave us? Where is the fight today? Because it seems like there is a fight going on, and it feels like Israel is at the center of it, and at times it also feels like it’s not about Israel.

Friedman describes how, by rallying around a two-state solution, politicians have established a safe space where they can say they oppose the occupation while ignoring the facts. “It’s been a formula for not doing anything,” she says.

“We’re in a political moment where using Israel to inoculate an illiberal agenda in the U.S. is very handy,” she later adds. What they call anti-BDS legislation at the state level “is not actually anti-BDS, it’s anti-boycotts and it’s anti-free speech, and it applies equally to settlements as it does to Israel, and it’s brazenly unconstitutional.”

The idea of boycotting Israel to pressure it into changing its policies, and the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement and in particular, has turned into a major wedge issue in American politics, explains Friedman. Republicans are pushing radical legislation that would criminalize boycotting Israel, a move opposed by the ACLU and others as unconstitutional — and Democrats are falling into their trap, says Friedman.

“There’s got to be a point when you say, whether or not I adopt this tactic, this is a legitimate nonviolent tactic that we will defend,” she adds.

Democrats need to decide not to throw those in their party who do support boycotts under the bus “in order to make the right, which will never ever be satisfied with our position, feel better about us. We’re never going to be in that tent — we don’t want to be in that tent,” she says.

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Full disclosure: The Foundation for Middle East Peace (FMEP) is a financial supporter of the nonprofit that publishes +972 Magazine.

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    1. Bruce Gould

      Around 33 minutes in the interviewer mentions a recent essay by Peter Beinart in the Forward, and I think it’s interesting and relevant to the podcast, which is very much about U.S. politics re Israel:

      https://forward.com/opinion/428488/the-real-reason-so-many-republicans-love-israel-their-own-white-supremacy/

      The Real Reason So Many Republicans Love Israel? Their Own White Supremacy…. Republicans no longer talk about Israel like it’s a foreign country. They conflate love of Israel with love of America because they see Israel as a model for what they want America to be: An ethnic democracy…Israel is a Jewish state. Trump and many of his allies want America to be a white, Judeo-Christian state. Israel, despite its free elections and parliamentary institutions, structurally privileges one ethnic and religious group over others. That’s what many Republicans want here.

      Reply to Comment
      • Nathanael

        Yep. The Republicans represent the toxic history of white supremacy in the US, so of course they support the white-supremacist government of Israel.

        Israel’s government copied its concentration camps, baby-stealing, its ghettos, the demand for “lebensraum”, and the terrorist campaigns of ethnic cleansing from the Nazis; Israel’s government copied the apartheid system from South Africa;..

        …but both South Africa and Nazi Germany copied the original system of white supremacy, and the theft of land, from the United States. The two original sins of the US were the theft of Native American lands and the enslavement of dark-skinned people; from these, the ideology of white supremacy was invented as an excuse.

        The white supremacists in the US supported Nazi Germany, and they supported apartheid South Africa, and they support Netenyahu’s Israel.

        On behalf of the United States, we Yankees apologize for our country having exported this toxic racist ideology all over the world. The US itself has gotten better over time — though we needed a giant civil war in 1860, and a New Deal in 1932, and a Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, and we are still fighting the same fight. Germany seems to have recovered somewhat, though they had to lose a World War to do so. South Africa recovered peacefully, thanks to de Klerk. Meanwhile, Israel seems to actually be getting sicker.

        Reply to Comment
    2. The first major national organization in the U.S. to back BDS in the case of Israel/Palestine – The Green Party of the United States – with 300,000 members back in 2005: https://gpus.org/other/press/pr-national.php?ID=907

      Reply to Comment
    3. Gabrielle Grossman

      BDS is NOT a boycott movement, as the one against the white South African government years ago. It is a movement designed to destroy Israel, masquerading as a boycott movement. Bargouti, the founder, is a terrorist who clearly states that Israel itself is illegal and should be violently destroyed. BDS is supported by Hamas, whose carter calls for the elimination of Israel and the killing of Jews. BDS is worse than anti-semitic; it wants to totally destroy the State and kill all it’s people.

      Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        @Gabrielle Grossman: I can’t find the place where Barghouti says Israel should be “violently destroyed”. Can you provide the source?

        Here’s a piece he wrote: https://www.thenation.com/article/bds-house-resolution-trump-squad-omar-aoc/

        “…I advocated for a single democratic state that recognizes and accepts Jewish Israelis as equal citizens and full partners in building and developing a new shared society, free from all colonial subjugation and racial discrimination and separating church and state.”

        Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Gabrielle, have you found the quote from Barghouti yet? One would think you’d have it at your fingertips and would be eager to share it.

        “The craft of lying and fabrication is an accepted operating method by radical nationalists for inventing a narrative that meets the needs of nationalist politics.”

        Israel’s Right Wing Is Worse Than Europe’s
        http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/51936.htm

        Reply to Comment
      • Talkback

        South Africa under Apartheid shared the same view. That the boycott movement was an attempt to destroy the state although all it targeted was its racist regime.

        Barghouti never stated that Israel should be destroyed. He neither endorses the one nor two state solution. This is just a call for equality, freedom and justice. Regimes who cannot provide these priniciples shouldn’t even have a moral right to exist.

        I don’t sympathize with Hamsa, but there is nothing wrong about wanting to restore the unity of your country which means the elimination of a regime that is occupying it from your point of view. Establishing Israel was all about eliminating Palestine, politically and physically (more than 400 villages were destroyed and depopulated). And the Likud and other parties have the same maximalist view – I highly doubt that you haven’t. And Hamas’ obsolete charter (no Hamas member has ever refered to it) has two articles in which it claims that all three (abrahamitic) religions can only peacefully co-exist under the shadow of Islam. Article 6 and 31.

        Reply to Comment
    4. itshak Gordine

      Fortunately, more and more states have understood the racist goal of this movement which is also increasingly poorly seen in several developed countries.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        “…the racist goal…”

        This would be like Donald Trump denouncing narcissists. A “so bad it’s good” advertisement for the reasons the Israeli state’s radical nationalist-religious backers resemble nothing so much as the zombie cult adherents of Scientology (an organized crime outfit masquerading as a religion).

        Reply to Comment
      • Talkback

        Only real supremacism could come up with the perversion of truth that a call for justice, freedom and equality is racism.

        Reply to Comment
        • itshak Gordine

          No, many governments of developed countries think like me. BDS is one of the many appearances of anti-Semitism. In general leftists do not like to hear that.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Nope. ==>

            Friedman describes how, by rallying around a two-state solution, politicians have established a safe space where they can say they oppose the occupation while ignoring the facts. “It’s been a formula for not doing anything,” she says.
            “We’re in a political moment where using Israel to inoculate an illiberal agenda in the U.S. is very handy,” she later adds. What they call anti-BDS legislation at the state level “is not actually anti-BDS, it’s anti-boycotts and it’s anti-free speech, and it applies equally to settlements as it does to Israel, and it’s brazenly unconstitutional.”
            https://972mag.com/boycott-bds-congress-republicans-israel-podcast/142574/

            Reply to Comment