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Four things every Israeli needs to know about Jewish BDS activists

A recent feature on Israeli television attempted to cast Jewish-American BDS and anti-occupation activists as self-hating Jews. As anti-Semites. How dare you!

By David Harris-Gershon

JVP Boston activists protest the Veolia transportation company for operating bus lines serving settlements in the West Bank. November 14, 2012. (Tess Scheflan/ Activestills.org)

JVP Boston activists protest the Veolia transportation company for operating bus lines serving settlements in the West Bank. November 14, 2012. (Tess Scheflan/ Activestills.org)

A reporter from Israel’s Channel 2, Danny Kushmaro, recently visited Boston on a mission to find American Jews who support BDS and actively oppose Israel’s occupation. One of the key interviews in his resulting item was with Alice Rothschild. In the interview, in lieu of asking questions, he made accusations with statements such as: “You want to boycott me, as a citizen of Israel, and boycott my country.”

“This is coming out of a desire to move the process forward to a more just solution,” Rothschild responded. “I don’t have anything against you, and I don’t have anything against your country—”

“But you’re boycotting me,” Kushmaro retorted.

“I am not boycotting you—”

“And you don’t boycott other countries, just Israel,” he went on.

“I feel that Israel has lost its way. And it really pains me—”

“And you tell us what is the way? What is the right way?”

“I’m not telling you—”

“You, from convenient Boston? Will tell us what is the right way?”

“I am responsible, because I am funding the occupation,” she explained.

Exposing the Failed Logic

In the segment, which aired on Channel 2’s popular Friday evening show last week, Kushmaro touched upon all four logical pillars — convoluted as they are — often used to attack diaspora Jews who boycott Israel (like Rothschild). The same arguments are also commonly used against those who actively oppose the occupation and find nonviolent protests like BDS to be wholly legitimate (like myself).

Kushmaro has done us a service, by providing the opportunity to expose and undermine them in a single setting.

1) You, from convenient Boston? — The ‘you have no right’ argument

Kushmaro bristles that Rothschild would dare oppose Israel by supporting BDS, suggesting that she has no right to tell Israel what to do. However, as Haggai Matar notes in his brilliant takedown, Kushmaro doesn’t really believe she has no right. Indeed, he and other so-called ‘pro-Israel’ Jews have no problem with AIPAC or right-wing billionaires dictating what Israel should or should not do, no matter how destructive their directives. Kushmaro opposes Rothschild’s politics, not her right to express or actualize them.

And for good reason. The State of Israel, in the country’s Declaration of Independence, implored all diaspora Jews to invest in Israel, to help make it a country “based on freedom, justice and peace” for all its inhabitants:

WE APPEAL to the Jewish people throughout the Diaspora to rally round the Jews of Eretz-Israel in the tasks of immigration and upbuilding and to stand by them in the great struggle for the realization of the age-old dream – the redemption of Israel.

This direct appeal to me, as a diaspora Jew, grants me the ‘right’ to invest in Israel’s redemption by opposing the occupation. It grants me the right to boldly claim I own Israel, just as it grants BDS activists like Rothschild the right to oppose an oppressive country. As I will argue below, that does not mean I am inherently part of the project of Israel just by being Jewish – only if I claim this right.

2) You don’t boycott other countries? — The double-standard attack

Kushmaro sought out Rothschild because he believes that she, as an American Jew, has a responsibility to support Israel (in the way he considers correct). However, when she expresses that investment by opposing Israeli policies, he pulls out the double-standard canard: Wait, why are you targeting just Israel?

Here’s the thing: that’s how activism works. As I’ve written previously, activism demands selectivity, which is why the double-standard attack holds absolutely no meaning. See, anyone who chooses to focus upon a cause by definition will be neglecting others. Rothschild—along with almost all American Jewish activists who critique Israel—have chosen their cause because they feel a responsibility to do so. As Jews.

Remarkably, it’s the same responsibility Kushmaro believes they have—to be focused on Israel—which is why he sought to interview them in the first place.

3) Conflating Israel and the Jewish people

The fact that Kushmaro’s segment for Channel 2 even exists is because he conflates Israel with all Jews, believing they are all inextricably bound up with the country as members of the Jewish people, and thus should support it (albeit only in state-sanctioned ways).  Netanyahu routinely employs this conflation, saying he represents the “entire Jewish people” as a way to cast political criticism as anti-Semitic. But automatic conflation between Israel and Jews is a vile and dangerous anti-Semitic trope.

Israel and Judaism are not the same, nor are diaspora Jews inherently a part of Israel—a political state. Despite the country’s appeal at its founding, many American Jews have chosen to reject that appeal since Israel’s birth, and that too is their right. Indeed, large swaths of American Jews today have chosen to distance themselves from Israel, and many could care less about the country, due in large part to the very policies I and other Jewish activists oppose.

Why does Kushmaro seek out American Jews, and not Palestinians or Presbyterians as well, when looking to interview BDS activists? Because he believes American Jews are inherently, as part of global Jewry, a part of Israel – even if they choose not to be.

4) Those self-hating anti-Semites

Kushmaro couches his entire segment within a profile of growing anti-Semitism on university campuses in America. However, as Matar rightly asked: “What does anti-Semitism have to do with educated, articulate, and knowledgeable American Jews (some of whom even lived in Israel) who support the boycott?”

Nothing, of course.

Though Kushmaro’s intention is clear: to cast BDS activists and opponents of the occupation who find nonviolent protest to be wholly legitimate as self-hating Jews. As anti-Semites.

Jon Stewart once said, when similar charges were levied against him, “How dare you?

And so I say to Kushmaro, How dare you? Four times over.

David Harris-Gershon is a writer for Tikkun and author of ‘What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?

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    1. barney rubble

      > You don’t boycott other countries?
      actually US citizens boycot lots of countries : Iran, Russia and Palestine (or at least Gaza) – Israel is exceptional in that, despite its leaders rejecting Palestine’s existence and hoovering up the last shreds of Palestinian land into Jewish settlements, Israel is not boycotted by the US and inn fact is heavily supported

      Reply to Comment
    2. Bar

      BDS is antisemitic. If you are Jewish and support BDS, you support an antisemitic movement. Whether that makes you an antisemite or not is irrelevant. What is relevant is that you support and aid antisemites. Shame on you.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Yitz Glick

      BDS is clearly part of an anti-zionist movement and many of it’s supporters are hardcore anti-semites. It is grossly counterproductive to peace and hurts the Palestinians the most. It is immoral to vilify Israel when we’re attacked constantly by terror as we continuously stretch out our arms towards peace and tolerance.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Andrew

      The author of the article mendaciously omits the fact the goal of BDS is the elimination of Israel. BDS is motivated and informed by racism against Jews. The glaring and extreme double standards along with the demonization of Israel can not be conveniently dismissed as a “choice” by activists. Harris Gershon conveniently erases context and history to promulgate or at the very least excuse racism and hate targeting Jews.

      Reply to Comment
    5. James Dyer

      Can’t really add anything to what Harvey Garfield has said…except to be Jewish and to support the BDS movement is to emulate Cain and sell your birthright, it is to spit on your own people and join with the enemy who seek to wipe Israel out…if that isn’t being anti-Semitic or self-hating then I don’t know what is.

      Reply to Comment
    6. To those commenters calling me anti-Semitic and self-hating:

      If opposing Israel’s occupation makes me anti-Semitic, it logically follows that oppressing Palestinians is Jewish.

      It’s not. Full stop.

      (Talk about an anti-Semitic notion.)

      Reply to Comment
    7. Gustav

      I am sorry but the author is dead set wrong. Why is he wrong? Because his assumptions are wrong.

      Let’s start with where most Jews, Israelis or not, agree with the author. Most of us don’t like the occupation. That is the easy bit.

      The hard bit is how to end it without hurting the Israeli Jews. About 7 million of us.

      The author assumes that the answer is BDS because after all, according to those who support BDS, Israel is the unreasonable party whose “arms need to be twisted”.

      The author also assumes that once BDS works and Israel is forced to end the occupation unconditionally, Israel and Israeli Jews too would be better off.

      And that is where the author is dead set wrong. Wrong for the following reasons…

      The architects of BDS and those who drive it, want more than just an end to the occupation. They aso want…

      1. An unlimited right of return for the Palestinian Arab refugees.

      2. They want to leave Israel with insecure borders.

      3. They want to cause a major socioeconomic upheaval in Israel by forcig Israel to dismantle all the settlements and force 500,000 of them to return to within the green line.

      I will stop at that. Suffice it to say that it would be an unmitigated disaster for Israel. It would lead to Israel’s destruction.

      So, at best, Jews who support the BDS, are ignorant. As they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. At worst, they are malicious enemies and I don’t care if I offend them but they cannot call themselves Jews if they want half the word’s Jewish population, Israeli Jews, to face another holocaust. The idea that they are not doing it out of malice but they just don’t care about Israel does not make it better.

      I am not offended with Jews if they don’t care about us. I can live with that. But if they choose not to care, then just leave us alone. Don’t support us in any way. We don’t need your money or moral support. We will get by. We will survive without the support of those Jews who choose not to care. But for goodness sake, don’t do anything that actively harms us. Don’t support BDS! Because if you do and you still call yourselves Jewish, then you are by definition self hating Jews!

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        This is a lot of self serving excuses, a lot of blarney, with a side order of self-righteousness. “Poor us, we just have to continue the occupation. We are helpless. Woe is us.” The fake catastrophizing is deeply unconvincing.

        “We don’t like the occupation. That’s the easy bit.” LoL.

        It would be even a tiny bit more plausible and digestible if it ever came with a drawing of the line on any further settlements. If it were not served instead with a blithe sense of entitlement to taking still more of other people’s land, and endlessly niggling about it. If it were not served with a pile of blithe excuses based on things like “archeology” about “us”–meaning a whole racial/religious category of people being entitled like no other to kick indigenous villagers out of villages like Susya–and hours and hours, whole days, spent concocting any contentious, convoluted, evasive talking point possible as to why land titles don’t really mean what they mean.

        As if the occupied have to prove something to their occupiers. But of course if any Arab person talked about “archeology” and very recent actual ruins entitling him to live on your side of the green line and demanded you “prove” some deed blah blah blah you’d regard him as out of his mind at best. No one believes you then when you whine about how so very hard it is for “us” to end the occupation. Poor “us.” It is indeed offensive for you to tell Jews with a sense of justice that transcends primitive tribalism that they “don’t care about us.” That just takes the cake. It’s amazing self-righteousness.

        Meanwhile the government announces the advancement of 300 new housing units in Beit El and hundreds more in East Jerusalem. But “we want peace.” What bullsh*t.

        Reply to Comment
        • Gustav

          A typical long winded one sided whiny emotive post by Benny.

          Now get this: Netanyahu has not always been in power.

          We had all shades of governments before Netanyahu and offered all kinds of compromises, short of surrender but what responses did we get from your idealized peace loving Arabs?

          – the three NOs of Khartoum.

          – terrorism

          – Intifada

          – indiscriminate rocket fire

          – catatonic silence instead of a response to a decent peace offer by Olmert.

          There is no peace partner get it Benny? They don’t want to sign a peace deal with Israel under terms which would leave a viable Israel as a nation state of the Jewish people. So we may as well have Netanyahu till such time your Palestinian Arabs get a hold of some common sense.

          So, then little propagandists like you come along and pretend that there is no peace because of us.

          Would you blame gravity for the murder of a man instead of a murderer who throws the victim out of the window of a 50 storey building?

          The current situation is the product of a conscious decision by your Palestinian Arabs not to sign a peace deal with us which we can live with and which would not leave us vulnerable to be finished off. Get it?!

          Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            Your Palestinian Arabs, Benny, have murdered prospects for peace so many times now that the inevitable happened. We lurched further and further to the right and we are no longer willing to offer more and more concessions for the sake of an illusory peace deal which your Palestinian Arabs are just not willing to sign.

            Gravity had it’s effect. It killed the prospects for peace and therefore the end to the occupation. Certainly for at least a generation. The rest is just BS, Benny. The BS of simplistic propagandists like you who want to blame us for Palestinian intransigence.

            …and Benny, yes we are poor because of it. So are your Palestinian Arabs. But you are happy because the blood sport continues and you are entertained by it.

            Reply to Comment
        • Gustav

          “But of course if any Arab person talked about “archeology” and very recent actual ruins entitling him to live on your side of the green line”

          IF????? What do you mean IF??????

          They do! They demand an unlimited right of return. And have you looked at what Hamas says? They say we are going to be dead meat no matter how long it will take them to make it so.

          But here you are being scandalized because our right wing government is meting out to them a little bit of the medicine they say they want to mete out to us. And the Arabs haven’t just said it. They have been actively trying to do it for nearly 100 years. Even before there was occupation.

          Now pull your neck in Benny and go get scandalized about someone else for a change. Stop your vendetta against us!

          As for my convoluted arguments? Yes they were. I was displaying the same ruthlessness and callousness which YR displayed towards us. And you are not better. Two can play the same game don’t you think? I just wanted to show you how it feels. And now you are happy because I fit your stereotype.

          Reply to Comment
    8. Anon Forrest

      The night of the last Israeli election, BBC interviewed the Defense Minister about the two-state solution. The DM said this would never be possible because the economy of Israel is dependent on the destruction and reconstruction of Israel’s “settlements” of Palestinian territory. I heard it, and I’ll not forget it. Once again, we live up to our stereotype of money-grubbing Jews. Oy.

      Reply to Comment