Response

10.21.13

If You Want To Be Politically Irrelevant, Support BDS

I have much respect and personal fondness for Kathleen Peratis, and so I read with interest her thoughtful piece, “If You Want Two States, Support BDS." I share Kathleen’s sense of urgency to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before it is too late, but I categorically differ with her conclusion about the efficacy and appropriateness of the BDS movement.

I have just returned from ten days of meetings in Israel and the West Bank. I led members of my congregation in talks with Israelis on the left and right, settlers, human rights activists, journalists, and members of the Knesset, as well as with Palestinian Authority officials and Palestinian business and community leaders, excluding Hamas. Our purpose was to gain a deeper understanding of the current situation and of the attitudes of Israelis and Palestinians, as well as to express our American Jewish support for a resolution of the conflict that includes two states for two peoples.

We spent an afternoon touring the West Bank with Leor Amichai, the director of the “Settlement Watch Project” for Shalom Achsav, and saw for ourselves the extent of settlement construction in Ariel and evidence of dozens of illegal Israeli “outposts” (i.e. small settlements) that are flourishing everywhere with full infrastructure provided by regional settlement councils and are condoned by the Israeli military authority.

Seeing these settlements with our own eyes persuaded us that they are a serious challenge to the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In a future peace agreement, there will come a choice; either 100,000 Israelis will abandon their homes and settlements in the new state of Palestine and move into Israel across the Green Line, or, as once agreed upon by Yossi Beilin and Mahmoud Abbas during the Oslo period, Israelis will be permitted to remain in the Palestinian state if they agree to live peacefully under Palestinian sovereignty and if Palestinians are free to live anywhere in Palestine, including inside Jewish settlements.

Though Kathleen and I agree on the necessity of a two-state solution, we disagree about BDS.

Kathleen writes:

The deciders on whether there will be a two-state solution are the Israeli people. It is they at least as much as their government who should be the targets of our advocacy … any pollster will tell you that a large majority [of the Israeli people] says it favors ending occupation. But that majority neither puts pressure on its representatives nor votes in large numbers for peace candidates. Why? Because ending occupation is low on the agenda of Israeli voters, lower even than the price of cottage cheese.

She also says that American Jews should "shake Israelis from their indifference."

I disagree that our role as American Jews is to shake up Israeli society. Such a position is presumptuous on the one hand and unnecessary on the other. There are, indeed, hundreds of thousands of Israelis represented in a number of political parties including Meretz, Avodah, Hatnuah, Hadash, Yesh Atid, Shas and even Likud who are not at all indifferent to the necessity of a two-state solution.

Even Tzahbi Hanegbi, a former Likud politician who is close to PM Netanyahu, has called for a two-state solution. Tzipi Livni, Israel’s chief negotiator to the Palestinians, who also comes from the Israeli center-right, advocates the same.

J Street’s purpose, in my view, is not to influence Israelis. Rather, the movement was formed to demonstrate widespread American Jewish support for the two-state solution to this conflict and to influence American government officials to do everything possible to assist Israel and the Palestinians in resolving their conflict.

I believe it is a serious political mistake for American Jews to support any kind of BDS (even one limited to the settlements) because we risk having our friends and allies in Congress walk away from us as pro-Israel, pro-peace advocates and align themselves with regressive, right-wing forces that do not support two states for two peoples.

If we do not get the politics right, the consequence could be a serious setback not only to the J Street movement and approach, but, most importantly, to the best long-term security interests of the Jewish democratic state of Israel as the national home of the Jewish people.