Israel must stop making it easy for the boycotters

November 24, 2016 23:19

Will there be whoops of ecstasy this weekend at the bar of London's School of Oriental and African Studies - just as there were when students and staff voted to cut all ties with Israeli academic institutions?

SOAS is the heart of the UK branch of the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign. Search the BDS website for the word "progressive" and it breaks out like a measles rash.

Last year, BDS "progressives" claimed a "victory" when they credited their boycott of Israeli fizzy drink maker SodaStream with the closure of its West Bank factory. Some victory.

This Monday is the final working day for the last of SodaStream's 500 Palestinian workers. Haaretz - no friend of the occupation - reports that they were paid three times a Palestinian-owned factory wage and had private health insurance.

Still, BDS supporters see themselves as supremely moral activists, motivated by the highest ethical ideals, campaigning to restore "human rights, equality, and justice" for Palestinians by boycotting Israeli companies and institutions "until Israel complies with international law and Palestinian rights".

The giveaway comes from SOAS lecturer Rafeef Ziadah who is also the UK spokesperson for BDS and describes herself as a "poet and a human rights activist".

"Until liberation and return," she says and by "return" she makes it clear she means the Palestinians who lost their homes during the 1948 War of Independence, and their descendents, now numbering some five million according to the UN.

With an Arab majority inside its pre-1967 borders, the democratic nation state for the Jewish people would cease to exist. It would become a bi-national state.

Just how "progressive" are the BDS leading activists? At an "Israeli Apartheid Week" event, Ms Ziadah stressed earnestly: "We do not tolerate hate preachers in any form - whether it's Islamophobic or antisemitic."

Presumably the BDS website's Nazi-like reference to "Zionism" as "a bible-based supremacist ideology" being the "driving force behind Israel's Anschluss of Palestinian land and persecution of Palestinians" does not count - Anschluss being the Nazi propaganda term for the annexation of Austria.

And presumably Ms Ziadah's praise for an Islamic Jihad detainee who sustained 66 days on hunger strike was exclusively in relation to his fortitude - not for the challenge he threw down to fellow Palestinians: "Who among you will have his body parts blown all over?"

There is nothing quite like the Israel-Palestine conflict for highlighting how muddled the left has become between its left and its right. So muddled in fact, that the BDS movement seems utterly blind to the searing reality of why Jews and Arabs, and now Israelis and Palestinians have been killing each other for the past 100 years: it isn't just Jews who want a territorial expression of their identity; Palestinians do too.

So while a bi-national state (with a Palestinian majority) might seem to be the solution to the lofty progressives of the BDS, one person one vote between the Jordan River and the sea does not address the very issue that both sides have been willing to die for - and will go on dying for until they resolve to live in two separate states side by side.

Whatever the facts about BDS's economic impact on Israel, one thing is clear: it has hugely contributed to what the journalist Matti Friedman has described as the "fashionable disgust for Israel among many in the West". It has created an atmosphere where even Jews both here and in America feel uncomfortable identifying with Israel. And that does represent a strategic threat to Israel.

The Netanyahu government struggles to understand why more people don't see BDS for what it manifestly is: a movement wreathed in moral humbug and antisemitism for singling out the world's only Jewish state while its neighbours are vastly more deserving of their attention. So now the Strategic Affairs Ministry has a £20 million budget to combat BDS.

But what a growing number of Jews I speak to can not understand is why Bibi's government can not see that they could clip BDS's wings tomorrow if they stopped pouring fat onto what keeps the BDS fire burning: yes, the ever expanding footprint of settlements entrenching the injustice - for injustice is manifestly what it is - of Israelis and Palestinians living on the same patch of ground, governed by two entirely different systems of law: civilian for the Israelis, military for the Palestinians.

With that injustice has come the routine administrative demolition of Palestinian structures, while settler outposts are legalised, restrictions on Palestinian development in 60 per cent of the West Bank, and the absence sometimes of even-handed investigation into security force abuses.

With so many broken promises (on both sides) since the Oslo Accords of 1993, Israel's political centre of gravity has begun to drift from its core foundational democratic values. Witness the attempt to redefine the Jewish nature of the state at the expense of its Arab citizens. "Many voices in Israel today have a narrow, minimalist understanding of the substance of democracy," Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said recently.

This rightwards drift has been attended by a growth in religious nationalism. "It's important to say this land is ours. All of it is ours," said Israel's new deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely on taking office, quoting the Torah and sending shockwaves through her diplomats. She wants to annexe the West Bank. Hamas, of course, also believes the entire Holy Land was left in perpetuity to Muslims by the companions of the Prophet.

It may seem astonishing to BDS "progressives" but many Zionists I know despair at how Israel under Netanyahu, especially, has been reversing the Oslo process in the West Bank, PLO bad faith over incitement to hatred and much else, notwithstanding.

These Zionists consider it nonsensical to settle this territorial dispute by reference to religious tracts. Yet BDS constantly refers to Zionism as malign and monolithic as if the likes of Hotovely are Zionism's true custodians.

Of course, reversing settlement expansionism would not stop BDS from maligning Zionism. Far from it. But it would trigger a dramatic climate change. Fewer people would listen to their frenzied and selective ravings. The spotlight would swivel towards Ramallah and away from Jerusalem where it has been fixed for a generation at such a cost to Israel's global standing. There would be renewed pressure on Ramallah to come to terms with its geographical reality.

Forget Hamas. They can only ever be undermined by Palestinian moderates. The arrival of Daesh might even concentrate pragmatic Palestinian minds to the advantage of sheltering under Israel's powerful security umbrella.

Disgust with Israel would become less fashionable and - critically - attempting to paint Zionism as monolithic would have less traction. Shrinking settlements would create space for the kind of Zionists who are rarely written about but who toil - and toil is the word - in support of the poor and the disposed, Israeli Jews and Arabs alike.

Israel has a vastly bigger voluntary sector than in Britain and earlier this month I spent a week with one of its biggest contributors, the Women's International Zionist Organisation. Wizo was established in England in 1920 by Rebecca Sieff and Vera Weizmann, wife of Israel's first president, Dr Chaim Weizmann.

Weizmann's vision of Zionism - building "Palestine with you (the Arabs) together" - is still alive and well in much of Israel, for all BDS's efforts to paint its more divisive offshoot as Zionism's sole inheritance. The Wizo-Weizmann Zionists are Jews who want to re-establish some of the relationships with Palestinians that have died since the death of Oslo, even if the Netanyahu government can't or won't. They speak passionately about reaching out to their Israeli-Arab neighbours beyond just bumping into each other at supermarkets and petrol stations.

"We have to connect better," said a former career IDF officer, turned social worker, in one of the toughest neighbourhoods in Afula. This message was echoed at a vocational school which also catered for Arab children with special needs; and again in the Negev by an ex-kibbutznik who grew up in sight of distant Bedouin villages.

"There was a whole world growing up that was living next to me but which I knew nothing about nor had even met," he said. Today he is co-director of a Wizo part-funded welfare programme promoting Israeli-Arab Bedouins' rights in the Negev. Yet another Wizo project works with teenage Bedouin girls at risk

These Wizo-Weizmann Zionists could have earned a good living in other careers but have committed themselves instead to helping the poorest of their fellow Arab and Jewish citizens to have a better education, better job opportunities, and better life chances.

Also rarely mentioned are the 1,000 Palestinian children admitted every year to specialist "Zionist" hospitals from Gaza and the West Bank for life-saving treatment. These Palestinian lives are often saved by drugs developed by the Weizmann scientific institute in Rehovot, established in 1934.

God-forbid that Ms Ziadah or her ethically empowered fellow activists should ever contract cancer.

Will the acute moral imperative that drives their ethical boycotting campaign run to denying themselves a cure developed in the "Zionist entity"? I doubt it.

You have to spend time in the West Bank to see how hopelessly doomed its permanant annexation would be, condemning Palestinians and ultimately Israelis to a new and even darker age.

I am not a Jew but unlike BDS, I have always seen the Wizo-Weizmann version of Zionism as one of the world's authentic liberation movements.

And what I have admired most is how it propelled Jews to determine their destiny by seizing the initiative - rather than waiting for destiny to determine the fate of Jews.

November 24, 2016 23:19

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