After the American Studies Association voted to boycott Israeli academic institutions in 2013, and the Presbyterian Church and United Church of Christ voted to divest from companies that support the occupation in 2014 and 2015 respectively, the Israeli government and the American Jewish leadership has recently started to take the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions ("BDS") movement seriously. The Israeli government has reportedly committed tens of millions of dollars, one government ministry and its military and security intelligence assets to the fight. Israeli Minister of Transport, Intelligence and Atomic Energy Yisrael Katz recently called for "targeted civil eliminations" of BDS leaders. According to Amnesty International, the term alludes to Israel's policy of "targeted assassinations." Yesterday, the Israeli Mission to the UN and the World Jewish Congress hosted the first international summit against BDSat UN headquarters in New York. Its avowed purpose was to paint BDS as an anti-Semitic movement to "delegitimize" the State of Israel with its "ideology of hate," and to give Jewish students on campus the tools to become "Ambassadors against BDS."
I attended a smaller similar meeting on the campus of SUNY Purchase, in Westchester County, New York last week, organized by seven "pro-Israel" organizations, including Hillel, the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish National fund and Stand With Us. Utterly missing was any discussion of or concern for the plight of the Palestinians, the discrimination they face in Israel itself, and the wholesale deprivation of rights and dignity they suffer under occupation in the West Bank.
Which is why, despite Israeli hasbara, power and money against it, BDS is continuing to win adherents among Jews and Gentiles in America, Europe and around the world, with one-third of American college students and 40% of British students in support. BDS is all about the Palestinians. More than 170 Palestinian civil society organizations issued the call for BDS in 2005. It is all about non-violent resistance to the occupation, in sharp contrast to the violent resistance that has been an abject failure for half a century. It is all about a liberation movement that calls for Israel to permit Palestinians to live lives of freedom and dignity with the full panoply of human rights that Jewish religious and moral values demand.
I attended the United Church of Christ's General Synod last year where its divestment resolutions were passed overwhelmingly. The UCC is a peace and justice church. I did not meet one Israeli or Jew hater among the proponents of those resolutions. They saw BDS as an act of love for both Palestinians and Jewish Israelis, who must accommodate each other's claims to live and flourish in the Holy Land as free and whole human beings. Pressure to do the right thing and end the occupation and the discrimination, yes. Tough love, perhaps. But hate? No. I attended the United Methodist Church's General Conference a few weeks ago, where the Pension Board succeeded in defeating the divestment resolutions which would have removed its discretion to handle the Church's investments as it sees fit. But it had recently divested from five Israeli banks and several Israeli companies in accordance with socially responsible investment screens that the Board had adopted on its own - another win for Palestinians and BDS. To really talk about an "ideology of hate," we have to look honestly at what we see in Israel today. Deputy Chief of the Israeli Defense Force Yael Galon likened "revolting trends" in Israel today to pre-Holocaust Germany. He was talking about "the seeds of intolerance, violence, self-destruction and moral deterioration," i.e., the widespread and pervasive hatred of Palestinians by Israeli Jews. "There is nothing easier than hating the stranger, nothing easier than to stir fears and intimidate."
Shortly thereafter, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak warned that Israel has been infected with "the seeds of fascism." He added that "there are no serious leaders left in the world who believe the Israeli government." Prime Minister Netanyahu now leads a government "dominated by religious and ultranationalist ministers who oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state and have close ties to the West Bank settler movement." He has made clear that he has no interest in a two-state solution or any viable peace with Palestinians which would accord them real rights and human dignity.
Efforts by Israeli or American Jewish leaders to defeat BDS will come to naught as long as it continues to keep Palestinian liberation at its core. BDS's influence on the Israel-Palestine conversation was clearly discernible when Bernie Sanders, the first Jewish Presidential candidate, had the courage to say to American Jews and Christians that "we are going to have to treat the Palestinian people with respect and dignity.... I believe the United States and the rest of the world have got to work together to help the Palestinian people." And a bit later: "there will never be peace in that region unless the United States plays a role, an even-handed role trying to bring people together and recognizing the serious problems that exist among the Palestinian people."
While many saw this as a shocking sea change in acceptable political discourse in America, it represented a simple message that 10 years of BDS activism has made manifest to more and more here and around the world: Palestinian Lives Matter.