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March 8, 2016

Think Twice Before Jumping on the BDS Bandwagon

By Jonathan Green­blatt
CEO of the Anti-Defamation League

This blog originally appeared on Medium

Israeli_Apartheid_Week-Northwestern University

Political movements often depend on spoken or unspoken hatreds to perpetuate themselves.

Often, however, they can use ambiguity to mask these motives and appeal to a broader audience.

However, sometimes, when haters show their true colors, onlookers and fellow travelers can see through ambiguities to the unsavory aims of the causes which they’ve lent their support.

The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement against the State of Israel is undoubtedly spreading on U.S. campuses, in mainstream Protestant circles and in universities and unions in Europe. One element explaining the growth of BDS is frustration with the stalemate that has taken hold between Israelis and Palestinians.

It is understandable that in the face of diplomatic deadlock, movements that promise easy solutions and simplistic narratives gain steam. Indeed, the belief that Israel, as the occupier and stronger party, needs to act, combined with the appeal of an ostensibly non-violent movement like BDS – one that worked so well to bring an end to the apartheid regime in South Africa – makes for a compelling case for action.

Yet, any serious observer would admit that the apartheid analogy is flawed to its core.  The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is not an issue purely demarcated along racial lines.  It is a national conflict between two peoples, a conflict for which each side bears responsibilities.

The reality is complicated by the fact that Israel has on several occasions presented the Palestinians opportunities to end the occupation and build an independent Palestinian state. One can argue with the terms proposed by both sides, but the stark truth of several rounds of failed negotiations reveals mutual culpability in the current status quo.  And the ongoing incitement of the Palestinian leadership contributes as much if not more to the diminishing public will and widening diplomatic impasse as the actions of the Israeli government.

So, the keys to the two-state solution are kept by both Israel and the Palestinians.

But many who are swept up in its currents do not look closely at the desired end-state of the BDS movement. Many envision a scenario in which Israel, compelled by pressure, would be more forthcoming to the Palestinians and ideally a two-state solution could result. One might not agree with this logic, but we should note that, at least among many young Jews, it is animated by a desire for justice. I believe it has impelled groups such as J Street and a number of other emerging grassroots initiatives in the Jewish community. Even if we disagree, even we should acknowledge the earnestness of their motives.

uc davis protesters

Indeed, the BDS movement has been able to capitalize on attracting to its ranks many who legitimately seek a lasting peace between the Israel and the Palestinians. But it’s crucial to note – this end state is not what BDS seeks.

Nothing illustrates this better than the stance of the originator and main intellectual driver of the BDS movement, Omar Barghouti, and his reaction to the views expressed by two professors in support of boycott.

These professors, Steven Levitsky and Glen Weyl published an article in the Washington Post endorsing boycott as a way to pressure Israel in its policies toward the Palestinians. Self-described “life-long Zionists” seeking a two-state outcome, their endorsement of the boycott represents well a variation of the “pressure school” which seeks through pressure to change Israel’s behavior and approach to negotiations.

Regardless of the validity of their ideas—and I have deep doubts over the ability to achieve their desired outcome through one-sided penalties against Israel—what is telling is Barghouti’s response.

In his article, “You can’t save Israel from itself by appropriating BDS,” Barghouti slams the professors. He calls out this “Zionist” endorsement of BDS an appropriation, since it is calculated, in the final analysis, at achieving a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Yet, BDS orthodoxy, Barghouti openly acknowledges, does not seek this goal. Barghouti argues that it is not the occupation that is the challenge but Israel’s very existence as a Jewish State.

Barghouti is transparent in his views and in his aims, and this should be instructive to any potential supporter of BDS. He speaks of Israel as “criminally built.” He refers to Israel itself – not the territories occupied in 1967 after the Six Day War – as an “apartheid” and “colonial-settler” regime.

And he spells out in no uncertain terms that his ideology – the ideology of BDS – is opposed to the formula achieved at Oslo and long since adopted by the international community—the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by the creation of a Palestinian state to live side-by-side with Israel. Barghouti, tellingly, writes:

“Ending the 1967 occupation, even if it included East Jerusalem, at best addresses most of the rights of only 38% of the Palestinian people – those living in the OPT (occupied Palestinian Territory).  What of the UN-stipulated rights of the remaining 62% of the Palestinian people (12% are citizens of current Israel and 50% are in exile who are entitled to their right of return) and what of the right of return of more than 40% of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza who were ethnically cleansed during the Nakba and denied their right to go home?”

It is fair to expect Israel to live up to a policy that can accommodate the eventual emergence of a Palestinian state—and to expect equally that the Palestinians will act in accordance with a two-state vision.

But Barghouti spells out here that what he imagines as ‘justice’ is not merely the achievement of self-determination for the Palestinian people through the creation of an independent state. No, he longs for the right of any Palestinian living under the Palestinian Authority to “return” to areas that now comprise Israel.

In other words, BDS seeks to eradicate the Jewish state by bringing about an end to the self-determination for the Jewish people through the return of all five million Palestinian refugees.

University_of_Michigan-BDS Protest

Of course, the refugee issue has since their inception been a core component of bilateral negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. And, any conceivable agreement between the parties requires that the plight of Palestinians refugees and their descendants must be addressed. Numerous international efforts have acknowledged that their needs will be predominantly accommodated within a future state of Palestine.

Among those who support BDS, there are undoubtedly some who seek Israel’s demise. But for the multitude of those who jump on the BDS bandwagon because they see it as a non-violent way to fast-track an end to the occupation, they need to know they are being taken for a very dangerous ride. They support the politics of Israel’s destruction, a movement of anti-normalization which Israel which is anathema to negotiation, compromise, and conflict resolution.

That’s something that the vast majority of BDS supporters would reject if only they clearly understood it.

So, even as we recognize the misguided aims of BDS and step up our efforts to defeat its ideology, it is a deeper understanding – not simplistic slogans – that are needed to navigate the aspects of this complex challenge.

That is why ADL has joined with the Reut Institute in a new effort aimed at examining the entire array of factors driving the growth of BDS campaigns, an initiative that will help parse those who are genuinely committed to peace – even if their views are different from our own as to how to get there – from those who mean to inflict grave harm.

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January 28, 2016

Crossing the Line: When Criticism of Israel Becomes Anti-Semitic

By Jonathan Green­blatt
CEO of the Anti-Defamation League

This article orig­i­nally appeared on The Huff­in­g­ton Post Blog

Task Force Protestors

Protesters at Task Force Conference in Chicago

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the wake of a protest against a reception featuring an Israeli community group at a recent LGBTQ conference, there has been widespread controversy. We have read blog posts and articles, watched videos of the protest, and heard from friends and allies who were present at the demonstration.

Yet, what was perhaps most painful for many of us is that we value and embrace much of the good work of these activists and organizers.  They are some of our nation’s leading advocates, working to secure justice and fair treatment to all. Often they stand as allies in our work for justice and equality.

Unfortunately, though, this fissure is not a new experience.  Since starting as the CEO of ADL last summer, I personally have heard from many college students that their Jewish faith renders them pariahs on their campuses – unless and until they affirmatively denounce Israel.

Campus Hillels and other Jewish organizations that have long worked with LGBTQ campus groups, student of color organizations, and other progressive clubs on campus to host film festivals, panels, and other events increasingly are being shut out, rejected from participating, even when Israel is not on the agenda. Where other students are not being subjected to a litmus test on their views on Israel, Jewish students have been singled out and questioned about their objectivity and position on the issue.

As racial tensions flared across the country the past few years, we heard anecdotes from Jewish racial justice advocates that they were called “kikes” or targeted with other anti-Jewish slurs. When they tried to address the epithets, they were told they need to understand that “it’s because of Israel.”

Here’s the thing, though. It’s not. It’s anti-Semitism.

Let’s be clear. No government is immune from criticism. Surely neither the U.S. government nor the government of Israel nor any other.  Indeed, we have criticized policies and practices of Israeli leadership when we felt appropriate to do so.

We recognize that anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian activists will condemn Israel. That is a reality. That is their right. We disagree – vigorously – with their accusations of pinkwashing, with claims that Israel is an apartheid state, and with other efforts to demonize Israel.  And we will speak out, challenge their mischaracterizations, and dismantle their indictments with facts and truths, as is our right.

But when that criticism of Israel crosses the line into anti-Semitism, we will condemn it. It is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated anywhere, especially not in social justice circles.

To be specific, when a person conflates Jews, Israelis, and the Israeli government, it is anti-Semitic. When all Jews and all Israelis are held responsible for the actions of the Israeli government, it is anti-Semitic. When Jews would be denied the right to self-determination accorded to all other peoples, it is anti-Semitic.

And when protesters chant “Palestine will be free from the river to the sea,” it is appropriately interpreted by most people as a call for the erasure of Israel – and it is anti-Semitic. Giving protestors the benefit of the doubt, it is unlikely that most intend their message to be anti-Semitic. However, regardless of the intent of the protest, the impact matters.

Yet, too often, when students, individuals, or organizations raise the specter of anti-Semitism it is quickly rejected, disregarded, or written off. Israel’s critics literally have written best-selling books decrying their so-called inability to criticize Israel.

But President Obama himself noted that anti-Semitism is on the rise. And, as he eloquently reminded, “When any Jews anywhere is targeted just for being Jewish, we all have to respond.. ‘We are all Jews.’ ”

Indeed, we know that women are best positioned to define sexism, people of color to define racism, and LGBTQ people to define homophobia, transphobia, and heterosexism. But, does this mean that all women must reach consensus on what offends them? All people of color? Everyone in LGBTQ communities? Hardly.

So too, we Jews are best situated to define anti-Semitism, even if all of us may not likely reach consensus on the definition. Our millennial experience with intolerance demands the same acknowledgement as other forms of bigotry. Indeed, it is the collective responsibility of activists and organizers across the ideological spectrum to stop and listen when someone says,  “You’ve crossed the line.”

Standing up for rights of disempowered people is a job for us all. ADL has been doing it for more than 100 years. But marginalizing and wounding others in the process helps no one. Rather, it divides us and impedes our ability to find common ground in places where our collective strength could do so much good.

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November 24, 2015

Campus Groups Exploit Domestic Social Issues to Attack Israel

Anti-Israel groups on university and college campuses continue to link the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to issues of police brutality and discrimination in the U.S., in an attempt to gain broader support for Boy­cott, Divest­ment, and Sanc­tions (BDS) cam­paigns and other anti-Israel initiatives from minority student groups. By employing this tactic, groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) link domestic issues to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, thereby couching hostility towards Israel in social justice terms and making Israel look like an aggressor.students-for-justice-in-palestine-suhad-khatib

Below are a few examples of these events and actions from the 2015-2016 academic year:

  • Linda Sarsour, the National Advocacy Director for the National Network for Arab American Communities, spoke at Rutgers University on Monday, November 23, 2015 for an event titled “Solidarity: Unifying Communities of Color to Break Cycles of Oppression.” According to the organizers of the event, it was held to focus on a number of issues, including “mass incarceration, mass criminalization, structural violence, apartheid, racism, state-sanctioned violence, police brutality, tear gassed for fighting for freedom and equality- a reality for Palestinians living under occupation, and for Blacks fighting an unjust system here in the United States.”
  • Suhad Khatib, a member of the St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC), spoke via Skype at San Diego State University on Thursday, November 19 for an event titled “Resisting Oppression from Mizzou to Gaza.” In her presentation, she stated that African-Americans, Palestinians, Mexicans, and oppressed people are connected, claiming that “Ferguson taught me more about my connection with Palestine than anything else because you understand racism and systematic racism. We as Palestinians are brainwashed to think we are white when we are people of color and are oppressed.”
  • The Marquette University SJP chapter sponsored a panel discussion titled “Outlets 4 Activism,” which featured Ali Abunimah, founder and executive director of the anti-Israel Electronic Intifada blog, as a panelist. Other panelists at the event included Nate Hamilton, an activist from the #BlackLivesMatter movement and brother of Dontre Hamilton; and Oscar Hernandez, an immigrant rights activist who works as an Organizer for We Own the DREAM. The event was co-sponsored by Black Student Council (BSC), Youth Empowered in the Struggle (Y.E.S), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP).
  • Many SJP chapters and other anti-Israel groups across the country co-sponsored rallies and demonstrations held in solidarity with African-American students at the University of Missouri. At one of the demonstrations, which took place at Loyola University on Wednesday, November 11, Nadine Darwish, a member of Loyola SJP and Loyola Divest, stated “Now is the time to hold administrators accountable…No longer can we remain complacent as students and student activists. We have to put an end to the policies and practices that contribute to the systemic traumatization of students of color on campus, particularly Black students and my peers in SJP.”

These events are a continuation of what occurred during the previous academic year, when anti-Israel groups worked to link the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to Ferguson, Missouri and when SJP and its partners began to publicly back different movements and offer support to various groups, while broadening support for BDS and other anti-Israel initiatives.

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