Boycotting “the occupation” is not enough

Liberal Zionists are attempting to co-opt BDS to preserve Israeli apartheid.

Ryan Rodrick Beiler ActiveStills

Earlier this month, The New York Review of Books published a call for “a targeted boycott of all goods and services from all Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, and any investments that promote the occupation, until such time as a peace settlement is negotiated between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority.”

That call, signed by Peter Beinart, Todd Gitlin, Michael Walzer and more than 70 other liberal Zionist writers and luminaries, states that the so-called Green Line – the 1949 Armistice Line separating the occupied West Bank from present-day Israel – “should be the starting point for negotiations between the Israeli and Palestinian parties on future boundaries between two states.”

Co-opting BDS

This is precisely the kind of attempt to co-opt the success of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement that Columbia University professor Joseph Massad cautions about in a 2014 article for The Electronic Intifada: liberal Zionists aim to redefine and redirect the movement’s strength and efforts towards preserving, instead of challenging, Israel as a racist, apartheid and colonial state.

Massad warns that BDS could turn from something “untouchable by European and American officials and liberal academics and activists – who understood its ultimate goal as one that not only refuses to guarantee the survival of Israel as a racist state, but also aims specifically to dismantle all its racist structures – to something increasingly safe to adopt by most of them, as it now can be used to secure Israel’s survival.”

Palestinians must insist, Massad writes, that those in solidarity with them adopt BDS with an explicit commitment to its goals, “to bring about an end to Israel’s racism and colonialism in all its forms inside and outside the 1948 boundaries” – the whole of present-day Israel, the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.


In the current issue of The New York Review of Books, more than 100 activists, scholars and artists from Palestine and around the world – including BDS movement co-founder Omar Barghouti, activist and scholar Angela Davis, historian Joan Scott, Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, writer Alice Walker and South African freedom fighter Ronnie Kasrils – have responded.

The new letter – of which I am one the signers – says that it defies “common sense” to call only for “boycotting settlements while letting Israel, the state that has illegally built and maintained those settlements for decades, off the hook.”

“By omitting Israel’s other serious violations of international law, the statement fails the moral consistency test,” the letter adds. “Aren’t Palestinian refugees, the majority of Palestinians, entitled to their UN-stipulated rights? Shouldn’t Palestinian citizens of Israel enjoy equal rights by repealing Israel’s dozens of laws that racially discriminate against them?”

It emphasizes that the Palestinian call for BDS is aimed at “all entities, Israeli or international, that are complicit in denying Palestinians everywhere their rights.”

Like The Nation and The London Review of Books, The New York Review of Books has rarely opened its pages to Palestinian writers, and has been a bastion of liberal Zionist orthodoxy.

So in that sense, its publication of the letter represents a small opening in the wall of exclusion.




I see that Beinart, Gitlin et al were given space to respond to your letter. Will you be given a chance to respond to their response? I hope so.


Their reply states "We urge those who share our view to join over 240 signatories at Partners for a Progressive (sic) Israel", why not ask the same from supporters of BDS?


On the Boycott of Israeli Settlements
Angela Y. Davis, Chandler Davis, Richard A. Falk, Rashid Khalidi, and Alice Rothchild, , et al.
"Defying common sense, however, the statement calls for boycotting settlements while letting Israel, the state that has illegally built and maintained those settlements for decades, off the hook."


The most important BDS is the boycotting of the declining old parties of the United States. Too many people who are conscious of the Palestine case, even Palestinian Americans, will waste their votes on the perceived "lesser of two evils" of the Democrat or Republican candidates, all of who fall all over each other to prove who will be most generous with the welfare check to Israel. We must be disciplined and reject them both. I encourage people to vote Libertarian for all candidates and when there is no Libertarian for a position on the ballot to vote for the Green. That is what I will do and I hope my Green friends reciprocate.


Vote for Gary Johnson, a right-winger who doesn't know what "Aleppo" is? Such an ally the Palestinian people can do without, I suggest.*

Vote instead for Green candidate Jill Stein, who supports BDS.**

* Wikipedia: Johnson "said that Israel is an important ally, and that America's military alliance with Israel should be maintained, but that he opposes financial aid to Israel, as he does to all countries,[8] although he has since stated he favors the continuation of 'strategic aid' to Israel.[39] He has said he would not follow Israel or any other ally into a war that it had initiated.[40]"
"I think Israel has been and will remain an important ally... It’s hard to understand [BDS]. I could not converse on that issue intelligently."


Jerusalem Post: "Green Party presidential candidate Stein: End military aid to 'apartheid' Israel"

“What we would say to Israel is like what we would say to Saudi Arabia, which is that in order to receive support from the United States that we need to see compliance with international law and human rights. That means to end the human rights abuses and the boycotting [she must mean blockading] of Gaza and the apartheid policies inside of Israel."


Eric, I look forward to the day when the Greens and Libertarians are dominant parties and they will debate who can end the aid to Israel the fastest. You are correct that Gary Johnson is uninformed about foreign affairs. Since he made those comments (and other embarrassing ones) he has gotten some healthy advice and won't be making them again. Bottom line is that Libertarians will cut all foreign aid to all foreign governments unconditionally and without exception. Some of us would abrogate military treaties and alliances faster than others. If you are voting Green I heartily approve of the fact that you are not bound by the superstition which says that you must vote for the lesser of two evils of the declining old parties of death, horror, militarism, and Zionism. Also note, a vote for the Greens or Libertarians, especially the down ticket candidates, is a vote for the respective movements rather than the personalities of the candidates. A good showing, (varying in the specifics from state to state) affects whether these parties will be on the ballot for the next election. A vote for candidates from the traditional old parties is a vote to enable continued heartbreak in Palestine and elsewhere around the world - and further, such a vote sabotages any efforts for fresh alternatives.


Bravo to Ali for this clear article.

As BDS slowly grows in Canada, there is also a tendency to limit to focus to ending "the occupation" (by which is meant the '67 occupation). This is promoted by different people for different reasons.

Liberal Zionists see it as a way to criticize Netanyahu and the settlements, while protecting Israel as a Jewish state. But many other people who are not conscious Zionists think that it is "easier' to promote BDS if it is limited to the focussing on the occupation.

They are right, of course, it is an easier sell. But it has the unfortunate effect of SUPPORTING the struggle of the 4 or 5 million Palestinians who live under direct occupation in the WB and Gaza, while ignoring the suffering and struggle of the 5 or 6 million who are refugees or live inside Israel.

It also has the effect of supporting a two state "solution" which ends the occupation but ignores the needs o the 5 million refugees is neither fair nor viable.

This puts "tactics" in the place of "principle". A better way is to remain firm on the principle of human rights, while being tactically careful - especially in the use of language.


If liberal Jews want to run their own semi-BDS and call it BDS, does this harm or build support for (full) BDS? It might help! If many (liberal) Jews can sign-on to ANY version of BDS which uses (or misuses) the "BDS" acronym, then the world at large will see "support for BDS from Jews". After all, few people read the fine print and anyone building a coalition knws that you need the broadest coalition you can get and within it there will be differences of opinion.

Also, a watered-down liberal Jews' version of BDS may be their own attempt to find a way for their friends to "join BDS" while not perhaps being willing to join JVP's version of BDS or the actual BDS.

What all BDS'ers want, I should think, is a way to keep the acronym ("BDS") and the principal goals (or any principal goal) before the public in an approving manner.

BTW, one goal of BDS is to get the "S" activated, to get nations to adopt sanctions against Israel. If any do so, that will be a critical moment, because the sanctions will either be now-and-forever (doubtful) or will be conditioned upon some sort of Isreali compliance. Compliance with what? That has always been a big problem.

I, for instance, have long called for international sanctions to get Israel to comply with international law to the extent of removing all settlers and removing/dismantling all settlement buildings. I'd also call for an end to the blockade of Gaza and establishment of a right of return for the exiles frm 1948, etc. But that's my view. What the nations (or any few of them) might come up with -- against the mighty USA and UK and AIPAC and BICOM -- is anyone's guess. So far, nothing. Will Obama have a November surprise? We'll know soon.

Probably best for BDS to accept liberal Jewish semi-BDS with words of thanks and in same sentence, noting that the LJ goals are not the same as the BDS goals if they do not include full PRoR and non-discriminatiory democracy within whatever may be called Israel.


As stated, in the response to the response to the original letter, the key reason for this attempt to sideline the PACBI/BDS movement is that; “Too many supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions agenda embrace a one-state solution that seeks to extinguish the state of Israel”. “We believe that neither people wishes to forgo a state of its own, and that a “one-state solution” is no solution at all, but rather a prescription for endless violence”.
Ali has us reference J. Massad’s 2 year old analysis, of attempts to strip BDS of its original mission statement, wherein he posits that these liberal efforts “strengthen Israel’s right to be a racist state over all of historic Palestine”. And that “this strategy has worked very well for the last two decades with hardly a peep from the Palestinian Authority, which owes its very existence to this unending process.” And “as there is no Palestinian state to recognize within the 1967, or any other, borders, these political moves are engineered to undo the death of the two-state solution, the illusion of which had guaranteed Israel’s survival as a Jewish racist state for decades".
Oddly perhaps, here in my room, I find myself agreeing with all of the above, excepting the prescription presumption and PA pan.
Now, given that Ali, Joseph and our comrades and Peter (et al.) are also opining on the states and fates of beleaguered millions, from the comfort of their own feather beds, does anyone think there would be any value in the privileged lot of us agreeing on ways to increase the pressure rather let out a lot of hot air? Or would that be defeating the purpose?