On February 27th, a US judge judge threw out a lawsuit against a food co-op that had decided to boycott Israeli goods. The cooperative is in Olympia, Washington, the hometown of Palestine solidarity activist Rachel Corrie, who was killed by an Israeli bulldozer in 2003.
As someone who does not support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, I hail this as a great victory. Doesn’t make sense? Oh, but it does.
Let’s step back from the Israel-Palestine issue for a moment. There are few actions that ordinary citizens can take to address what they believe are injustices being committed in other countries. Demonstrations are one. Encouraging their fellow citizens not to buy imports or contribute economically to the offending country is another.
These are recognized and legitimate tactics, even if one does not agree with the activists’ views. Yet somehow, when it comes to Israel and the Palestinians, such measures are allegedly beyond the pale, and even, in the most absurd accusations, constitute anti-Semitism.
There’s a really simple way to address a food co-op that refuses to sell Israeli goods. If your cause is just, boycott the co-op, or simply publicize its policy, in the belief that most people will disagree with it.
But that wouldn’t work here, and not only because of the specific community in question. Even if few US citizens would support a boycott of Israeli goods, a great many more, if they understood the reality of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and its siege on the Gaza Strip, would support the statement that food co-op was making.
So, since they can’t win their case in the local arena of public discourse, supporters of Israeli policies (who cannot be called pro-Israel because they are working against a normal future for Israel) try to use the advantages they do have, and that generally comes down to resources. In this case, money.
They filed what is known as a SLAPP suit, whose purpose is not to win a court case, but to place such a financial burden on the defendant that they will be forced to abandon whatever behavior the SLAPP suit is directed at. In other words, it’s a means of censoring and bullying others into silence because they don’t have enough money.
That’s just not a tactic one needs to pursue if they have right on their side.
Let’s look at another example. Alan Dershowitz, who has openly called for Israel to bulldoze entire towns in response to terrorist attacks, is on the warpath against MJ Rosenberg of Media Matters for America. He is incensed that Rosenberg has pointed out the very obvious fact that, when it comes to foreign policy matters involving Israel, some people are basing their views of US policy on what is best for Israel.
I have known MJ Rosenberg for years. MJ is as Jewish a guy as you’ll ever meet, and you should see his face when he talks about how much he loves Tel Aviv. He has been to Israel many times and has a lot to say about the positive aspects of that country.
But MJ, who once worked for the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), is also disgusted by the tribalism that has infected the Jewish community, and he’s very concerned about the pressure being brought on the Obama Administration to attack Iran when it is plainly not in America’s interest to do so. The case being made involves not US, but Israeli worries (which do not, outside of fear-mongering, include the fear that Iran would be willing to face nuclear attack itself in order to nuke Israel, an act which would, kill as many Palestinians as Israelis, and would put some of Islam’s holiest sites at serious risk.)
Dershowitz, who could learn a lot about being a Jew and a mensch from Rosenberg, is trying to rally momentum to have MJ fired, not by bringing a scintilla of evidence contradicting MJ’s claims or arguing his views, but by hurling baseless accusations of anti-Semitism.
It’s another example of the sort of tactics employed when one cannot win the argument on its merits.
As with Dershowitz’s invective, the attempts to bully the BDS movement into silence with similar accusations, and lawsuits, only shows the bankruptcy of supporters of the Israeli right.
One does not have to agree with the BDS movement to appreciate that. I, myself, have long supported boycotts of settlement products and efforts to get foreign investments out of those settlements. I would also be pleased to see the international community, especially the United Nations, penalize Israel for its ongoing settlement activity, an action which, if taken years ago, might well have allowed us to avoid the hopeless impasse Israel and the Palestinians are at now. So there you have B, D and S.
My experiences with the BDS movement, however, were not comfortable. I found myself in disagreement with much of the analysis I heard. I do not believe it is tactically wise to try to rally boycotts of products made in Israel proper. I oppose any action that might imply that Israel, within its pre-1967 borders, cannot exist in peace with its neighbors and cannot resolve its conflict with the Palestinians, however many states it takes to accomplish that.
I am just as comfortable arguing that view with anti-Zionists as I am with Zionists who believe all the land from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea must be “made Jewish.”
Indeed, whatever my philosophical and tactical disagreements with the BDS groups I have had contact with, they are following a call from Palestinian civil society that was specifically intended as a way to combat the occupation using non-violent means. This what the Israeli right wants to criminalize.
But how else does one defend the indefensible? The Israeli occupation is about to reach its 45th birthday. In its early years, Israel could talk about credible threats from its neighbors, but this has not been the case in decades. It points to rockets from Gaza, which almost never cause any property damage, and even more rarely cause injuries.
Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have not had the rights so many of us take for granted since well before 1967; but since that year, it has been due to Israel’s withholding those rights.
In Europe, supporters of the status quo, or worse, are in the distinct minority. In the US, there is, with each passing year, a greater realization that holding millions of people without rights without rights and freedom when there is no credible military threat cannot be justified.
So defenders of these policies, like those who brought the SLAPP suit, and Alan Dershowitz, have to fall back on smear campaigns and bullying.
Because the occupation can’t be justified. The proof is in the inability of its defenders to debate, in fair and open forums, even those whose position in support of a free Palestine includes planks that many observers would disagree with.
The resort to bullying has been going on for a long time. However, it’s becoming a more prominent tool as Israeli policies become harder and harder to defend due to their duration and their increasingly radical character.
It’s time for a legitimate pro-Israel movement—which would include being anti-occupation, anti-war with Iran and, yes, also clear support for the rights of the Palestinian people – to replace these bullies. It’s not about Zionism or Palestinian nationalism, nor about BDS nor about settlement expansion.
It’s about a better future for both Israelis and Palestinians. It’s about everyone having their rights respected equally, be they Jew, Muslim, Christian, Arab, or Westerner. That’s what the bullies oppose. They just can’t do it openly.