In light of Israel’s controversial entry ban on supporters of boycotting Israeli products and the arrest of Omar Barghouti, the BDS Movement finds itself in the headlines once again. Many have come out to criticize Israel’s actions, especially in regards to the entry ban. Even pro-Israel activists have condemned the legislation. American for Peace Now’s President and CEO Debra DeLee said, “Passage of this legislation…will further portray Israel as a state that betrays the democratic principles upon which it was established.” While I fully agree that banning boycott supporters is not the way to truly defeat BDS and boycotting settlement products can be a legitimate way to save Israel from self-destruction, we must be careful not to defend the BDS Movement and remember why we must fight against it.
The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Movement is an umbrella of Palestinian grassroots organizations that call for imposing economic pressure on Israel to comply with their three demands: an ending of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian Territories, allow for a unified return of Palestinian refugees into Israel proper, and equal rights for Israel’s Palestinian citizens. Though BDS is not officially for a one or two-state solution, applying all three demands together results in a single Palestinian state that only acknowledges and upholds the nationalist aspirations of one people.
Many of the movement’s leaders are not hiding what they hope to achieve through their three demands. During a Q and A session at the University of Ottawa in 2009, co-founder and president of BDS Omar Barghouti is quite explicit in what the return of the Palestinian refugees would mean: “I clearly do not but into the two-state solution…If the refugees were to return, you would not have a two-state solution…You’ll have a Palestine next to a Palestine.”
Even Israeli critic Norman Finkelstein has argued that the movement’s goal is for the elimination of Israel: “They think they’re being very clever…they call it their three tier…they know the result of implementing all three is what…there’s no Israel.”
In other words, BDS’ three demands will result in a solution that acknowledges and legitimizes the historical connection to the land and the national rights of one people and not the other. That’s not a peaceful solution. That’s a zero-sum solution. A peaceful solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, a conflict based on nationalist rivalries over the same land, requires a solution that addresses the historical connection to the land and the national rights of both peoples. However, Barghouti and many other leaders of BDS do not see it that way.
Barghouti’s rejection of a two-state solution or a Jewish state in Palestine in any way or form comes from his denial of Jewish identity as a people and their connection to the land. As he has stated before, “(Jews) aren’t indigenous just because you say you are…(Jews) are not a people…the UN’s principle of the right to self-determination applies only to colonized people who want to acquire their rights.” The way Barghouti and other leaders of BDS may see it is that Jews are not a people, but rather a religious or cultural minority. Thus, they are not entitled to self-determination and should live peacefully as a religious minority under Palestinian rule. However, when you look at how people’s identities are essentially constructed, you will see that Jews are indeed a people.
Social Psychologist Daniel Bar-Tal suggests that societies of people are socially constructed through shared memories. As he writes in his academic paper, “Social representations of collective memory…outline common origin, describe common paste events and thus illuminate present experiences. In telling the story, they form a shared past as society members.” We Jews have collective memories that bind us together as a people. We hold onto our stories of our connection to the land of Eretz Yisrael while we were in the diaspora, the persecution as Jews over the past 2,000 years, and the memory of the Holocaust. These Jewish narratives and collective memories bind us together as a people. Thus, we are entitled to self-determination.
Through their three demands, BDS is denying the Jews’ right to self-determination as a people. They are essentially proposing the reciprocal of what people like Naftali Bennett and the Beit Yehudi party are proposing, one state as Israel with no Palestinian sovereignty in any way or form, and those who deny that Palestinian Arabs are a people; they that are rather generic Arabs. That is also not a peaceful solution, but rather a zero-sum solution because it will only uphold one people’s nationalist aspirations and not the other.
Again, though it may be true that Israel’s entry ban is not a pragmatic way to counter BDS, we must be mindful to make the distinction between the tactics of boycotting, which can be a legitimate tool to saving Israel, and the BDS Movement itself. The BDS Movement is for a solution that acknowledges and upholds the national aspiration of only one people over the land. That is not peace; that is a zero-sum game. Peace will not come until both peoples’ historical connection to the land and national rights are upheld.