Shulamit S. Magnus
Jewish historian

About BDS and Congressional and Other Manipulations

So many resolutions in Congress about BDS; ostensibly, these are about being for and against boycotts and the right to boycott though it is clear that, without mentioning BDS or Israel, specifically, that is what all this is about.

For some, it’s hard to follow the moves till now but the various motions and anti-motions are just beginning. All this has become a political live-wire between the Republican and Democratic parties, with the Republicans sensing a juicy opportunity to exploit Democratic division and paint that party as anti-Israel, or even ant-Jewish, facts be damned. When Jews and Israel, the Jewish state, become stand-ins for dividing lines between major parties and segments of popular opinion, it is not good news for the Jews. Some have felt that a choice between Jewish and constitutional, democratic commitments is what is called for in this moment. That is not true, at all.

There is no contradiction between upholding the Constitution and the constitutional right to free speech, including speech with which one disagrees, and supporting the right of individuals, or states, or the Federal government, not to give their private business, or government business, to entities that boycott Israel. Either boycotts are ok or they aren’t. And they are.

The question is selective use of them, and in particular, in this case, the language used in supporting them, and disgusting analogies that are employed, that are intended to serve, and that serve, to demonize Israel. Not to oppose specific policies but to continue an obscene discourse, promoted about no other state or people on earth, about a “right to exist.”

BDS, of course, is marketed as boycotting only Israeli products from over the Green Line but anyone with an honest interest in all this needs also to be aware of the founding history and continued purpose of BDS, which has nothing to do with selective boycott or specific Israeli policies, but with deliberately misleading people about the founding history and continued purpose of BDS. Anyone who wants to dissociate from settlements or products from over the Green Line cannot credibly dissociate from the larger context in which organized efforts to this end are being waged. Which does not mean that individuals can’t follow their consciences about this but that they need to be aware of their bedfellows, whose “conscience” may be running on an entirely different agenda.

Google, “BDS,” if you never have, and see what comes up; try to get the BDS founding charter. See the language used by the organization itself to define its goals; the dishonesty. Here is cut-and-paste, with interpolation by me, in caps:

“Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) is a Palestinian-led movement for freedom, justice and equality. BDS upholds the simple principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity. (DOES THIS INCLUDE SELF-GOVERNING JEWS?).

“Israel is occupying and colonising (SIC) Palestinian land, (NOTE THE FAILURE TO DESIGNATE WHAT PALESTINIAN LAND IS INTENDED. THAT EXCLUSION IS QUITE DELIBERATE, SINCE THE FOUNDERS OF BDS CONSIDER ALL OF ISRAEL, PRE-1967, TOO, “PALESTINIAN LAND,” AND EQUATE ZIONISM WITH “SETTLER COLONIALISM” OF, E.G., THE BOERS IN SOUTH AFRICA. THE ISSUE IS NOT THE WEST BANK , OR 1967, AS IT IS FOR SO MANY WHO SEEK TWO STATES FOR TWO PEOPLES, THAT IS, A NEGOTIATED END TO THE NATIONALITY/ LAND CONFLICT HERE, BUT ISRAEL ITSELF. WHY DON’T BDS’ FRAMERS JUST COME OUT AND SAY THIS, THAT THE GOAL IS THE END OF ISRAEL? BECAUSE THAT WOULD BE A HARDER SELL TO NICE, LIBERAL PEOPLE, WHILE MISLEADING PEOPLE IS SO MUCH MORE EFFECTIVE), discriminating against Palestinian citizens of Israel and denying Palestinian refugees the right to return to their homes. (OK, IN CASE YOU MISSED IT OR DID NOT WANT TO TAKE MY WORD FOR IT IN THE ABOVE COMMENT, HERE IT IS, THE RIGHT OF RETURN AND THE END OF ISRAEL. THIS, WHILE NO SIMILAR CLAIM HAS BEEN OR IS BEING PRESSED IN OTHER NATIONALITY CONFLICTS AND ABOUT OTHER STATES, NOT LEAST, ARAB STATES, CREATED SINCE THE END OF WORLD WARS ONE AND TWO. PALESTINIAN ADVOCATES, TO BE SURE, ARE ENTITLED TO MAKE AN EXCEPTIONAL CASE FOR THEIR CAUSE BUT THE REST OF US SHOULD BE AWARE THAT THAT IS WHAT THIS IS). Inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement, the BDS call urges action to pressure Israel to comply with international law. (NICE! COMPARE ISRAEL, WITH ARAB MKS, MEMBERS OF THE SUPREME COURT, THE MEDICAL AND UNIVERSITY AND BANKING  ESTABLISHMENTS, ON THE BEACHES AND IN THE SWIMMING POOLS, IN THE BUSES, TRAINS, STREETS, CAFES, THEATERS– WITH APARTHEID SOUTH AFRICA– OR NAZI GERMANY. BY ALL MEANS, DON’T CONFINE THE DISCUSSION TO THE OCCUPATION REGIME ON THE WEST BANK; MAKE IT ABOUT ISRAEL ITSELF. NEEDLESS TO SAY, DON’T SAY ANYTHING ABOUT THE CORRUPT, REPRESSIVE, PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY (PA), NEVER MIND, HAMAS; OR ABOUT SEVERAL PEACE DEALS THAT THE PA REJECTED, UNDER WHICH THERE WOULD HAVE BEEN A PALESTINIAN STATE, WITH A CAPITAL IN JERUSALEM, SEVERAL TIMES OVER, LONG AGO.)

“BDS is now a vibrant global movement made up of unions, academic associations, churches and grassroots movements across the world. Thirteen years since its launch, BDS is having a major impact and is effectively challenging international support for Israeli apartheid and settler-colonialism.” NOTE THE SLEIGHT OF HAND IN THE FINAL WORDS HERE, WHICH CHARACTERIZE ISRAEL’S EXISTENCE AS INHERENTLY ILLEGITIMATE.

Me again, straight up:

It’s a free country and people are free to support, or oppose, boycotts, or other political and economic activities, as they wish. Many liberals are pushing to boycott US states that have recently passed legislation banning abortion. That is their right. And individuals and governments can choose where they give their business: either boycotts are ok or they aren’t; it can’t be had both ways. Telling people they can’t support boycotts, punishing them via employment or other measures, is clearly unconstitutional. It is also politically, stupid.

It is stupid for people who support Israel to align that support with anti-constitutional , anti-democratic, anti-liberal measures. It may be more than just stupid; it offends the Jewish principles of many. But at the least, it is does not serve Israel’s interests, indeed, is very counter-productive to those interests. And to those of Diaspora Jews. This tactic is a set-up  for charges of that old, Jew-hating canard of Jewish “dual loyalty; or for accusations of “self-hatred” and “assimilation.” All this is lose-lose for Jews and we should not allow ourselves to be played like this.

We CAN, and indeed, must walk and chew gum at the same time . This may be, indeed, is, challenging, but not in fact, that complicated.

About the Author
Shulamit S. Magnus is a professor of Jewish history and an award-winning author of books on Jewish modernity and on Jewish women's history.
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