(Not just another) open letter to Roger Waters


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The anti-Semitic rhetoric and fallacies of BDS must end.

Dear Mr. Waters:

You have sadly been duped by the dubious Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (“BDS”) against Israel.  The BDS enterprise masquerades as a peaceful movement with the goal of securing rights for Palestinian Arabs in Israel.  The reality is that the BDS leadership seeks a single state in Israel, comprised of Palestinians, leaving Jews with no rights to the sole country legally established by international law as the nation of the Jewish people – Israel.  If the leaders of BDS were successful in achieving their goals (and thankfully they are far from achieving any measurable success), the state of Israel would be overthrown, leaving zero democratic nations in the Middle East, and not a single Jewish state in the world.  The BDS movement, focused solely on Israel to the exclusion of all other countries on the globe, espouses falsehoods and hyperbole about Israel and the Jewish people.  It has failed to accomplish any goal other than serving as an incubator for anti-Semitism.  The Saturday, October 27, 2018 shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, killing 11 and injuring six more, is emblematic of the conduct that results from the type of hate speech that emanates from groups like BDS.

(Am I suggesting that BDS was responsible for this tragedy?  No.  But BDS is responsible for disseminating inflammatory, false and misleading anti-Semitic and anti-Israel statements.  BDS’s objectionable conduct only serves to provoke and intensify the flames of anti-Semitism.  Violence is the ultimate result of such provocation.)

While BDS purports an objective of bringing economic and other pressure to bear upon Israel so they might unclench the brutal iron fist crushing the Palestinians, this is a farce.  And in actuality, the true aspirations and consequences of BDS are the antithesis of peaceful.  This is not surprising as BDS was specifically engineered to shun peace.

So why do I characterize this missive as “not just another” open letter to you?  My intent is not to bash Roger Waters, or highlight your anti-Semitic tendencies.  That has been done, and you’ve heard those arguments.  Rather, if you truly believe in the validity of BDS, and are genuinely not using BDS as a means to perpetuate anti-Semitism, the time has come to either retract your support of this ill-conceived enterprise, or engage in a public debate, employing recognized rules of debate.  Assuming you will not accede to the request to disavow BDS, this letter serves the dual purpose of (1) inviting you or your friend and cohort Omar Barghouti to debate the issues, and (2) to share facts about the BDS movement, exposing the propaganda espoused by BDS, and the true nefarious underpinning of BDS.  I invite you to refute any fact or assertion in this letter.

I am not an historian or political scientist, but neither are you.  So as an attorney I employ my education and skill and invest time studying the history and issues.  I also elicit my personal experience having lived in Israel in the early 1970’s and visiting the county fifteen times in the past dozen years.  But I am admittedly limited to sharing facts and drawing reasonable conclusions based upon the facts.  It is beyond my ability and principles to manufacture a narrative that does not exist or spin a reality other than as the facts establish.    Insofar as neither of us should feign an expertise on such a complicated situation, located in neither of our backyards, the facts will be our guide.  And while you may not be an historian, you are a talented musician, and for that reason alone some will follow you without question, challenge or dissent.  With respect, you owe it to those who blindly follow you and take your condemnations seriously, and more importantly, your role in BDS has forged a responsibility you owe to the Palestinians, for whom your sympathies clearly rest, to be on the correct side of this issue.  Currently you are not.

Some history

A major flaw in BDS, and likely the reason why no BDS leader has agreed to participate in an open, public debate with an informed opponent, is simply that the facts get in the way of your narrative.  Consider the nature of the leaders of the BDS movement, their goals and designs.  Its founder and leader, Omar Barghouti, is not interested in human rights for Palestinians, but rather he unabashedly seeks to end Israel’s existence as a Jewish state.  His goal is a single Palestinian state in Israel and eradication of a Jewish state.  In furtherance of this position, he has stated that even if “occupation” (as characterized by BDS) would end, BDS would not end.  BDS hides behind a slogan of “Free Palestine,” but at rallies and protests supporters chant, “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”  Israel is situated between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.  BDS’s goal of abolishing the State of Israel is evident.

The present day BDS enterprise started to take shape following the UN World Conference Against Racism (an ironic name), held in Durban, South Africa in August/September 2001.  That conference included an NGO (non-governmental organization) Forum under UN auspices, which devolved into an anti-Israel, anti-Semitic hate-fest.  The result of the NGO Forum, from which Jewish and Israeli NGOs were excluded, was the “Durban Strategy.”  The Forum’s declaration demonized and vilified Israel, falsely accusing Israel of being an apartheid state, and of racist crimes including war crimes, acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing.  The goal of the Durban Strategy was to bring about the downfall of the State of Israel through boycott and isolation, much like the final disposition of Apartheid South Africa.  Invoking parallels between the free and democratic State of Israel and Apartheid South Africa were and remain blatantly false.  The UN Human Rights Commissioner and over 100 NGOs denounced the results of the Durban Strategy.   Since 9/11 occurred a mere few days following Durban, much of the world’s attention was focused elsewhere.  Otherwise, there would have been considerably more indignation and condemnation of Durban.

BDS is by no means original or the first attempted to boycott Jewish business.  In the early 1920’s Arabs boycotted Jewish businesses in Palestine.  In 1945, less than 9 months after its formation, the Arab League commenced an economic boycott of the Jewish Community in Palestine.  Boycotts of Jewish businesses were widespread beginning in Nineteenth Century Europe, and continued through the Holocaust.

In the spirit of the Durban Strategy – the goal of which is the elimination of the nation of Israel, Omar Barghouti started the BDS movement, after being involved in several other Jewish and Israeli boycott schemes.  He’s a proponent of terrorism, promotes anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, and seeks the destruction of the State of Israel.  Barghouti was born in Qatar and ultimately moved to Israel.  Part of his education includes a master’s degree from Tel Aviv University, where he also commenced studying for a doctorate.  The fact that Mr. Barghouti, openly anti-Israel, characterizes Israel an apartheid state while living there and attending university in Israel, is one of countless examples of both the democracy that exists in Israel, and the fallacy of BDS’s claims.

While one may endeavor to distinguish the BDS movement from its principal leaders, its leaders and their objective to destroy the only nation state of the Jewish people are far too entwined.  It is disingenuous to be a proponent of singling out and boycotting only the Jewish economy and suggest the absence of anti-Semitic motives.  And it is equally insincere to distance oneself from the genocidal, propagandist origins and leadership of BDS yet advocate for it.  The list of supporters of BDS include a who’s who of leading anti-Semitic organizations.  BADIL, an NGO dedicated to eliminating Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, promotes martyrdom and engages in virulent anti-Semitic activities.   Miftah, another NGO, started by a member of the Durban fiasco, as recently as 2013 published an article that repeated the anti-Semitic blood libel that Jews use Christian blood to bake matzah.  This organization promotes the glorification of terrorists.  The list goes on.  The background and motives of the leadership, its supporter and the “movement” can in no way be bifurcated.  The foundation, the bricks and mortar of BDS are nefarious.

Israel is simply not an apartheid state

One of the propaganda campaigns created by BDS is that Israel is an apartheid state.  In no way is Israel an apartheid state, and such parallels diminish the struggles endured by the South Africans oppressed by true apartheid.  In South Africa, an all-white government enforced racial segregation laws oppressing the rights of that country’s non-white majority.  Non-whites were deprived of civil liberties including the right to vote.  Israel has no laws, policy or intention to segregate, persecute or mistreat its Arab population.  Israel’s Declaration of Independence provides equal rights to all citizens.  Israeli Arabs participate in all facets of Israeli life.  Arabs and other non-Jews vote in all elections, and serve in Israel’s armed forces, police, judiciary (including Israel’s Supreme Court) and the Parliament (Knesset).   This is the antithesis of an apartheid state.

In 1967, Israel took control of the West Bank while its Arab neighbors attempted to annihilate the State of Israel. This land, and its occupants, has been a source of terrorism and murder, resulting in the creation of a barrier to protect Jewish citizens from violence. Arabs in the West Bank vote for their local government; they do not have voting rights in Israel as they are not citizens of Israel. No country permits non-citizens to vote in elections and Israel is no exception. Apartheid South Africa never attempted to allow or encourage the creation of a separate nation for black and minority citizens. However, Israel has attempted just that on numerous occasions.

How many times have the Palestinians refused or failed to create a sovereign state?  

Why is there no Palestinian state?  In my estimation, the Palestinians, either directly or through proxies, have refused, rejected, failed or sabotaged statehood ten times.

  1. 1937 – The Peel Commission. This was Britan’s first offer of statehood by partition, creating two states – rejected by the Palestinian representatives.
  2. 1939 – British White Paper. Once again partition of Palestine into two states was rejected by the Palestinian Arabs.
  3. 1947 – U.N. partition proposal was rejected by the Arabs.
  4. 1948 – 1967. The West Bank was under Jordanian control during this period, and Gaza under Egyptian control.  Ample opportunity existed for creation of a Palestinian State. No agreement reached.
  5. 1979 – Israeli – Egyptian peace negotiations. Palestinians were offered autonomy, which would have enabled statehood.  No agreement reached.
  6. 1993 – Oslo. The Oslo agreements provided a path for Palestinian statehood, which was ultimately derailed by terrorism.
  7. 2000 – Camp David. Israel offers Palestinians Gaza and 97% of West Bank.  No agreement reached.
  8. 2001 – Taba Summit. The parties were close, but no agreement reached.
  9. 2005 – Israel disengaged from Gaza, providing an opportunity to create a nation state of the Palestinian people.
  10. 2008 – Israel offers to withdraw from nearly the entire West Bank and the partition of Jerusalem. Yet again this offer was rejected.

Fair offers were made and rejected.  Opportunities squandered.  How can Israel be expected to unilaterally forge an everlasting peace and statehood for the Palestinians?  In 1973, following the Geneva Peace Conference, Abba Eban observed that the “Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”  You are identifying with and supporting the aggressor rather than the party which seeks peace.

BDS’s singling out the world’s only Jewish state is insidious and abhorrent

To single out the only democracy in the Middle East, Israel, with the best record of human rights, civil liberties and freedom in and beyond the Middle East is by definition discriminatory and biased.  It is not only patently unfair to Israel, but it deprives truly significant and inhumane transgressions of human rights and genocide of much needed attention.

Israel ranks high in Freedom House’s list of countries and regions based upon freedoms, civil liberties and political rights.  Is Israel immune from criticism?  Of course not.  But all in Israel, both Jew and non-Jew, enjoy freedom of speech, freedom to protest, and access to courts.  Within the past month, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that Lara Alqasem, noted BDS activist and president of a chapter of the virulently anti-Israel Student for Justice in Palestine, be allowed entry into Israel to study.  This clearly underscores the workings of a true democracy and a country that respects the rule of law.  Of all the countries in the world, why is Israel the one and only country you and BDS choose to boycott?

If you are looking for true humanitarian crises to champion, true devastation happening today that are in desperate need of advocacy, consider the following:

Syria – Since 2011 the war between the Syrian government and opposition groups lead to over 500,000 deaths, 5.6 million refugees, and 6.6 million internally displaced people.  The situation in Syria is dire.  (Israel has assisted the Syrian refugees for more than seven years, in numerous ways, including shipments of food and medicine and other aid shipments, and transporting thousands of Syrian wounded to Israeli hospitals.)  Assad is guilty of crimes against humanity for using chemical weapons on his own people.

Myanmar – There is a genocide happening in Myanmar, with security forces committing mass atrocity crimes against the ethnic Rohingya community (primarily a Muslim community).  Atrocities including killings, rape and burning of villages.  More than 900,000 Rohingya refugees have fled to Bangladesh.

North Korea – The countless human rights violations perpetrated by the North Korean government include extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, religious, racial and gender persecution, to list a few.  40% of North Korean’s population require humanitarian assistance.

Yemen – Since 2015, more than 6,600 civilians have been killed in the fighting between various factions in Yemen.  Government forces have targeted hospitals and schools. 8.4 million people in Yemen are at risk of famine, and over 22 million people in Yemen, more than 75% of the country’s population, are in need of humanitarian assistance.  The troubles in Yemen have left a void in that country, being filled by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIL.  The conflict has also resulted in persecution of the country’s Bahá’í population.  (The Bahá’í Faith’s worldwide headquarters is located in Haifa, Israel, where they are permitted to freely and openly practice their religion.)

As recent as October 23, 2018, Human Rights Watch accused the Palestinian Authority and Hamas of routinely engaging in systematic, unwarranted arrests and torture of critics, suspected dissidents and political opponents, and creating a police state in Gaza and the West Bank.  Journalists, musicians and even Facebook bloggers are tortured, which HRW characterizes as a governmental policy for both the PA and Hamas.  Where is Omar Barghouti?  Where is Roger Waters?

Unfortunately, this is but a small sampling of the current global humanitarian crises which are real and dire.  Consider the impact of college students throughout the west protesting, rallying and advocating against these true atrocities.  This would represent a valid “movement,” one in which the world would support, rather than condemn.  I recall rallies in the mid and late 1980’s on college campuses against Apartheid South Africa.  My college renamed the student center the “Nelson Mandela Student Union.”  That was a noble cause, and we were proud.  BDS is a morally bankrupt endeavor that not only deprives much needed attention to these concerns, but robs supporters, particularly our college students, of the ability to advocate for valid causes.

Is BDS fair to the Palestinians?

No.  The group that BDS purports to defend (some would say exploit), are worse off because of BDS.  BDS does not impair Israel’s robust economy, but it has a detrimental impact on the Palestinian economy, and is otherwise an obstacle for a peaceful, negotiated resolution.

Economically, Israeli sales to Palestinians account for less than 2% of Israel’s GDP, while Palestinian sales to Israel comprise over 80% of Palestinian exports.  The Palestinians enjoy a significant trade surplus with Israel.  What rational economy seeks to boycott its largest consumer, and who is BDS offering as a replacement for Israel as the Palestinian’s largest buying partner?  On the ground, Israeli companies in the West Bank – where BDS seeks to boycott – offer better employment opportunities for Palestinians than do Palestinian companies.  The Palestinian Authority’s official newspaper praised conditions for Palestinians working in Israeli West Bank companies, while decrying the low salaries and benefits for workers employed by Palestinians.  (As reported in The Times of Israel, September 24, 2016.)

Moreover, BDS is an obstacle to the peace process as it disincentivizes the Palestinians to negotiate.  It’s naïve to believe that BDS will topple the Israeli economy.  But the propaganda fed to the Palestinians provides a false sense of resolution through BDS, obviating the need for a negotiated settlement.  Mr. Waters, in light of the economic adversity that BDS afflicts upon the Palestinians, do you think this increases or decreases animosity and tension in the region?

The return to Israel of descendants of Palestinians who largely abandoned their homes in 1947/1948 is not feasible

Another precept of the BDS scheme is the demand for the return of Arab “refugees” to Israel.  These people are among the pawns utilized by BDS and others, for more than 70 years, and if there is a single issue that all sides can agree, it is that the Arab “refugee” issue is tragic.  Between 1948 and 1967, approximately 700,000 Arabs left Israel, and these are the original Arab “refugees.”   Numerous reports, even Arab sponsored studies, confirm that a majority of these Arabs were not expelled from Israel but left Israel at the request of Arab leaders, without ever seeing an Israeli soldier.  During the same period, roughly 850,000 Jews from Arab countries were forced to emigrate to Israel (and 200,000 to other countries), compelled to leave their homes, without money or possessions.  Undergoing tremendous expense to Israel, and hardship to the émigrés, Israel absorbed these refugees.   Most of the Arab refugees, however, were not absorbed into their host countries, notwithstanding the similarity of language, religion and culture.  And through the creative accounting of UNRWA and other sources, this number is 5,000,000 today.  In 1952, the United States gave over $100 million to Arab nations towards resettling these refugees.  The money was taken, but the refugees never resettled.

The Arab refugees are the result of Arab and non-Arab Muslim countries waging war against Israel.  More Jews were expelled from Arab lands than Arabs left Israel.  Some Arabs moved across borders, a few dozen miles away.  Ultimately an exchange of populations took place, with the Arab countries benefitting from the possessions, holdings and businesses the Jews were forced to abandon.

Since WWII, the world has tragically seen well over 100 million refugees.  Historically, host countries assume a significant measure of responsibility.  Israel has already absorbed refugees.  The host-Arab countries must do likewise.  Much larger population exchanges have taken place during the Twentieth Century (India/Pakistan, Turkey/Bulgaria, Turkey/Greece).  There is global precedent for population exchanges, and for Israel to increase its population by more than 50% by absorbing 5 million Arabs is not realistic.  What is realistic, however, and should be advocated by those who care for the Palestinian refugees, is to assimilate them within the 3.5 million square miles of the balance of the middle east, rather than the mere 8,000 square miles comprising Israel.

Israel is falsely portrayed as the aggressor

Since the creation of the State of Israel, it has sought peace with its neighbors and Israeli Arabs.  You have criticized without basis Israel’s “aggression.”  Precisely what war or conflict was Israel engaged in other than for defensive purposes?  Israel employs a measured response to protect its citizens, and should never be apologetic for the military strength (and defensive technology) it has developed to remain the sole nation state of the Jewish people.  Some 3,000 years ago, King David – who was born and coronated in the West Bank, said “God will give strength to His nation and God will bless His nation with peace.”  If not for Israel’s strength, its neighbors would surely drive the Jews in Israel into the sea.  In 2006, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it best, “If Israel were to put down its arms, there would be no more Israel. If the Arabs were to put down their arms, there would be no more war.”

So how does the Israeli military carry out missions to reduce civilian casualties?  In the words of Colonel Richard Kemp CBE, senior adviser on army issues to the British government, in his comments to the UN Human Rights Council:

During its operation in Gaza, the Israeli Defense Forces did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare. Hamas uses their own people as both tactical and strategic weapons of war.   They used them on the tactical level as human shields, to hide behind, to stand between Israeli forces and their own fighters, sometimes forcing women and children to remain in the positions that they would use to launch attacks from.  Hamas used their people too on the strategic level, luring IDF troops to attack and kill them. Their own people; deaths to be callously exploited in the media as a means of discrediting Israeli forces. In these most difficult circumstances, the IDF commanders took unprecedented measures to minimize civilian casualties. When possible, they left at least four hours’ notice to civilians to leave areas designated for attack, an action that handed a distinct advantage to Hamas.  Attack helicopter pilots had total discretion to abort a strike if there was too great a risk of civilian casualties in the area. During the conflict, the IDF allowed huge amounts of humanitarian aid into Gaza, and even unilaterally announced a daily three-hour ceasefire knowing this would give Hamas vital time and space to re-group, re-equip and re-deploy for future attacks. (This, of course added to the danger to their own troops.)  The Israelis dropped a million leaflets warning the population of impending attacks, phoned tens of thousands of Palestinian households in Gaza urging them in Arabic to leave homes where Hamas might have stashed weapons or be preparing to fight. Similar messages were passed on in Arabic on Israeli radio broadcasts.  But despite Israel’s extraordinary measures, a number of innocent civilians were killed and wounded. This was inevitable. Let us not forget: Hamas was deliberately trying to lure the Israelis to kill their own people.  Many have contradicted my assertion about the IDF. But no one has been able to tell me which other army in history has ever done more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone.

Why ignore cultural diplomacy

The arts, academics, sports, entertainment – culture – is often the catalyst to forging a dialogue.  It’s referred to as “cultural diplomacy.”  Who are the beneficiaries and who are the victims of a cultural boycott?  It’s truly antithetical to a peace process.

Concluding remarks

If you are anti-Semitic, then the legitimacy of the loudest voice of BDS would necessarily be dubious, and your support attributed to anti-Semitism.  Do I think you are anti-Semitic?  The list of politicians including Tony Blair and the mayor of Munich Germany (Germany!) and musicians saying so is significant.  You dress in Nazi-like attire during performances, and your comments speak for themselves, so yes I do.   And while you may suggest there are Jews that support BDS, there are similarly many Palestinians, other Arabs and Muslims who oppose it.

I challenge you, prove me wrong.  The anti-Semitic rhetoric, anti-Israel propaganda needs to end.  In light of the massacre we just experienced in Pittsburgh, don’t you agree?  And if you truly believe that BDS has a scintilla of credibility, you or Omar Barghouti are being called out to debate the issue.  And not via proxy, supporter or sympathizer, but one of you personally.  And the anti-BDS movement will similarly proffer one of its leaders.   If you lack the confidence and courage to support and justify your position by way of exchange of ideas, engaging in questions and answers, then the time has come to abandon this enterprise.  Unless, of course, you are just another anti-Semite.

About the Author
Dan Kaskel has resided in Boca Raton, Florida since 1999. He is an active member of the South Florida Jewish community where he is Vice President of the Boca Raton Synagogue. He is a partner in a mid-size law firm and serves on several Jewish and law related boards. In 2020 Dan was a candidate for the 38th World Zionist Congress on the Herut slate.
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