Who Cares About BDS?

The bulldozers didn’t come to a halt in the West Bank. The fears of Israeli citizens near the Gaza border didn’t alleviate. The cause of Palestinian self-determination did not advance. The wretched conflict continued unabated.

The tempest on Bedford Avenue wasn’t felt in the Middle East.

The Brooklyn College Boycotts, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) discussion took place in a lonely echo chamber. The groups and people involved are hardly representative of the debate that is taking place in the real world, especially in Jerusalem and Ramallah.

It should be noted that there is no controversy over the boycott element of BDS. It goes virtually without dispute that a boycott is among the most peaceful forms of protest; you’re literally pledging not to do something. What irritates some about BDS is the fact that it entertains extremists. Omar Barghouti, one of the group’s most prominent members and a pioneer of the modern boycott Israel movement, who spoke at the Brooklyn College event, has expressed his personal preference for a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Some critics have aptly called this the “dissolution solution,” because it would entail the involuntary dissolution of Israel, a member state of the United Nations, and the creation of one state between the river and the sea.

Despite Barghouti’s view, BDS chooses to remain neutral on the question of two states or one state. However, this is akin to a curb-your-dog advocacy group not taking a position on the “debate” over what constitutes a reasonable punishment for an irresponsible pet owner: a fine or execution in the public square. Such a group would be ignored for even considering such a measure, if not ridiculed.

The two-state solution is a proper peace plan. It’s the position of nearly every government in the world, including Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

It goes without saying that both the Israeli and Palestinian leadership have harmed the chances of a successful two-state solution; the former by continuing illegal settlement construction in the occupied territories and refusing to recognize the inevitability of a partitioned Jerusalem, and the latter for continuing to push for a full right of return for refugees that it knows Israel will never grant. Nevertheless, the two-state solution remains the only peace plan that recognizes the legitimacy of both Israel and Palestine. Therefore, it is the only solution worth considering.

In stark contrast, the one-state solution is no peace plan. One motif of the Northern Ireland peace process was that of “mutual consent,” the truism that there cannot be a peace agreement without both sides willingly agreeing to one. The one-state solution, by definition, rejects this since it’s diametrically opposed to the idea of a Jewish state anywhere in historic Israel/Palestine.  Presumably, since Israeli voters would almost certainly reject this plan, the one-state solution would have to be implemented by either military force or punitive economic sanctions. Military intervention will never happen, and sanctions, which are unlikely to be seriously proposed or implemented, will more likely result in Israel unilaterally ending its occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem than ending itself. The plan is a nonstarter.

So let’s not pretend that the BDS movement is taken seriously outside of a few communities and college campuses. By not explicitly recognizing Israel’s right to exist, BDS places itself far outside of the mainstream.

However, the attempts to pressure Brooklyn College into cancelling the BDS event were disgraceful and provided undeserved attention to the groups involved.

A pro-Israel friend asked me whether or not I’d oppose the political science department sponsoring a neo-Nazi event. Regardless of its hyperbolic nature, this is not the correct question to ask. A more appropriate query would be whether I’d care if the geology department sponsored a flat Earth panel.

I wouldn’t. The joke is on them.


About the Author
Abe Silberstein writes on Israeli politics, Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and American foreign policy in the Middle East. He can be reached at abrsilberstein@gmail.com