Harpo Jaeger dot com

BDS: a threat to peace

On Thursday night, I attended Brown Student’s for Palestine BDS event. The BDS movement is a global call to remove financial backing from Israeli companies that profit from the occupation. This was my first encounter with the movement, and I went without really knowing what to expect. Certainly, I was looking forward to the opportunity to engage in dialogue about how to promote peace, and I looked forward to meeting people outside of the Jewish community involved in that process, as most of my involvement thus far has been through J Street, J Street U, and Brown Hillel.

I didn’t experience a dialogue about peace. I didn’t experience a discussion of what was in the best interests of Palestinians. And I didn’t feel welcome.

There are some important distinctions that I think need to be drawn when analyzing a political group or event like this one. First of all, I wholeheartedly support this group’s right to purse whatever political strategy they’ve chosen for whatever ends they’ve chosen, and, if doing so requires it, to act independently of other organizations and disregard their input. This is how one runs a political campaign you decide on what you want to do, you form a strategy, and then you do it. That’s how you elect people, it’s how you push for change, and it’s how you (hopefully) gain public support.

I missed the first half of the event, which was an info session, and got there right as they were opening it up for questions. One of the first things I heard them declare during that process was “We know that we want to run a divestment campaign, and we’re here to talk about how.” This didn’t initially mean much to me I thought “Okay, good, they know what they’re doing.” That’s better than endless indecisiveness in the service of some high moral ideal, at least. But a minute later, it was followed by an entirely different statement: “We want to figure out what’s in the best interest of Palestinians.”

What? Take a step back for a moment. If you’ve decided to a pursue a campaign without knowing if it’s in the best interests of the Palestinians, you’re in a sticky situation. What if, hypothetically, what you were doing would actually cause more harm, immediately and in the long-term, to Palestinians and their ability to self-govern? What if your resolve on a single reflexive course of action by its very nature, prevented you from effectively analyzing the situation?

As you can probably guess, those aren’t really hypothetical questions. I believe that the BDS movement is inherently shortsighted. At Thursday night’s event, the former president of Brown Students for Israel asked the panelists what they saw as the ultimate end of the peace process. Their answer was extremely revealing “That’s not our job. We don’t have a political opinion on the end of the process. We’re trying to give them the right to self-determination.”

I have no doubt about the purity of these people’s motives. I don’t claim, as would some others, that they’re selfishly just trying to wash their hands of the responsibility for Israel’s actions that they currently bear by virtue of paying taxes. I honestly believe that they have every intention of doing what they say they want to, and that they have great value for the lives of Palestinians. And that they honestly believe that what they’re doing is in Palestinians’ best interests. And they have every right to believe that, and every right to act upon it.

But by refusing to look at their actions in the context of an end to the conflict, they’re missing something big, namely understanding whether or not their actions will lead to peace. Do I support the occupation? Absolutely not, contrary to what I and others were accused of over and over. Do I support the systems of institutionalized discrimination that are a part of Israel’s domestic policy? No, although I was also accused of supporting of that too. Do I believe that Israel has the moral or political right to pursue foreign policy that prevents Palestinian self-governance? In no way, shape, or form.

But I also believe that economically weakening Israel will not expedite the peace process. In focusing only on the purported issue of “equal weight in negotiations” (BDS’ intention is to weaken Israel enough that it can’t continue the occupation, thus allowing for a level playing field in negotiations), the BDS movement ignores some glaring realities. First of all, a boycott will not be immediate. Israel will not wake up one morning and not have enough money to fuel its airplanes and pay its soldiers. It won’t wake up to unified international outrage over its actions (if that was going to happen overnight, it would have, or it would have at least materialized in the last 60 years). And it certainly won’t wake up to find that its guns don’t shoot or its bombs don’t explode or its settlers don’t resist evacuation.

A boycott will take years to have any kind of effect. And beyond that, it will take even longer for it actually to put any kind of restrictions on Israel’s military power. And do you know what will happen before the boycott kicks in? More bombs. More rockets into Israel. More death all around.

Even worse, once Israel starts to lose economic backing, it’ll really kick into high gear. The Israeli defense industry is huge, and there’s an immediate economic benefit to be gained from military campaigns. Not only that, but history shows that when Israel feels its security is threatened in any way, it responds. As would any country. Especially one in such a volatile geopolitical context.

So let’s also consider the consequences of our actions beyond grand ideals of “ending oppression” and “justice for all”. Yes, these are great things. But they can’t be bought or induced. They have to be won. When you don’t have them, you demand them. You negotiate for them. You don’t shut up.

What can we do to hasten the peace process and ensure safety for everyone in the region (Israelis too remember, BDS, they’re also people go figure)? We can lobby Congress. We can write letters. We can talk, rather than accuse. We can listen, rather than spread divisive disinformation. We can unify, rather than divide, strengthen the players in that region, rather than weaken them and force them to act out of fear and instability, whichwill not serve the cause of peace.

But because BDS doesn’t propose an end to the solution, they don’t have to deal with any of these things. Conveniently, their responsibility ends when we have no more money in Israel (which, by the way, will never happen). What then? What before then? However genuinely they support the Palestinian people, their core mission prevents them from acting in those same people’s best interests, or at the very least, having the discussion about what’s in their best interests.

So this first encounter with the radical left has been eye-opening. It’s forced me to rethink many of the views I hold, and to reexamine my opinions on what the best way forward is. I’ve certainly been awoken to the fact that there’s a need for direct dialogue and education on how to achieve peace.

I’m ready to meet that need, and I know others are as well. I will publicly debate anyone on what the best way forward in this process is. But I will not be called a racist. I will not be told I’m a militant Zionist. I will not be told I don’t support human rights, or that I support the occupation. These are regressive tactics whether they come from the left or the right.

We’ve been bogged down in them too long. BDS’ continued use of them is a direct obstacle to a useful dialogue on peace.