What’s a liberal Zionist to do except to grab both horns of a dilemma? You can support bds and reject BDS.
By lower case bds, I mean a phenomenon. These include decisions made by both individual persons and financial institutions to have nothing to do with the settlements or goods produced there. Many Israelis don’t cross the Green Line, and artists and writers have refused of late to appear in settlements. The decision by the EU last summer to not fund projects with connections in the West Bank made big news, but barely a whimper among liberal Israeli and American Jews. Same thing about the story about a Dutch pension fund pulling money out of Israeli banks. No one shouted, no one complained, no one accused anyone of anti-Semitism. Because lowercase bds makes sense on its own, more reasonable, based on a few basic and agreed upon principles that reflect international norms and the international consensus that the settlements are illegal under international law and constitute a violation of Palestinian human rights. Lowercase bds contradicts in no way the principle of compromise based on mutual recognition, what used to be called “two states for two people.”
Uppercase BDS, on the other hand, is something with which most liberal Jews in the United States have nothing to do. By uppercase BDS, I mean a movement, the formal institutional and ideological groupings that oppose any and all economic or cultural contacts with Israel as a country. There’s little to distinguish it from the old Arab Boycott except for its character as a civil society phenomenon. As a movement, uppercase BDS rejects not the occupation, but the existence of Israel as a Jewish majority state. I don’t know how else to interpret the fact that one of the stated aims of uppercase BDS is to secure a comprehensive return of all Palestinian refugees and their descendants, potentially some 4-5 million people, back to sovereign Israel. The problem is not 1967, but 1948, on which uppercase BDS wants to turn back the historical clock. Israel and Zionism are recognized only as forms of “apartheid” and “settler colonialism.” Activist in nature, uppercase BDS actions tend from the outside to look like bullying. These include the disruption of cultural events and leveraging pressure through social media on artists who plan to perform in Israel. The language used by supporters of uppercase BDS tends to towards agitprop, including hate speech, sliding sometimes into anti-Semitism.
Undoubtedly, activists aligned with Uppercase BDS want to claim credit for the wave of lowercase bds that now seems to be about to threaten Israel, and about which there seems to be a lot of understanding and almost no complaint on the part of liberal Jews in Israel or the United States. Indeed, it is probably fair to say that uppercase BDS has contributed to a shift in the discourse about boycotts, divestment, and sanctions. But it’s not clear what the precise character of that contribution has been, to what degree has it been constructive, and to what degree simply rancorous. I’m prepared to bet that it is lower case bds that has people in Israel worried more than uppercase BDS, which is too easily seen by too many people as extreme and clownish.