Don’t Support BDS (Cautionary Tales of Mohammed S. Dajani & Eric Cantor)


Larry Derfner has argued that liberal Zionists who support a 2 State Solution should start supporting BDS, because it’s only BDS, as a form of shock therapy, that will shift the Israeli political landscape. I think it’s bad idea, mostly because I don’t think apocalyptic-manichean or negative-dialectical politics ever “works.” As an activist movement, BDS has shown itself over and over to be a political force that does nothing but poison the kinds of normal human relations upon which a decent political settlement would have to depend. By demonizing an “enemy,” by refusing to consider the two human sides to a complex political conflict, movement-BDS has nothing politically constructive to contribute. Even if you do support, as I do not, a 1 State Solution, binational or otherwise, I think BDS as a movement is going about it in the wrong way because it rejects the middle-ground, the in-between of mutual recognition.

This all came into sharp focus reading two pieces, the first one here by Hussein Ibish about Professor Mohammed Dajani, whose resignation the administration at Al-Quds University refused to decline. Dajani caused a shit storm by sending Palestinian students to a study-tour at Auschwitz, part of a program that brought Israeli university students to study-tours of Nakba sites. The price of normalization cost him his job. But at what cost comes this particular case of BDS? Ibish writes, There is a broader conflict… between those who want to embrace the world, in all its complexity and challenges, versus those who want to crawl inside a warm cocoon of insularity… Those, like Prof. Dajani, who try to break through this curtain of insularity are frequently punished, or at least criticized, for their embrace of broader realities, some of which are uncomfortable and destabilize reassuring mythologies.

Writing here in the Forward about Eric Cantor and Tea Party radicals, Jay Michelson suggests another way to consider the question. Why liberal-progressive middle-of-the-roaders and other last-ditch supporters of a 2 State Solution might want to avoid the cocoon of BDS extremism is not too unlike why establishment-conservative Republicans like Eric Cantor might not have wanted to side up with Tea Party radicals. Writing in the Forward, Jay Michelson comments, “Once you empower extremists, you can never be extreme enough in your opposition to whatever it is they hate. Feed the fire, and eventually you get burned…Perhaps [Cantor] was just using [extremists] to stay in power — or perhaps they were using him. Either way, he muddied the waters, obscured the choices in play.” Mixing metaphors, it’s not less the case that BDS extremists fire up the hate, muddy waters and obscure choices. The viewpoints are just as muddied and maybe even more so than the rightwing Zionists who occupy the opposite extreme.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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5 Responses to Don’t Support BDS (Cautionary Tales of Mohammed S. Dajani & Eric Cantor)

  1. C. Bendavid says:

    Excellent peace, but I would like to add another reason why BDS against Israel is unfair. A boycott against Israel would be unfair, for the mere fact that Israel is not the only one responsible for the stalemate. Year after year, according to the polls, a stable majority of Israelis support the Clinton parameters (only two polls, one in 2009 and the other in 2013, show the opposite; but according to the the two latest ones, conducted this year, a majority of Israelis endorse Clinton’s peace plan). Hence, the reason why Israelis voted for a right-wing government, is not because they support the idea of a Greater Israel. It’s rather because they fear that if the IDF pulls out of the West Bank, Hamas will use this territory as a lunch pad to fire rockets on Israel since its goal is not the liberation of the West Bank, but rather the destruction of Israel. And as long as Hamas will not recognize Israel’s right to exist, the Israeli right will remain in power. A boycott won’t change anything to that. For between prosperity and security, Israelis chose security. No wonder why when Moshe Yaalon said that a boycott is preferable to having rockets fired from the West Bank, on Tel Aviv’s airport, his popularity increased.

    • zjb says:

      Maybe, maybe not, and depends when. At Camp David II, it was complained by Clinton and Barak that Arafat did not bring any alternative maps to the table in response to the map presented by Barak which Arafat rejected. This time around, it was Israel under Netanyahu who failed to produce a map, a practical alternative. This is the viewpoint not just of U.S. administration functionaries like Martin Indyk, but also of ministers in the Israeli goverment itself. Interior Minister Yaid Lapid and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni are basically holding Netanyahu responsible for the latest failure while rightest Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon has crowed about taking peace negotiations off the table. There are, of course, serious security considerations to handle, but I think the choice is not between boycotts and rockets, but between a democratic Israel capable of defending itself versus an apartheid, binational state. About this, ministers and ex-Prime Ministers have been warning for some time.

      • C. Bendavid says:

        Don’t get me wrong. I’m not justifying settlement activities in the West Bank. By the way, I support BDS against the settlements (not Israel proper). I was just trying to say that:
        1) Israel is not the only one responsible for the stalemate.
        2) There is a dichotomy between the way Israelis vote and the concessions they are willing to make in the framework of a peace agreement.
        There is a reason for that and its not because Israelis went crazy overnight! Israelis vote Likud because they are not willing to see rockets fired from the West Bank onto the Gush Dan area. Interestingly enough though, over the last few years, more and more Israelis from the center, the center-left and even the moderate right (Dan Meridor for example), have advocated the dismantling of the settlements located in the midst of the West Bank without pulling out the army. Netanyahu seems to be following, slowly but surely, this path. If Israel were to adopt this strategy, the border issue would be largely solved. It would then be clear that the only reason why Israel occupies the West Bank, is because of Hamas’ refusal to recognize Israel. As a result, the West (the UN will always remain biased against Israel anyway) will put tremendous pressure on Hamas to rescind its charter and to accept a two-state solution. It might not be as good as a real peace agreement and it will not end the humiliation ofthe Palestinians whose lives would still be ruled by Israeli post-teenagers. But it would at least decrease Israel’s diplomatic isolation and save the possibility of two-state settlement in the future.

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