Jews Israel BDS (Tricycle Theater)


The best argument that I have seen against demanding that Jews honor BDS might be the editorial at the Guardian from Friday 8 August 2014. It has to do with self-determination and free association, that is, the right of Jews to determine what is, in fact, their own close relation to the State of Israel and to negotiate in a free way that moral-political association. Against pushing people and communities into corners, the editors speak speak to and affirm the importance, even centrality of Israel in contemporary Jewish life. The editorial is in response to growing anti-Semitism in Europe fueled by the politics of Israel and Palestine, and, most immediately by the London’s Tricycle Theatre cancellation of the local Jewish film festival because the festival organizers took money from the Israel embassy to help fund the event.

You can read the entire editorial here, of which this is what struck me to be the nutshell:

Some have made the argument that, if receiving money from a state implies endorsement of that state’s policy, then the Tricycle ought to return the £725,000 it receives from the taxpayer-funded Arts Council, lest that be read as backing for, say, UK participation in the invasion of Iraq. Of course, few would see the Arts Council as an arm of the state in that way. And a similar mistake seems to be at work here. For the Israeli embassy in London is not merely an outpost of the Netanyahu government. It also represents Israel itself, its society and its people. It was this connection with Israel as a country that UK Jewish Film refused to give up. Hard though it may be for others to understand, that reflects something crucial about contemporary Jewish identity: that most, not all, Jews feel bound up with Israel, even if that relationship is one of doubt and anxiety. To demand that Jews surrender that connection is to tell Jews how they might – and how they might not – live as Jews. Such demands have an ugly history. They are not the proper business of any public institution, least of all a state-subsidised theatre


Some may counter that that is impossible, given the strong attachment of most Jews to Israel. But this is less complicated than it looks. Yes, Jews feel bound up with Israel, they believe in its right to survive and thrive. But that does not mean they should be held responsible for its policy, on which some may disagree and over which they have no control. Nor should they be required to declare their distance from Israel as a condition for admission into polite society. We opposed such a question being put to all Muslims after 9/11 and, though the cases are not equivalent, the same logic applies here. This is a test for those who take a strong stance in support of the Palestinians, but in truth it is a test for all of us.

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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