Defining BDS

Since the recent spate of violence in Israel/Palestine, there has been a well oiled response by apologists to defend the ongoing dispossession, apartheid and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians by the Israeli regime, a crime which has been permitted to continue for over 60 years. This response is not anything new, but due to the successes of the Boycott, Divest, Sanction Movement (BDS) the rhetoric has been ratcheted up.

The situation, as usual, is portrayed by most of the mainstream press as a conflict between two peoples over religion, where both are relatively equal in power. Context and history be damned.  The acts of violence committed by the Palestinians is covered as if they were random and born from a “culture of hate.”  But facts remain facts.

Gaza City Photo AFPIsrael has an army, navy and air force.  The Palestinians do not.  Israel has nuclear weapons and military aid from the most powerful nation on earth.  The Palestinians do not.  Israel has blockaded Gaza since 2007, subjecting nearly 2 million people to intolerable conditions that amount to collective punishment.  It has carved up the occupied West Bank into administrative zones that allow for military exercises and settler expansion for Jewish-only communities, and has built a wall of separation that limits Palestinian access to their jobs, farmland, medical facilities and schools.

Palestinians in the occupied West Bank have no access to civil courts like Jewish settlers.  They have been under military rule for decades with the Palestinian Authority, a proxy government, enforcing Israel Defense Force orders; and they are subject to military tribunals.  Even children are routinely whisked away in the middle of the night with no warning by the IDF, and taken to undisclosed detention facilities where they are often placed in solitary confinement.  And last summer the Israeli regime flattened much of Gaza killing over 2300 people, mostly civilians including hundreds of children, and injuring and displacing thousands more.  But, astonishingly, if one dares question any of this they are often accused of antisemitism.

Jewish Voice for Peace NY Chapter-End Military AidAntisemitism is as abhorrent as any other kind of social hatred.  And it is not any less repulsive when applied to one group over another.  But what is interesting is that many who have decried antisemitism seem to have no problem spewing repugnant, anti-Arab screeds and, incredulously, not seeing any irony in doing so.   This has enabled the glossing over of right wing, nationalist mobs taking to the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv chanting “Death to Arabs” and attacking anyone whom they believe Palestinian or a leftist.

A Palestinian man points to Hebrew graffiti reading “Death to the Arabs” following an arson attack in Khirbet Abu Falah, northeast of the West Bank city of Ramallah, Sunday, Nov. 23, 2014. Source Ma'an News.What has been convoluted in this discourse is the conflation of  the criticism of Zionism with antisemitism.  Zionism and Judaism are not one and the same, although many prominent Zionists would love for people to think so.  Judaism is an ethnic/religious identity with a rich tradition and culture that goes back millenia and spans dozens of societies, from Russia to Iran to Europe and the Americas. Zionism is a nationalistic, political ideology that was born of antisemitism in Europe and fashioned after European colonialism itself.

An Israeli soldier puts a Palestinian boy in choke hold for allegedly throwing rocks at Israeli tanks. Source Ha'aretz.In the early days of the Zionist movement several places were considered for a Jewish homeland, including Argentina and Uganda. But because of cultural and religious ties, the Zionists settled on Palestine. As in any colonial structure, Zionism created an ethnocracy, where the indigenous people were forcibly removed to make way for another group who are placed in a higher class than other ethnic, religious or racial groups through laws, institutionalized racism, expulsion, dehumanization and military terror.  Essentially apartheid.

Segregated Shuhada Street, Hebron, Occupied West BankContrary to some misguided assumptions, the focus of the BDS movement is not to expel Jewish people who live in the region or are native to the land. It is a non-violent protest to end the occupation, lift the crippling blockade on Gaza, and dismantle apartheid, just as was done in South Africa. The ultimate goal is one secular, democratic state, where all religious traditions and ethnicities are protected.

Many Israeli regime apologists have countered that the BDS movement singles out Israel, while ignoring the egregious and barbarous atrocities of other regimes in the area and around the world. This is also untrue. The brutal state violence and oppression of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Turkey and others is unequivocally condemned and opposed. The universal demand is an end to all military aid to these governments as well as Israel.  BDS is a non-violent response to Israeli apartheid specifically; but is an integral part of the global struggle against colonialist racism and imperialism, from the Americas to Africa to the Middle-east and Asia.

A Palestinian protester attacked by an IDF dog during a protest in the West Bank, 2012. Photo by Lazar Simeonov

A Palestinian woman clings to one of her olive trees threatened for demolition by the IDF. Source Reuters.There are, as in any movement, some who employ the use of antisemitic language in their criticism of the Israeli regime. This is intolerable, and it is also antithetical to the cause of universal human rights. These individuals or groups have their own agenda, and Palestinian solidarity is not one of them. But there are many Jewish and Israeli human rights group who share similar ideals in their support of Palestinian rights and self-determination, including Jewish Voice for Peace, B’Tselem and Rabbis for Human Rights among many others.

Holocaust survivor in solidarity with PalestineThese voices are usually stifled or excluded from mainstream media coverage in favor of more reactionary groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) or the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), who are experts at conflating criticism of Zionism with antisemitism in the public sphere. Until all voices are heard equally there will be no real justice or peace, and apartheid, alienation and dispossession will continue and grow. BDS worked to end South African apartheid, where political and diplomatic interventions failed by design. And after decades of misery, conflict and strife, it appears to be the only viable option in this case as well.

A Palestinian man holds the key to the home he was expelled from by Israeli forces. Photo Getty Images.Solidarity with the oppressed is not taking the side of one ethnic, religious or racial group over another. It is taking the side of justice and universal human rights against racism, tyranny and state violence, something that all human beings, regardless of social identity, should be entitled to.

An Israeli peace activist. Source Times Union.

Kenn Orphan 2015


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