On Threat of BDS, Don’t Shoot the Messenger

February 4, 2014

Recent criticism from some in Israel and the United States of Secretary of State John Kerry for warning that Israel will face a strong boycott and disinvestment movement if his current peace initiative fails is profoundly misguided and misplaced.

While Secretary Kerry laid out a scenario that is very difficult for friends of Israel to hear, he was doing Israel and its supporters a service by laying out what will unfortunately but likely come to pass if Israel and the Palestinians cannot succeed in making peace. That’s what friends do – speak honestly and frankly to one another, even in trying moments. J Street opposes the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement – but we too fear that it will be greatly boosted if the Kerry initiative fails.

Criticizing Kerry for speaking the truth is akin to shooting the messenger. And some of the criticism that questioned Kerry’s commitment to Israel and his deep concern about its wellbeing and its future went way over the line of acceptable discourse between friends and allies.

Especially egregious was the statement from Israeli Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, who heads the “Jewish Home” Party, who was quoted as saying: “We expect our friends around the world to stand by our side to face the anti-Semitic attempts to boycott Israel, not to be their mouthpiece.”

We recognize that Bennett, as a spokesman for the settler movement, opposes Kerry’s efforts. But we still expect a modicum of civility and restraint from everyone participating in Israel’s democratic debate.

As Israel’s Justice Minister and chief peace negotiator Tzipi Livni rightly responded: “Some of those who speak harshly against the US Secretary of State would lower their eyes in embarrassment if they knew what Kerry has done to prevent these threats and these boycotts.”

As Kerry’s initiative gathers steam and Israeli and Palestinian leaders near a moment of decision, we expect sadly to see more outrageous attacks on one of the greatest friends Israel has. Some of these attacks will be designed to inflame and incite and will have no part in a legitimate debate about Israel’s future and the necessity for a two-state solution. J Street is committed to rebuffing and debunking these attacks and ensuring that such hateful and libelous comments do not go unchallenged.