The Wrong Way to Oppose BDS

Jeremy Ben-Ami Image
Jeremy Ben-Ami
on July 25, 2017

At J Street, we’ve long opposed the Global BDS Movement.

However, we also have strongly advocated that there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it.

The right way to oppose BDS involves engaging progressives sympathetic to BDS in a serious, respectful conversation. We need to recognize that some of those attracted to the BDS Movement are motivated by genuine concern about the injustices of the occupation — and are looking for meaningful ways to fight that injustice.

The right way to oppose BDS, we believe, is to articulate a clear pro-Israel, anti-occupation platform that stresses the necessity and justice of the two-state solution and holds accountable those who move us away from it. Following this path, J Street is demonstrating that there is a different and better way to fight for the future for both Israelis and Palestinians.

Unfortunately, recently the Israeli government and members of the US Congress have presented us with two striking examples of how NOT to fight BDS.

The wrong way to oppose BDS is to lump together everyone sympathetic to the movement, demonize them and even criminalize their nonviolent tactics. This approach only empowers the BDS Movement, alienates many of Israel’s supporters and violates core democratic values of the US, Israel and the American Jewish community.

Congress is considering taking one very wrong step, namely passing “The Anti-Israel Boycott Act.” With the stated intention of combatting BDS, the bill could impose civil and criminal penalties on those participating in or supporting boycotts against Israel — or against the settlements in occupied territory. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), these penalties would be “in direct violation of the First Amendment.”

Join us in telling Congress: Don’t trample free speech in the fight against BDS.

In defining boycotts of Israel to include the territories, the bill also blurs the legal distinction between the state of Israel and the territories it controls. That’s a surefire way to alienate those who support Israel, but object to its government’s policies in the occupied territories.

And this morning, we learned that five members of an interfaith delegation, including a rabbi, were prevented — apparently by the Israeli government — from boarding their flight to Israel at Dulles Airport, reportedly because of their BDS activism. The group, which included three members of Jewish Voice for Peace, appears to be among the first subjected to a new Israeli entry law passed by the Knesset in March, which allows the Israeli government to ban individuals who support BDS from traveling to Israel.

At J Street, we disagree with the policies of groups like Jewish Voice for Peace. But we strongly support their right to travel to Israel, to express their own views and to engage in non-violent activism of their choosing.

Recent steps taken by Congress and the Israeli government show an approach to combatting BDS that is dangerous and wrong-headed. Violating core democratic values of freedom of speech and political disagreement heavy-handedly silences the critics of Israel rather than openly reckoning with their arguments. By turning BDS supporters into victims, they only elevate the movement’s profile — and alienate many of those who love Israel but oppose the occupation.

Israel’s entry ban was opposed by major American Jewish groups, including the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and American Jewish Committee (AJC). J Street noted at the time that, “As a liberal democracy, Israel should be able to tolerate non-violent political protest and dissent, no matter how much it disagrees with the ideology or goals of BDS supporters.”

The US must avoid making a similar mistake. BDS can be successfully confronted by advocating for a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians — not by leading prosecutions against those exercising their constitutional rights. Passing a bill that fails to distinguish between Israel and the occupied territory would undermine the two-state solution. It would shore up the settlement movement’s argument that there is no difference between Tel Aviv and Beit El, and that Israel can never give up the land needed to create a Palestinian state.

It’s not too late for those championing these types of measures to recognize that they need to pursue a different path. In the pro-Israel, pro-peace, pro-democracy movement, we need to do everything we can to show that there is a different way — a more strategic way — to safeguard Israel and secure its future.

Contact your members of Congress and tell them to oppose passage of the highly problematic Anti-Israel Boycott Act.

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