It’s the BDS approach which I find so troubling. While I vehemently disagree with those who advocate for BDS, I don’t automatically think the Jewish ones are self-hating and I don’t automatically think the non-Jewish ones are anti-Semites.
On March 21st, Hillary Clinton gave a 35-minute speech to the group, AIPAC (American-Israel Public Affairs Committee.) Almost immediately, her words were labeled “disgusting” and “imperialistic” – one such tweet was shared close to 700 times. Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace, went so far as to categorize Clinton’s words as typical of the “racist and Islamophobic” tone of mainstream discourse about Israel.
As we gather here, three evolving threats — Iran’s continued aggression, a rising tide of extremism across a wide arc of instability, and the growing effort to de-legitimize Israel on the world stage — are converging to make the U.S.-Israel alliance more indispensable than ever.
We have to combat all these trends with even more intense security and diplomatic cooperation. The United States and Israel must be closer than ever, stronger than ever and more determined than ever to prevail against our common adversaries and to advance our shared values. – Hillary Clinton to AIPAC, March 21, 2016
Many of the speech’s critics support BDS (Boycott, Divest, and Sanction Israel) as a means of achieving better conditions for Palestinians. Clinton did spend a bit of time condemning the BDS movement, and urging people to not be silenced or bullied by it. She encouraged the audience not to allow the shutting down of academic debate in the face of anti-Semitism. But those who claim that she spent no time on the rights of Palestinians clearly haven’t watched the speech.
She spent a good five minutes (starting around the 24-minute mark) emphasizing the need for direct peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians, urging Israelis to make sure their policies with respect to the Settlements moved the peace process forwards rather than backwards. She insisted upon the Palestinian people’s rights to safety, security, peace and dignity, and stated in no uncertain terms that the only way to achieve that was a negotiated two-state solution. Clinton emphasized the degree to which Israeli security depended upon this, and would be furthered by it. To a conference center filled with Jews.
Part of me is proud that many of those who support BDS are Jewish – we Jews have a long history of championing the downtrodden, even when we’re struggling ourselves, and here it’s similar (though not exactly parallel, since these particular downtrodden are lead by a Palestinian Authority who refused to condemn the killing of 2 Israeli parents in front of their four young children). In fact, Jews who stood and applauded Donald Trump’s speech are the ones of whom I’m most ashamed.
It’s the BDS approach which I find so troubling. While I vehemently disagree with those who advocate for BDS, I don’t automatically think the Jewish ones are self-hating and I don’t automatically think the non-Jewish ones are anti-Semites. But it’s foolish not to acknowledge the degree to which anti-Semitism finds cover in the movement, and it’s unfair to ask me (a Jew) to ignore it.
When I hear anti-Israel sentiments coming from a non-Jew, my mental calculus automatically runs down the possibility that the non-Jew may be anti-Semitic. It’s reflexive. It’s protective. It’s defensive, I know, but I’m sure you’ll allow me that momentary questioning. I might conclude upon reflection, research, conversation and instinct that the person is not coming from a place of hatred of Jews. I might, however, conclude that they are coming from that toxic place, and I’m glad I’ve stepped back and given myself the moment to examine the possibility.
You’ll forgive me if I flinch hearing that one of the prime approaches advocated by BDS involves hitting Jews below the belt and in the wallet. We’re not exactly far enough removed from that awful stereotype of Jews as money-grubbing for me to feel secure in that tactic.
You’ll forgive me if the treatment of a Jewish student at UCLA, wherein she was almost denied a position on an esteemed judicial board solely because she was Jewish feels anti-Semitic to me.
You’ll forgive me if swastikas spray-painted on the walls of a (mainly) Jewish fraternity at UC Davis rips open scars barely healed from just a few decades ago.
You’ll forgive me for being alarmed at the viscious anti-semitic rants on the Facebook pages of one of UC’S students, who called us all greedy, Zionist, fucking pigs. For the record, I actually agree with the administration’s decision to take no action against her. The student was on her private FB page, and Free Speech is still a precious right deserving of fierce protection. But the sentiments? Chilling.
You’ll forgive me for feeling a sense of relief that the Board of Regents at UCLA adopted a policy recognizing that there is indeed a link between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism in today’s world. While I believe it is crucial to not equate the two, I feel a mite less vulnerable having the link officially acknowledged. While I feel there are many, many legitimate gripes Palestinian civilians and their champions have against Israel (many of which I share,) I also feel the BDS movement does not address them in any way that is remotely productive, and in many instances, quite the contrary. It is possible – preferable, even, in my mind – to fight for Palestinian rights without resorting to the stifling and intimidating tactics of BDS in the forms they have taken.
BDS supporters insist so emphatically that its movement is not anti-Semitic, but seem to allow it to fester within its ranks. They cry foul when the link between anti-Zionism and hatred of the Jews is mentioned. But express approval of UC’s new policy statement? Hillary Clinton’s speech? Any reference to Israeli security and right to exist? Be prepared to be called an Islamophobe or a war-monger or an accomplice to the murder of Palestinian children.
You’ll forgive my pointing out that in our thousands-years-old history, Jews have not exactly enjoyed consistent physical, emotional or religious security as a people. I have a very hard time casting Jews in the role of Oppressor with a capital “O” when so much of our collective memories are those of trying to avoid complete annihilation.
That isn’t to say there aren’t Israelis who treat Palestinians with brutality, or policies Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pursued that aren’t crushing and dehumanizing to Palestinians. And those are awful, awful things and must stop. MUST. Yet, when I contrast the number of Jews I know who speak out against such behaviors of their fellow Jews to the number of non-Jews who speak out against reciprocal horrors, guess whose numbers come in higher?
When Jewish Israeli extremists brutally firebombed the home of a Palestinian family with two young children, resulting in the death of the toddler, both official and public Israeli response was one of outrage and sympathy. Israeli officials immediately and correctly labeled it an act of terrorism, and Netanyahu stated the perpetrators should end their lives “behind bars.”
When two young Jewish parents were executed in front of their four young children in apparent retaliation, official and public Palestinian response amounted to support for the murderers. “We should kill their women like they kill ours.” No public condemnation whatsoever from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Instead it’s been viewed as the “natural outcome” of Israeli policy. Abbas talks about the numbers of Palestinians killed by Israeli police without mentioning the fact that a large percentage of them were attempting to kill the police when they were killed themselves – intellectual and political dishonesty if I’ve ever seen it.
Maybe there is hope – I was able to find one site – ONE, mind you, after hours and hours of research – reporting that the PA was beginning to denounce the use of arms and explosives against Jewish settlers and police in late January 2016:
While the two sides’ leaders, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have repeatedly blamed each other for the escalation of violence, the two nations’ forces have been quietly cooperating on West Bank security, Reuters reported. Earlier this week, one of Abbas’s senior security chiefs, Major General Majid Faraj, was quoted as saying that around 100 Palestinians have been arrested by Palestinian forces since October, while 200 attacks on Israelis have been prevented.
This is, of course, progress and encouraging, and I’d love to believe that seeds for peace are being solidly planted and will take root. I want to believe that with all my heart. In the meantime, I can hardly consider Clinton’s call at AIPAC for strong partnership with the U.S. and maintenance of Israel’s military edge and security in the Middle East racist, Islamophobic, or hawkish. I consider it a completely rational hope for the only democracy in the Middle East, and one of the youngest democracies on earth.
Aliza Worthington grew up in Brooklyn, NY, and now lives in Baltimore. She began writing in 2009 at the age of 40. Sometimes her writing follows The Seinfeld Model of “no learning, no hugging.” Other times it involves lots of both. She blogs about Life, Liberty and Happiness at “The Worthington Post.” Her work has also appeared in Purple Clover, Catonsville Patch and Kveller and Daily Kos. She has won BlogHer Voice of the Year awards in 2013 and 2015. Follow her on Twitter at @AlizaWrites. She is proud to have an essay in the newly released anthology, Love Her, Love Her Not, The Hillary Paradox.