(((Israel))) by Ivy Helman


me hugging treeThe BBC just ran a story about white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups targeting Jews by signaling each other to their presence on various social media sites through the use of (((this symbol))).  Of course, this is all based on the assumption that a “typically” Jewish last name signifies the bearer is also Jewish.  Through a Google app (since removed) that could recognize patterns such as ((())), these Jewish people began to receive anti-Semitic comments.  There has been a general outcry of disgust among Jews and other minority groups as to the problematic targeting of Jews in this fashion.

The same cannot be said about the BDS movement and people’s willingness to call it out for what it is.  This to me is hypocritical!  According to its website, the BDS movement, or Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, seeks to end what it understands to be the colonialism, apartheid and oppression of Palestinians in Israel through various financial, commercial and international means.  It accuses Israel of human rights violations, genocide, ethnic cleansing and other war crimes as well as illegal occupation (of the Palestinian lands, not just the occupied territories).

While it hopes to pressure Israel to change its behavior, there are other concerns over its true reason for being.  First, many believe it seeks to eradicate the state of Israel all together.  Others understand it to be a new form of anti-Semitism or, at least, be fueled by such sentiments.  Then, there are still others who point out that many expect from Israel a perfect morality for which they do not scrutinize other nations.  Finally, one of the basic premises of BDS is the idea that the Jewish people have no connection to the land of Palestine.

Lest we forget, the other difficulty with the BDS movement is the way individual non-Israeli Jews are targeted by the movement.  First, there was the student on the UCLA student council who was questioned by members of the campus BDS movement about her Jewish identity and political stance.  In August 2015, Matisyahu was uninvited from Spain’s Rototom Sunsplash festival because of the lobbying of the local BDS movement for him to

appear in a video endorsing Palestine.  He says the following about the ordeal in an article in Rolling Stone, “Honestly it was appalling and offensive, that as the one publicly Jewish-American artist scheduled for the festival, they were trying to coerce me into political statements… Were any of the other artists scheduled to perform asked to make political statements in order to perform?”  Eventually, the festival admitted that it had indeed been anti-Semitic in its caving to the pressure of the local BDS movement.

The organization has had a large impact on academic institutions as well, urging them to boycott Israeli academic institutions considering them to be part of the “regime.”  It has been successful at getting colleges to vote on the issue.  BDS convinced the National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA) of an academic boycott and the idea has been up for vote and been defeated in the Modern Languages Association (on a technicality) and the American Anthropological Association.  How can educational institutions and associations, who often encourage dialogue, discussion and various viewpoints, come out so unilaterally against Israel and not suggest that there are some underlying issues there?

What bothers me the most about the BDS movement are the following points.  First, the BDS movement not only ignores the basic reasons why Israel exists in the first place, it uses the rhetoric of regime, Nazism and genocide in its comparison of the modern situation between Israelis and Palestinians.  Second, it claims to be anti-Zionist while, in fact, its actions more closely align with anti-Semitism and are fundamentally bolstered by societal anti-Semitism.  Third, while it is nitpickingly critical of Israeli actions, it fails to use the same lens towards Palestinians, members of extremist groups within Palestine and even other countries.  Fourth, it assumes all Jews have some relationship with Israel and targets the individual Jew as a spokesperson for the state.

While the BDS movement is really good at, one,  veiling its anti-Semitism in coded language like anti-Zionism, war crimes, genocidal actions, human rights violations and apartheid and, two, convincing others of the morality of its cause, the movement fails to foster dialogue.  To pressure people, institutions and governments to cancel any and all interactions with Israel is not a reasonable solution to the situation.  All of this is not to say that I oppose a two-state solution.  I have already commented here on what I think it will take to achieve peace in the region.  Part of that includes the dismantling of patriarchal ideals surrounding land ownership.

Nonetheless, until that dismantling takes place, ending interactions with Israel is problematic for many reasons too. First, it seems hypocritical to compare Israel to Nazis, yet to ignore that only Israel has given Jews a safe haven, welcoming all Jews with dignity, respect, social and civic rights as well as protection against mass killings and ((())) ideologies. Second, the push to economically weaken Israel discounts Israel’s leadership role in medical innovations as well as desert food production, water conservation and environmental sustainability.  The nation also actively participates in international aid.  Highlighting Israel as only a destructive force not only brushes off the many pluralistic efforts  of Israel’s interfaith movements, it also undermines them and ignores needs of voiceless and vulnerable people across the whole of the Middle East.

Yes, the situation between Israel and the Palestinians could be considerably better.  Yet, we need to acknowledge the true nature of anti-Semitism present in BDS and stand against such forms of oppression and discrimination just as we can acknowledge the anti-Semitism behind ((())).  The BDS movement compares Israelis to Nazis, accuses them of apartheid, labels the Israeli government a regime and works toward the destruction of the state.  This is not only insulting but it is also egregious.  Whatever the solution may be, BDS is not it!

 

Ivy Helman, Ph.D. is feminist scholar and faculty member at Charles University and Anglo-American University in Prague, Czech Republic where she teaches a variety of Jewish Studies and Ecofeminist courses.  She is an Associate of Merrimack College‘s Center for the Study of Jewish-Christian-Muslim Relations and spent many years there as an Adjunct Lecturer in the Religious and Theological Studies Department.  In addition to teaching and research, Ivy spends considerable amounts of time learning Czech, painting, drawing, creating new kosher delicacies and playing with her dog, Mini, and cat, Gabbi.

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Categories: Academics, Activism, college, General, Judaism, Justice, Peacemaking, Politics

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10 replies

  1. Ivy, I have some disagreements with you, but since I don’t know enough about the BDS movement I won’t follow up on those as yet.

    But I think there is an issue that doesn’t get raised enough, which is “What is meant by Zionism?”

    I feel that both anti-Zionists and the Jewish establishment try to equate Zionism with the policies of the Israeli government. But there has always been an alternative Zionism, see (for instance) I. F. Stone’s “Underground to Palestine”.

    For a long time I used to call myself anti-Zionist because I support the rights of Palestinians. But for quite a few years now I have called myself a Zionist for precisely that reason, that I believe a principled Zionism must support Palestinian rights. Of course precisely what those rights are is open to discussion.

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    • I too have not followed all the details of the BDS movement, but I did find this online:

      The Only Recognizable Feature of Hope Is ActionŠ.

      – Grace Paley, Jewish American author and activist

      Jewish Voice for Peace endorses the call from Palestinian civil society for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) as part of our work for freedom, justice and equality for all people. We believe that the time-honored, non-violent tools proposed by the BDS call provide powerful opportunities to make that vision real.

      We join with communities of conscience around the world in supporting Palestinians, who call for BDS until the Israeli government:

      Ends its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967 and dismantles the Wall; recognizes the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and respects, protects and promotes the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.

      In the long and varied history of Jewish experience, we are inspired by those who have resisted injustice and fought for freedom. We strive to live up to those values and extend that history. By endorsing the call, we make our hope real and our love visible and we claim our own liberation as bound with the liberation of all.

      JVP is committed to supporting and organizing all kinds of powerful and strategic campaigns to secure a common future where Palestinians, Israeli Jews, and all the people of Israel/Palestine may live with dignity, security, and peace.

      I support the JVP in their efforts to create a different voice on the question of Israel, Palestine, and Jewish ethics.

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      • I don’t know why my previous comment has not posted.

        The bottom line is that there was a precedent for BDS, against South Africa, and it worked. I don’t remember anyone claiming then that it was a movement to undermine the nature of South Africa as an Afrikaan state!
        The second bottom line? BDS is the last option left for Palestinians and their allies to successfully negotiate the retrieval of their land, lives, freedom and history. So far, the legal option before international courts has been blocked by Israel and the US. The UN resolutions that Israel keeps breaking are non-enforceable thanks to us. Violent resistance is deemed terroristic. Children throwing stones at the army there to protect the settlers as they take land, lives, trees and water are prosecuted in military courts and given decades in prison.
        Currently, hundreds of women and children are in Israeli prisons, without access to representation, some of them physically and sexually abused. The IDF can pick up any Palestinian they want and throw him/her in prison for as long as they want.

        You, Ivy, along with ANY person of Jewish descent from anywhere around the world may move to Israel, obtain nationality then take over the land and home of any Palestinian whose roots go back thousands of years.

        There is a definite blindness and hypocrisy in speaking of fairness, justice, “never again” while adamantly and cluelessly supporting the oppression of Palestinians and the labeling of BDS, the sole, last and most effective means to combat Israeli apartheid as antisemitic.
        It is the same mental state that makes some call the Black Lives movement reverse racism.

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  2. And here is another perspective on what the Palestinians endure. Posted on social media by a member of Jewish Voices for Peace who just returned from the West Bank and witnessed the needless suffering inflicted on ordinary people on a daily basis during Ramadan.http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/ramadan-2016-israel-water-west-bank-cuts-off-a7082826.html
    As Po pointed out, BDS has worked in the past and the escalating rhetoric from certain politicians in the US and Israel suggest that it is beginning to have an impact.
    Dawn Morais

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  3. Perhaps I need to offer some clarity on my position. I want both peace and the end to suffering, not just for Palestinians and the situation in the Middle East but also for humans, non-human animals and the planet.

    In addition, I would like to point out that just because some Jews support the BDS movement, including the organization Jewish Voices for Peace, doesn’t mean that all Jews have to have the same opinion and/or follow suit. It seems to be the method of choice here to counter my opinion with that of Jewish Voices for Peace. I’m not sure if that is supposed to suggest that because there are Jews who support the BDS movement, it can’t be anti-Semitic. I hope not. We all know the logic of that fails miserably. Internalized forms of sexism, classism, racism, etc. exist and all of us buy into them more that we’d like.

    Likewise, I am not the only Jew, or even the only person, to highlight just how problematic this organization is. The links that run throughout my blog detail and document the states, universities, people, and (oddly) even some churches who have come to understand just how problematic the BDS movement is.

    Finally, I do not agree that the last and only solution to this problem is the BDS movement. First of all, I believe in the power of dialogue among leadership. Dialogue is also important for communities and individuals. How much do the participants involved really know about each other? How much opportunity do they have to share and learn? (In the LGBTQ community, there has been a rather persistent truth, that once someone personally knows a member of the community, often one’s opinion of the entire community is affected for the good. The same could apply here as well.) There are many, many organizations on the ground in Israel working towards such encounters. There are even international ones like Kids4Peace (http://www.k4p.org/).

    I am reminded of the IMAX movie, “Jerusalem,” I saw a while back and commented on for this site (https://feminismandreligion.com/2014/06/08/sexism-and-jerusalem/). The story follows three girls, each from a religious background: Judaism, Islam and Orthodox Christianity. The narrator, Benedict Cumberbatch, draws attention to the fact that the girls do not understand why other faiths find the city important. Why don’t they understand one might ask? Because they don’t talk to people of other religions, even girls their own age. If they did, understanding everything they hold in common, peace would come much easier.

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  4. Ivy, the bottom line is pretty obvious to most: one can’t be the abuser and the abused, the bully an the bullied, the murderer and the murdered.
    Let’s not pretend this is happening in an alternate universe where we just woke up one day to find this Israeli-Palestinian issue. To even aim to suggest that is both dishonest and immoral.
    Why?
    1- Palestine was a land where Jews, Christians and Muslims co-existed before Zionism, just as Shia and sunnis cohabited and intermarried in Iraq before the invasion; and Hutus and Tutsis intermarried and cooperated before their land was colonized. The issue is not not knowing one another, the issue is extremely simple: it is one people taking over another people’s land and, not content with that, but pushing, driven by a messianic fervor, a racist one and a violent one, to take over ALL the land of that people, using the immoral tools of oppression, discrimination, imprisonment, violence, and nazi-like rhetoric of “beasts”, subhumans”,”snakes”…
    As a wise one said, negotiating with Israel is akin to negotiating the sharing of a pizza while one party keeps eating.
    Blaming the Palestinians for their lot is not new, as the Amerindians were blamed for their genocide, as American blacks were blamed for their oppression, and as South Africans were blamed for their apartheid.

    2- The silliness of accusing Jewish voices for peace of anti-semitism is overwhelming, for such props itself upon the Netanyanhu driven fallacy that Zionism is Judaism, and therefore whomever doesn’t support Zionism as it expresses itself through its oppression of Palestinians, is not a real Jew.
    As a wise 16 year old Jewish young woman reminded us of on twitter, Zionism is merely 60 years old, while Judaism is thousands of years old. To therefore see the faith, the culture, the history, the holy book, the trauma and pain, the prophetic legacy of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David and Solomon through the secular and atheist prism of Zionism is beyond offensive, it is blasphemous. Meanwhile, JWP is not the only jewish organization supporting Palestinians, nor are its rabbis the only ones to support BDs, nor are their Jewish people the only ones pro-Palestinian…plenty of laypersons and rabbis, orthodox Jews and secular ones are speaking out against this horror that they feel taints Judaism, for they know with certainly, with morality, with humanism, that “never again” applies to all.

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  5. These two links frame the issue perfectly: (Please remove the spaces between the http in your browser, the site blocks weblinks)
    h t t p://thrivalroom.com/understand-israeli-palestinian-apartheid-11-graphics/

    “Listening to foreign news about the conflict, one might think that there exists a sovereign Palestine, which has some sort of territorial dispute with the State of Israel. Every once in a while, one of these parties gets violent; at other times they talk to each other, but with little success. Well-intentioned mediators come and go, looking for a formula that will end the hostilities. The average news reader is left wondering how come they didn’t solve this problem yet.
    The answer is this: The story has very little to do with the reality on the ground. There is no Palestine. Israel is the only sovereign between the river and the sea. Israel controls all borders; the currency is the New Israeli Shekel and the central bank is Israel’s. Israel controls the registration of the population, the ports and the airspace. Even the Palestinian police exist to protect Israel, not Palestinians.
    Under Israeli sovereignty, Jews have all the rights. Palestinians don’t. Those of them born west of the Green Line have (almost) full rights, but they are heavily supervised and discriminated against. Some 300,000 Palestinians in East Jerusalem are “residents”: They can’t take part in general elections, they can’t purchase state land and their status can be stripped from them, either as individuals or as a collective, as Israel is currently thinking of doing to some 100,000 of them. Finally, there are the Palestinians in the occupied territories, who are under the control of the military regime, are not represented at all in the Israeli system and, for almost half a century, have been tried in military courts, under military law.
    read more: h t t p://www.haaretz.com/peace/1.688182

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  6. Thank you for an excellent and very brave post.

    Being active in multiple community building organizations and working with persons of many nationalities and ethnic and religious backgrounds, I am painfully reminded daily how boycott movements completely distort all the effort my colleagues and I put into our programs that aim to make communities thrive and coexist in peace.

    At work, I am daily confronted with many forms of boycott efforts, targeting Muslims, Jews, refugees and non-heterosexual persons. It is not an easy time to be a minority in Europe, or in the Middle East, or in the US. It has never been in the recent past. But I have to strongly disagree with the idea that a boycott movement would ever change anything about this painful fact. Especially if such a boycott movement is willing to promote or “overlook” further hatred and aggression no matter what the cause might be.

    We have a male supremacist website in my country that also uses the (((()))) strategy Dr. Helman references, to track and harm individuals. The individuals behind this website wish to boycott “multiculturalism” and purify our society from what they perceive as evil. Hopefully, they do not use any application to actually track persons in their homes, but they surely list personal photographs, full names, and personal data such as ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation of several hundreds of selected individuals, typically of refugees, persons who work with refugees, persons who promote interfaith dialogue. The website has their boycott categories organized such as Muslims, Refugee workers, Jews, Perverts (non heterosexual persons listed in this category), etc.

    Boycotting implies no longer listening. It all comes down to the smallest daily issues, such as not being able to find a landlord willing to rent a house to a woman from Iraq because she wears a scarf. Such as not being able to sing at a reggae festival in Spain, because you are Jewish. Such as suggesting you mean nothing for some, and can be listed in a category, Muslim, Jew, or Pervert. Such as the sole alarming notion of you being labeled as a PERVERT because you represent and promote opinions that some don’t agree with. Such as hoping that some persons will look beyond the patriarchal categories and will try to bring the voices together, not apart.

    Clearly, Dr. Helman is not suggesting the rights of Palestinians are respected fairly, and she is also not suggesting that an ongoing effort to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should be suddenly abandoned. It would be foolish to read this in her post, and it would mean her main point was missed entirely.

    What I read in the post is first, that the boycott is not a productive solution, let alone a feminist solution to a conflict as long as it is willing to promote or “overlook” other forms aggression and hatred, such as shaming persons of particular ethnicity or religion.

    What I read in her post as a second message – and what I personally appreciate because it has been bothering me personally too – is a brave finger pointed toward those who only allow to name anti-Semitism when it reaches a form of possible physical harm toward individuals (hence the (((())) application), but close their eyes from other forms of systemic anti-Semitism. To automatically allow any form of aggression against Israel and against Jews, with the caveat of otherwise being labeled as not actually caring for the rights of Palestinians or any group in a similar situation, we are missing Dr. Helman’s point, and solely repeating patriarchal stereotypes and circles of violence that clearly do not lead anywhere.

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  7. Thank you for an excellent and very brave post.

    Being active in multiple community building organizations and working with persons of many nationalities and ethnic and religious backgrounds, I am painfully reminded daily how boycott movements completely distort all the effort my colleagues and I put into our programs that aim to make communities thrive and coexist in peace.

    At work, I am daily confronted with many forms of boycott efforts, targeting Muslims, Jews, refugees and non-heterosexual persons. It is not an easy time to be a minority in Europe, or in the Middle East, or in the US. It has never been in the recent past. But I have to strongly disagree with the idea that a boycott movement would ever change anything about this painful fact. Especially if such a boycott movement is willing to promote or “overlook” further hatred and aggression no matter what the cause might be.

    We have a male supremacist website in my country that also uses the (((()))) strategy Dr. Helman references, to track and harm individuals. The individuals behind this website wish to boycott “multiculturalism” and purify our society from what they perceive as evil. Hopefully, they do not use any application to actually track persons in their homes, but they surely list personal photographs, full names, and personal data such as ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation of several hundreds of selected individuals, typically of refugees, persons who work with refugees, persons who promote interfaith dialogue. The website has their boycott categories organized such as Muslims, Refugee workers, Jews, Perverts (non heterosexual persons listed in this category), etc.

    Dr. Helman must know about this ((((list)))), because she is listed there, along with other feminist academics. Apparently, their “evil” interfaith thoughts have bothered someone sufficiently to suggest they too should be boycotted, perhaps harmed physically.

    Boycotting implies no longer listening. It all comes down to the smallest daily issues, such as not being able to find a landlord willing to rent a house to a woman from Iraq because she wears a scarf. Such as not being able to sing at a reggae festival in Spain, because you are Jewish. Such as suggesting you mean nothing for some, and can be listed in a category, Muslim, Jew, or Pervert. Such as the sole alarming notion of you being labeled as a PERVERT because you represent and promote opinions that some don’t agree with. Such as hoping that some persons will look beyond the patriarchal categories and will try to bring the voices together, not apart.

    Clearly, Dr. Helman is not suggesting the rights of Palestinians are respected fairly, and she is also not suggesting that an ongoing effort to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should be suddenly abandoned. It would be foolish to read this in her post, and it would mean her main point was missed entirely.

    What I read in the post is first, that the boycott is not a productive solution, let alone a feminist solution to a conflict as long as it is willing to promote or “overlook” other forms aggression and hatred, such as shaming persons of particular ethnicity or religion. To suggest that the boycott is bringing “good” results in terms of hope for the Palestinian state is a travesty to uncounted organizations, individuals, journalists, religious figures and politicians who are committed to promoting peace through a dialogue, not violence. To attribute their work to a boycott movement is incorrect and dangerous.

    What I read in her post as a second message – and what I personally appreciate because it has been bothering me personally too – is a brave finger pointed toward those who only allow to name anti-Semitism when it reaches a form of possible physical harm toward individuals (hence the (((())) application), but close their eyes from other forms of systemic anti-Semitism. To automatically allow any form of aggression against Israel and against Jews, with the caveat of otherwise being labeled as not actually caring for the rights of Palestinians or any group in a similar situation, we are missing Dr. Helman’s point, and solely repeating patriarchal stereotypes and circles of violence that clearly do not lead anywhere.

    Like

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