The Growing B.D.S. Movement In America’s Political Culture

Apr 13th, 2019 | By | Category: Featured Issues, Politics & Current Events

Within the Democratic Party, especially within the Progressive Left, support for the B.D.S. Movement is growing.  B.D.S. is the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions initiative against Israel, seeking to exert economic, moral and political pressure on Israel.  Founded in 2005 with a statement of principles, the B.D.S. “call” has been signed by more than 170 Palestinian organizations around the world.  It makes three demands:  1. An end to military occupation in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which, they contend, began in 1967.  2.  For Palestinians refugees, the right of return to their homes and property within the nation state of Israel.  The contention is that this land belongs to the Palestinian Arabs and should be returned to them.  3.  For Palestinian citizens within Israel, full equality with Jews.  For those in the B.D.S. movement, these three goals can be achieved in any number of ways:  two states, one state with equal individual rights, a confederation with equal collective rights.  However it is achieved, the movement “seeks to isolate Israel culturally, diplomatically and economically.”

In an important article, Nathan Thrall makes the following observations about the B.D.S. movement in 2019:

  • The B.D.S. movement views the conflict in the Middle East as a century-long Arab struggle against the establishment of a Jewish state on land that was more than 95% Arab in the late 19th century and 90% Arab when the British promised in 1917 to try and establish a national home for Jewish people in Palestine (i.e., the Balfour Declaration). Palestinian groups have always opposed the establishment or existence of a Jewish state in Palestine.  “The issue is not land; the issue is not statehood.  The Palestinians don’t want peace no matter what.”  Over decades of negotiation, “the Palestinians were offered a state in ’37 and ’47, and they said no.  In 2000, 2001, 2008, they said no.”
  • The B.D.S. movement casts the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a struggle against apartheid, as defined by the International Criminal Court: “an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.” D.S. leaders usually cite South Africa’s sixth prime minister, Hendrik Verwoerd, who likened Israel to South Africa in 1961:  “The Jews took Israel from the Arabs after the Arabs had lived there for a thousand years.  In that, I agree with them.  Israel like South Africa is an apartheid state.”
  • According to a 2013 Pew Survey, 44% of Americans and 40% of American Jews believe that Israel was given to the Jewish people by God. For B.D.S. leaders, the fact that Jews believe they have rights in historic Palestine that non-Jews do not is the root of the conflict.  And, for them, “only resistance can restore Palestinian rights.”  For that reason, the B.D.S. platform opposes Israel remaining a Jewish state.   They insist on full equality between Jews and non-Jews in Israel and also the call to recognize the right of return for Palestinian refugees.   In effect, B.D.S. proponents support Palestinian self-determination but oppose Jewish self-determination and are thereby not only calling for an end to the “occupation” but the end of the state of Israel.
  • Since 2005, resolutions to boycott or divest from companies tied to Israeli settlements, occupation or violation of Palestinian human rights have been introduced at dozens of American campuses, including Stanford, Berkeley, Oberlin, Barnard, George divestment at some point.

How should we think about the B.D.S. movement?  Joshua Muravchik, fellow at the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, gives a most helpful perspective on the B.D.S. movement and its inherent hypocrisy and inconsistency.  He argues convincingly that Palestinian nationalism did not exist before the 1967 War, for the major Arab and Palestinian passion was pan-Arabism.  Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt promoted this pan-Arabism, which was humiliated by Israel in the 1967 war.  Pan-Arabism died in 1967.  Palestinian nationalism replaced it with a series of terrorist acts by various Palestinian radicals, including airplane hijackings, bombings and culminating in the murder of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games.  The 1973 oil embargo followed this brutal terrorism, awakening especially the European world to the Arab cause.  Muravchik writes that “Israel suddenly seemed the larger party and the Palestinians the ones deserving sympathy.” “When was the last time you saw an angry demonstration on a college campus over the brutal occupation of Tibet?” Over the last 15 years, Ehud Barak and later Ehud Olmert (in 2000, 2001 and 2008) offered Yasser Arafat everything he demanded (a Palestinian state, with Jerusalem as its capital and with every Israeli settlement in the new Palestine uprooted), but the price was the recognition of Israel as the Jewish homeland.  Arafat refused and went home to organize the Second Intifada.  China has never offered anything like that to Tibet!  He goes on, “For 100 years the core idea in leftist thought was economic: class struggle, poor against rich, workers against capitalists.  After World War II ethnic, racial or national struggles become dominant, growing our of anti-colonial movements . . . Palestinians are the anti-colonial people of color.”  The late Edward Said is the darling of this anti-colonial conviction, for he symbolized this new leftist idea that it is all about race and not about class; “the great moral drama is the history of the oppression of people of color by white people, and the rebellion of the people color against this repression.”  For the Democratic, Progressive left, the Palestinians are the new “people of color” and Israel is the white oppressor.

As the late Charles Krauthammer persuasively argued, “The fundamental reality remains:  This generation of Palestinian leadership—from Yasser Arafat to Mahmoud Abbas—has never and will never sign its name to a final peace settlement dividing the land with Jewish state.  And without that, no Israeli government of any kind will agree to a Palestinian state.”  Hamas and Fatah (the Palestinian Authority) are again feuding—quite bitterly.  So, with whom does Israel negotiate for a lasting peace in Palestine?  Furthermore, given the current chaos in the Middle East, a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians is impossible.  With the major authoritarian dictators gone in this region (e.g., Saddam Hussein, Hafez al-Assad), there is no reliable government in the crucial states of Syria and Iraq.  No matter how you evaluate it, the nation states of Syria and Iraq no longer exist.  The order imposed by the western powers at the end of World War I and re-affirmed at the end of World War II no longer exists.  Egypt has had two revolutions and three radically different governments.  Yemen is becoming a client of Iran.  Libya no longer exists as a nation state either.  With this incredible instability in the region, why must Israel be forced to make irreversible territorial concessions on the West Bank in return for promises and guarantees?  As Krauthammer observes, “Israel is ringed by jihadist terrorists in Sinai, Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Islamic State and Iranian proxies in Syria, and a friendly but highly fragile Jordan . . .  Peace awaits three things.  Eventual Palestinian acceptance of a Jewish state.  A Palestinian leader willing to sign a deal based on that premise.  A modicum of regional stability that allows Israel to risk the potentially fatal withdrawals such a deal would entail.”   These three items do not exist in today’s Middle East.  No reasonable human being can support the lunacy of the B.D.S. movement.

See Marvin Olasky’s interview with Joshua Muravchik in World (16 May 2015), pp. 32-33; Con Coughlin in the Wall Street Journal (22 April 2015); Charles Krauthammer in the Washington Post (23 May 2015); and Nathan Thrall, “The Battle over B.D.S.,” in the New York Times Magazine (31 March 2019), pp. 33-45.

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