BATTLING BDS - WHEN THE CALL FOR BOYCOTT HITS HOME
BATTLING BDS - WHEN THE CALL FOR BOYCOTT HITS HOME
Good news: a musician friend — a recognized name in the singer-songwriter world, but let’s just call him “David” — is considering a concert tour in my home country of Israel.
Bad news: as soon as word got out, David was contacted (or you might say, targeted) by an anti-Israel activist:
Please, please, please don’t do a tour in Israel. Palestinian civil society has requested that the global community honor BDS, (boycott, divestment, sanctions). Touring Israel with that request in place is like crossing a picket line. Please don’t do it.
Quite taken aback, David turned to me for advice, saying:
My initial feeling is always that there’s more to be gained be getting together than by staying away…that’s the folksinger in me, and having dialogues is always more progressive than more polarization…but I really need to understand more here.
I knew I liked that guy.
David’s interlocutor, a musician and self-professed “former Zionist”, pressed his case by sharing a music-and-talk video he produced a few years ago. Personally, I consider this video a noxious collection of half-truths – in short, an artistic “contribution” to the rich literature of anti-Israel propaganda.
But the only way my readers will understand my response is to see it for themselves. So, with some hesitation, I link to it here.
The following is my response to David. It’s long. It’s detailed. And – I believe – it’s important.
Good to hear from you, and good to hear you’re keeping busy, while still entertaining thoughts of entertaining us. We’ll be the better for it.
Your acquaintance Rich’s viewpoint is something I recognize and know well from the far left of Israel’s political spectrum – a small, but vocal sub-group of the Israeli body politic that includes a number of NGOs, as well as political parties in Israel’s parliament (the Knesset). As someone who’s lucky enough to live in a democracy, I recognize the right of these people – Jews, Arabs, Bedouin, and Druse – to speak out for their political beliefs.
What I have a problem with is what I see in Rich’s statement (as well as his song): a tendency to make wild accusations, while avoiding mention of any context whatsoever. Because after all – and this is what we see here – if there’s no context, the death of Palestinians can be presented as the result of some nihilistic, or Nazi-like Israeli shooting spree, rather than what it is: the tragic result of warfare that has been forced upon Israel by its enemies.
So I’d like to point out just a few places where this lack of context does a disservice to the complexity that is Israeli-Arab conflict. By doing so, Rich is doing a disservice to everyone – Israelis and Palestinians alike – who really desires peace.
There’s a lot of specific material in Rich’s video that I consider ill-informed (absolutely) and mendacious (probably). However, before I present a my views, I want to emphasize something: If Rich has a friend whose daughter was killed by Israeli gunfire, I have nothing but sympathy for him, and for his friend. Of course this is a tragedy; every child is precious. Like every Israeli, I can understand how this tragedy can deeply influence his thinking.
Because this kind of thing happened to me, too. Almost everyone I know has some connection to a family that has been ripped apart by Palestinian terror.
My friends the Viflics – former owners of our local Chinese restaurant — had two children. A few years ago, their 16-year-old son Daniel went down south to visit his grandmother, who lived in one of the Jewish towns near the Gaza strip.
Some background: This is the area from which Israel, in 2005, unilaterally pulled out all 9,000 or so Jewish residents who had lived there for over thirty years. Israel razed Jewish buildings and synagogues, and even disinterred Jewish graves for reburial. The area’s high-tech greenhouses were purchased by EU and American donors so they could be given to the Palestinians of Gaza. But these same facilities were destroyed by the Palestinians themselves as part of a post-withdrawal “victory” party.
While the motivation behind the Gaza “disengagement” was to improve Israeli security – protecting Gaza’s Jewish residents from constant attacks was very difficult, and cost both civilian lives and the lives of too many soldiers – the result was the creation of what was essentially the first independent Palestinian state. This state was initially entrusted to the leaders of the PA, or Palestinian Authority (the same leaders now conducting negotiations with Israel). Soon, however, the PA was overthrown by Hamas, a Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated group funded by Iran whose charter (link here) calls for the destruction of Israel (see the preamble), and for the murder of Jews all over the world (Article 7).
But back to my friends’ son. The grandmother’s friend was a school bus driver, and the Daniel decided to tag along on the end-of-the-day drop off. After dropping off the last young child (thank Gd), the bus – a yellow school bus, clearly marked – was targeted by an anti-tank missile. Anti-tank missiles are designed to be aimed, and the terrorists decided to aim this one at innocent children. The driver escaped with serious wounds. Daniel was killed.
And therein, David, lies the whole story. I don’t know the circumstances of the death of that Palestinian family’s daughter. But I do know that – while Palestinian culture lionizes terrorists who kill Jewish civilians (palwatch.org, linked here, is an indispensible source — direct translations from the state-controlled Palestinian media related to this phenomenon), Israel goes to enormous lengths to safeguard civilian life. During Operation Cast Lead (the first of two major IDF operations designed to slow the relentless firing of missiles), the IDF dropped thousands of warning leaflets, made over 200,000 telephone warnings to Palestinian civilians, aborted missile strikes to prevent civilian casualties, opened a field clinic for Palestinians on the Gaza border, and transferred tons of humanitarian aid during the conflict.
All because we’re monsters, I guess.
Saving civilian lives is made more difficult by the fact that Israel’s Arab enemies – Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, and Hizbulla in Lebanon – typically fire on Israeli civilian targets while embedded in the heart of a civilian population. This is the “human shield phenomenon” that gives the Palestinian propagandists a ghoulish win-win: If the Palestinians attack, and the Israelis don’t fight back, the Palestinians win. If Israelis do fight back, Palestinian casualties can be used to demonize Israel, and defeat it in the war of public opinion. If this seems like I’m exaggerating, I suggest you take a look at a slide showhere.
The following cartoon also sums up the dilemma:
I don’t present this cartoon to demonize the Palestinians… many of whom want a peaceful solution as much as I do. Unfortunately, they live in a dictatorship, and are likely to be arrested or killed if they promote compromise – or even dialogue – with the Zionist enemy. Israeli Arabs and Jews who support the same thing are likely to be elected to office.
Given that, Rich’s outraged cry that “Palestinian children are dying” infuriates me – and fills me with despair – because creates an outrageous catch 22.
Rich presents the free-floating claim that hundreds of children died because Israel “attacked Gaza.” No context. No mention of Hamas gunmen firing their rockets from inside school grounds, and storing their missiles in the basements of hospitals. No mention of the thousands of rockets that pounded Israeli civilian communities for years, leading up to Israel’s much-delayed decision to protect its people.
And this is not just history. To this very day, civilians in cities just a few dozen kilometers away from my home are forced to live in constant fear, with just 15 seconds to run for concrete shelters (conveniently placed at regular intervals along city streets and near playgrounds). An entire generation of Israeli children is growing up with PTSD, and other serious anxiety-related disorders. Israel has invested in high-tech anti-rocket systems, civil defense training and bomb shelters. The Palestinians – the largest per capita recipients of foreign aid in the world — have invested their in weaponry, and in strengthening the terror infrastructure.
Rich claims – with great passion and evident personal pain – that Israel murders children because they are trapped in a warped Zionist ideology. But he played piano bar somewhere in Israel for a short period of time (and apparently made some friends among the anti-Zionist community). I’ve lived here for 30 years. Come Tuesday, I will have two sons in the army, and my 54 year old husband, who served for four years, is still called up annually for the reserves. I agree with Rich that Israel is trapped – forced defend itself because of the Palestinian’s refusal to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish State in the Middle East, no matter what its borders.
But I’m proud that we haven’t lost hope. We don’t give up on peace, and have taken remarkable risks to pursue it. Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005, declared its support for a Palestinian State that is willing to live side-by-side in peace with Israel, and made repeated offers to pull out most of the West Bank to make that happen – despite the dangerous ramifications. The majority of Israel’s electorate (that’s Jews as well as its 20% of the population who are Arab), believe that territorial compromise is the way to go. But while Israel offered the Palestinians a state of their own three separate times (details here if you’re interested), these offers were rejected out of hand.
This leads me to the BDS (Boycott, Divest, and Sanction) movement, in whose name Rich begs you to stay away. BDS fancies itself as a human rights group. But it calls for:
1. The expulsion of all Jews from a Palestinian State in the West bank.
2. The “right of return” of millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees to the rump state of Israel, where they will have full democratic rights to vote – and cancel the Jewish nature of the one Jewish state in the world.
What’s the upshot?
Peace is our goal, but it takes two to tango. If the Palestinians insist that 1.) a Palestinian state on the West Bank may not include a single Jew, and 2.) millions of Arabs will never give up their “right” to take up residency and citizenship in the rump state of Israel, then – there you have it. That’s not a “two state solution” aimed at ending the conflict. That’s the destruction of the Jewish State of Israel by other means.
There’s much more I could say, but I’ve gone on too long already. I believe that Israel has the right to exist as a Jewish state – both because of the Jewish people’s historical and religious roots in this land, and because it was granted the right to be reborn as a modern nation state by international law. The Arabs were offered a state of their own at the very same time, in the United Nation’s 1947 partition plan. The surrounding Arab countries all chose war instead of peace, and they’ve been doing so ever since. I sincerely hope they change their minds, and accept the legitimacy of Zionism – the national liberation of the Jewish people.
I also hope – and this is *really* utopian – that they come to appreciate the pluralistic and liberal culture of Israel, the only place in the middle east that ensures human, civil and religious rights for all its citizens, irrespective of ethnicity, race, gender or sexual orientation.
I wish you luck on all your activities… the CD, the touring, keeping your household together. And I really hope you come to visit us.