What does it take to get liberal Zionists on board with BDS, and is it worth it?

by Ahmed Moor on April 20, 2010

Jerry Haber’s call for liberal Zionists to join the broader BDS movement is laudable for what he’s attempting to do. Sadly, Haber’s Zionism informs his writing in a way that largely undermines his professed goal. The current of Jewish paternalism that runs throughout the list translates into both an excessive focus on the importance of the Zionist “peace” camp in Israel, and the adoption of an infantilizing and placatory tone vis a vis the Palestinians. While that may not be a reflection of Haber’s personal views, he still seems to think that these are the points that will sway the liberal Zionist.

The peace camp in Israel is mostly non-existent and ineffectual. That’s because liberal Zionists can’t help but be co-opted by the Israeli war camp, which correctly identifies Palestinian equal rights as the end of Jewish-ruled Israel. Any liberal Zionist who actually does agree that “the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality” ought to be recognized by the Jewish state exists in a steadily narrowing temporal envelope. In time, those non-Jews will undo the Jewish state on their own and those liberal Zionists will have to make a binary decision; equal rights (without an overwhelming racial majority) or Jewish supremacy (i.e. Zionism). I get the sense that liberal Zionists are only capable of subscribing to the ‘Jewish and democratic’ meme so long as they can depend on a Jewish-majority demographic reality, which will not be the case forever. Honest liberal Zionists will recognize the unavoidable decision looming ahead. I hope brave Zionists will make that decision today.

As for the second point, Haber writes that “Palestinians should have a little naches (pleasure) after all their suffering and BDS provides them with that.”

The goal of the BDS movement is not to provide the Palestinians with a little naches. Instead the BDS movement seeks to correct the effects of decades of imperial control and colonization of Palestine/Israel by Zionists. Admittedly, what that correction may entail is interpreted differently by different people. But truthfully, any Zionist who opts to join the BDS movement in order to provide Palestinians with a little pleasure is probably better off buying me a tuna sandwich and a coke.

There is another problem with Haber’s naches. He notes early on that the BDS movement is a product of Palestinian leadership. He then recasts the issue so that Palestinian agency exists as a function of Zionist indulgence. ‘Look, they’re like Gandhi. Throw them a little naches bone.’

Haber casually dismisses the import of the Palestinian right of return to Palestinians when he writes “even if you don’t recognize the right of return, you recognize the importance to the Palestinians of claiming that right.”

The right of return is an inviolable and sacrosanct principle which necessarily spells out the end of the Jewish state, as such. Haber should understand that many Palestinians, me included, would prefer to march alone than march alongside anyone who does not endorse our right to return, meaning Zionists. There is a fundamental tension here: on the one hand, Palestinians aren’t human (Jewish) enough to reclaim their birthrights in Israel, but they’re just human enough for us to call for our compatriots to ease the boot heel pressure on their necks a little. That’s like telling black people that they should have the right to property, just not in your neighborhood.

But isn’t it better to find common cause with liberal Zionists on this issue? Don’t we need all the allies we can get? People may disagree on this question. But I’m inclined to focus on building a movement with a solid moral foundation, rather than one which is fractured and part racist. If liberal Zionists want to disengage from the settlements for the sake of preserving their racist state they are welcome to do so. But I don’t intend to endorse their racist goal or assuage their Nakba guilt by working alongside them.

There are no gradations of humanity; either we’re equal, or we’re adversaries. I regret framing the issue in such aggressively stark terms, but our (Palestinians and Jews) humanity is what is at stake here.

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I decided to come up with my own list for why liberal Zionists should support BDS and equal rights. Like Haber’s it’s Jewish-centric:

1 Think of your grandchildren. Think of the embarrassment they’re going to feel when they explain that their grandparents were ardent supporters of the world’s last racist apartheid state. If you’ve ever met a white South African in their teens or twenties, then you know what I’m talking about.

2 Think of your next reception in Thailand, Bolivia, France, Britain, or basically anywhere but America, when you explain that you actually don’t believe that Palestinians are somehow inferior (This one pays immediate dividends).

3 Finally, imagine what it might feel like to live in a normal country, where Rabbis don’t tell you who you can marry or where you can build your hospitals, and where you don’t subsidize the activities of roaming gangs of violent supremacists in the West Bank. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

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