Thursday, March 04, 2010

J Street's Goal: Peace and Security, but Not Justice

J Street, the more moderate pro-Israeli group that serves as a bit of a counterweight to the right-wing AIPAC, is publicly opposing Israel Apartheid Week and connecting it to the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) Movement. They argue as follows:
The BDS movement, whose dogmatic, counterproductive approach underlies “Israel Apartheid Week,” aims to delegitimize Israel’s very existence - making no distinction between West Bank settlements and Israel proper, and refusing to support a two-state solution that results in a viable Palestinian state and a secure, democratic Israel that is a homeland for the Jewish people, living side by side in peace and security. The BDS movement’s lack of support for a two-state solution puts it well outside the mainstream of the entire political leadership of Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and the United States.
This is incredibly revealing. In order to have a "secure, democratic Israel that is a homeland for the Jewish people" Palestinians must be treated as second class citizens. Because underlying the BDS movement is simply the demand for equal treatment and justice for Palestinians. Here are the simple demands made of Israel:

1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall;

2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and

3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.

One state? Two states? More important than those questions is ensuring that all the people in the region have human rights. If Israel surviving in its present state requires denying those rights to Palestinians, then we really should delegitimize the state. If that changes, then defenders of human rights around the world can debate one state versus two states, but until then the injustice exists, and it should be countered.

Furthermore, until Israeli authorities use the same state power they bring down on Palestinians day after day also, or instead, against Jewish settlers taking over West Bank land, the "West Bank settlements and Israel proper" (which seems to grow every few decades) cannot be separated. Some supporters of the State of Israel may talk about living side-by-side with Palestinians in peace, but until the actions of the State of Israel demonstrate that commitment, it is a hollow statement.
We also reject comparisons of Israel to South African apartheid. The analogy clearly implies that Israel is illegitimate, that it deserves a wholesale boycott, and suggests a single state for Israelis and Palestinians would be some sort of solution to the conflict, when in reality, it is a recipe for further violence, strife, and insecurity.
Interesting how a paragraph seeking to distance Israel from South Africa sounds so similar to the kinds of arguments made by white South Africans during apartheid. As Avika Eldar wrote in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz:
One of the myths among whites in South Africa was that "blacks want to throw us into the sea." Many of apartheid's practices were formally based on security, mostly those involving restrictions on movement. Thus, for example, at a fairly early stage, black citizens needed permits to move around the country. During the final years of apartheid, when the blacks' struggle intensified as did terrorism, its practices became more severe.
Today there is less violence, less strife, and far less insecurity in South Africa. Why couldn't that happen in Israel/Palestine? Are Arabs inherently violent? Are Jews?

The J Street statement continues:
The BDS movement wrongly places the entirety of blame for the conflict on Israel. Responsibility for the conflict does not rest exclusively with either the Israelis or the Palestinians, and moreover, this conflict will never be truly resolved if one side wins only at the other’s loss.
If the Palestinian side has ever won anything, please share. Anyway, the BDS movement is about equality. If that is a victory for any side, it is only the side of justice. Again, the J Street statement reveals more than intended. Supporting Israel as it exists today requires support for grave injustice; countering that means Israel loses.

Of course, Palestinians and their various leadership bodies have made statements and endorsed practices that may be worthy of condemnation, firing rockets into civilian communities and blowing up buses are awful acts; but on the other hand, Palestinians are not occupying Israel; Palestinians are not oppressing Israelis; Palestinians do not receive billions of dollars from the United States; Palestinians do not have nuclear weapons. Making the argument that there are two sides and those of us who care about human rights shouldn't pick one over the other, or should condemn each side equally ignores the reality, asymmetry, and history of the conflict. It is tantamount to arguing that black South Africans were responsible for the conflict there.
The approach of the BDS movement only serves to deepen Israel’s sense of isolation and thus harden Israelis against the compromises necessary to achieve peace, undermining the regular and inspiring cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians on the ground. This is singularly unhelpful particularly as the United States works to re-launch negotiations and as the window of opportunity for achieving a viable two-state solution grows ever smaller.
Do you want to know what isolation feels like? Try living in the Gaza Strip. Hardened to the compromises? Like slave owners in the American South who eventually fought a war instead of making the "compromises" necessary. Well, I'd say J Street would do more good to speak out against that hardening, and if the U.S. actually works on negotiations with a real chance at justice for Palestinians, I have no doubt the BDS movement will find ways to be more helpful; but as long as the U.S. government continues to send billions to Israel even as its leaders continue to build walls and allow settlements, the BDS movement ought to focus on helping the growing movement among Arabs and Jews to end Israeli apartheid.
Therefore, we strongly oppose Israel Apartheid Week because we believe that it employs inflammatory, inaccurate language, misrepresents the complex truth of the conflict, undercuts debate, alienates significant numbers of students, and advances the agenda of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
J Street ought to identify exactly what it finds "inflammatory" or "inaccurate" so that advocates of Apartheid Week can address these claims. Of course the situation is "complex." Oppression and injustice often involve complex politics, history, and social circumstances; but we're all intelligent enough to recognize when injustice exists.
We’re proud to continue J Street U’s “Invest, Don’t Divest” campaign, which gives pro-peace students a concrete alternative to the BDS movement and an opportunity to invest in their campus debate, in their communities, and in the Israelis and Palestinians who will bring about the positive change needed to finally achieve two states and real peace and security for all.
Still the emphasis is on security and peace, but peace without justice is simply not the goal of the BDS movement or Israeli Apartheid Week. If it is J Street's goal, then they should acknowledge that openly.

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