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Boycotting Some Jews but Not Others Is Not Part of the Pro-Israel Consensus

As Alana has noted, pro-Israel organizations face some difficult dilemmas when dealing with Jewish groups that support some boycotts of Israelis but not others.

I understand the position enunciated by Martin Raffel of the Jewish Council on Public Affairs, who has been organizing the Israel Action Network that was set up to fight the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement aimed at isolating Israel. Along with the rest of the organized Jewish world, he is hoping to build as broad a coalition as possible to fight the BDS crowd while still drawing a clear distinction between those who support Israel’s right to exist and those who don’t. And to do that, he needs to bring in left-wingers who are opposed to Israel’s settlement movement, since the goal of BDS is not to force Israel out of the West Bank or even Jerusalem but to eliminate it entirely.

Anyone who counts himself a supporter of Israel, no matter where their opinion might be about settlements, ought to be welcome in the battle to stop BDS. The problem here is not whether to attempt to build a broad-based coalition that might include some individuals or groups whose opinions about Israel are strongly opposed by the rest of the pro-Israel community. The problem is that coalitions tend to be ruled by their extremes. And if in order to maintain a consensus to oppose the economic war on Israel’s existence mainstream groups have to kowtow to leftists who seek to delegitimize some Israelis, there is a grave danger that such a position may be wrongly portrayed as part of a community consensus when it is nothing of the kind.

In combating BDS, it needs to be understood that Israel’s foes make no distinction between even the most remote West Bank settlement and Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem. Indeed, most see little difference between unpopulated West Bank hilltop outposts and a city inside the green line like Tel Aviv, whose inhabitants largely oppose settlements. That is why those who oppose settlements for what they believe are Zionist reasons ought to reconsider support for boycotts of them, because they lend legitimacy to attacks on Israel as a whole. Indeed, it is somewhat ironic for left-wing Jews who seek to ostracize the right-wing settlers to complain about the mainstream pro-Israel community ostracizing them because of their willingness to boycott some Jews but not others.

BDS is an attack not just on Israelis but on the Jewish people as a whole, since their national liberation movement is singled out for ostracism in a way that no other people’s rights are treated. What this assault on the legitimacy of Zionism ought to remind us of is that the internal Jewish squabbles about where to draw Israel’s borders are irrelevant to this existential struggle for Israel’s survival. Thus, while I don’t oppose the Jewish Action Network’s desire to cast as wide a net as possible in organizing opposition to BDS, its leaders need to clearly enunciate a position that deprecates the boycotting of any pro-Zionist Jew or any Israeli because of his politics or where she lives. We can agree to disagree about the wisdom of maintaining the settlements, but we should not be neutral about delegitimizing fellow members of the pro-Israel community.



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