Even if they have suffered some recent setbacks among academic umbrella groups, the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions (BDS) movement is an increasingly loud presence on university campuses and among activist organizations in Washington, D.C.
As Middle Eastern prime ministers, foreign ministers, and defense ministers descend on Washington for the anti-Islamic State summit, it’s been a useful reminder that the hatreds upon which BDS feeds are increasingly out-of-date in the region itself.
Far from being a pariah state, Israel has never been so broadly accepted in the Middle East. Its relationship with Egypt has never been better, and its relationship with Jordan is stable. The looming threat of a nuclear Iran—one at best delayed but not resolved by the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—has brought Israel and Saudi Arabia and the various Gulf emirates closer together than they have ever been. Morocco and Tunisia also maintain informal relations with the Jewish state.
Over the last few days, I have had the opportunity to sit down with Arab ministers and officials from a variety of states. Each recognizes Israel’s permanence and envisions Israel as a Jewish state better integrated into the region. Each favors a two-state solution. Whatever their views of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, they recognize internal Israeli politics are not their business.
A few officials from states that do not formally recognize Israel understand that they must speak more directly to the Israeli public via the Israeli press. That means breaking down both real and psychological barriers that exist on both sides that undercut appearance in each other’s media.
In 2001-2002, I briefly taught a Master’s degree class at Hebrew University about Iranian state and society. Nearly all my students had served or were currently serving in the Israeli military, and many went on to become diplomats. Many assumed, by virtue of living in the Middle East and serving in the Israeli Army, that they understood the Middle East. The reality is that they amplified their experience among the Palestinians or Lebanese into a framework which they believed explained the Middle East; few understood that Moroccans, Syrians, Egyptians, Iraqis, Kurds, Saudis, Omanis, and Iranians, for example, were not carbon copies of Palestinians or Lebanese. A generation later, and typical Israeli understanding of the Middle East is even narrower because the memory of Lebanon has faded, with the exception of Hezbollah rockets raining down in 2006.
There’s a certain irony when Arab foreign ministers from states that do not recognize Israel are willing to talk, interact, and flesh out broader regional integration. Nevertheless, self-perceived progressive activists and academics in the United States and Europe now effectively mirror the rhetoric and positions not emerging from the Arab mainstream, but rather from rejectionist states like Syria, Algeria, and Iran.