The latest session of my seminar on public policy was devoted to "Israel in Comparative Perspective." After noting that Israel is the lone country with a majority of Jews and the western democracy with outlays on security more than twice those (as a proportion of national resources) of the next most security conscious country (the United States), we got to the issue of being singled out for boycotts, disinvestment, and sanctions.
The BDS movement traces itself to an initiative of 2005 by "Palestinian political parties, unions, associations, coalitions and organizations . . . (that) represent the three integral parts of the people of Palestine: Palestinian refugees, Palestinians under occupation and Palestinian citizens of Israel." http://bdsmovement.net/
It is not hard to find a connection between Israel's Jewish majority, high outlays on security, and the BDS movement. According to the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights:
". . . ways in which antisemitism manifests itself with regard to the state of Israel . . . applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation." http://fra.europa.eu/fraWebsite/material/pub/AS/AS-WorkingDefinition-draft.pdf
One can moan about the sporadic movement of BDS out from Palestinians to Europeans, Americans, and others, including Jews, who describe themselves as right-thinking. On the other hand, one can appreciate the Palestinian turn from violence to political action. Less than a decade ago, I sat in the same classroom discussing some of the same issues against the background of exploding buses, coffee houses, and a university cafeteria.
The BDS movement is annoying in the extreme. Its promoters often range beyond a reasoned argument against Israel's actions to diatribes against the Jews. Yet one cannot demand an end to Palestinian violence, hope to turn the conflict to the realm of politics, and quarrel over every expression heard from the other side. People on our side are embarrassed by Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu of Sefat, who preached against renting apartments to Arabs, and Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who said, "Abu Mazen and all these evil people should perish from this world . . . God should strike them with a plague, them and these Palestinians."
With all the discomfort associated with the BDS movement, it hardly seems to be more threatening than the violence of suicide bombers, random stabbings, or massed Palestinians with stones, firebombs, knives, and guns. The expanded definition of anti-Semitism drafted by a body associated with the European Union shows that not all right thinking people are against us. Reports about BDS efforts in academia, labor unions, and local political or economic forums describe counter campaigns by Jews and others. Opponents of BDS appear to be successful at least as often as advocates.
The intellectual equivalent of the IDF and other Israeli security forces are people with well honed capacities to recognize extremism for what it is. While some call for a vastly expanded effort at "explanation" by the Israeli government, the uncoordinated activity of individuals may be even more effective. Their assets include a lack of affiliation with a government intent on justifying itself, as well as familiarity with the personalities involved in local skirmishes.
There is more pathos than justice in the efforts of Palestinians to date. Various efforts at violence have cost them more than they have gained. Following on an overreaching Obama administration to insist on a halt to construction in Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem has not brought them any closer to their Promised Land. (One searches high and low for any Supreme Authority promising the land to them, but that is another issue.)
Their distortions of history (it was only them who were here forever, and their suffering is entirely the responsibility of Israel) have gotten little more than lip service from participants in international politics. Recent threats to declare independence (once again) and win endorsement from the United Nations have not led the IDF to begin packing its equipment.
The blame game may score points in a school debate or among predisposed participants in an international forum without responsibility for meaningful sanctions. While I can applaud with one hand the turn from violence to efforts at a struggle that is political, I will reserve two-handed applause for the time when Palestinians adopt the strategy of compromise. It will not be easy for them to abandon 60 years of inciting their own people, and it may be impossible. Only then, however, can they move beyond trendy leftists and more serious anti-Semites, and reach into the center of the Israeli spectrum. Then they may achieve the state promised by naive others, but not deliverable by them.
On another and more pressing issue, let me remind you that latkes were great in the shtetl on a cold winter night. Now that more of us are living longer, and healthier, we should not eat too many of them.
Chag Chanukah sameach.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem