See? We Can Talk About BDS

I asked myself, should I blog first about the J Street conference as a whole, or about the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) panel in particular, since I plan to write both.

I decided to start with the BDS panel, because it really was a remarkable event. J Street got an enormous amount of flak for agreeing to host a discussion about BDS in a liberal Jewish venue. Many on the right used it to “prove” that J Street was really anti-Israel, though that argument seemed to have convinced no one outside of their own

Jewish Voice for Peace Executive Director, Rebecca Vilkomerson

amen chorus.

While the panel of four featured only one explicitly pro-BDS person, another opposed the global BDS movement but supported certain kinds of economic action against the occupation and a third expressed sympathy to some of the motivations behind BDS, objecting more to the atmosphere the debate creates and the bellicosity of some of its proponents.

Rebecca Vilkomerson of Jewish Voice for Peace acquitted herself very well in being the lone voice supporting BDS on the panel. It was a tough task, but, having known Rebecca for many years, I had no doubt that she was up to it, and she didn’t disappoint.

Still, her task was not as hard as it might have been, and perhaps as it might have seemed to her and to her organization coming in. Nothing, of course, was settled in that room, and I imagine few people left with a different opinion than they came in with, albeit perhaps with a lot more to think about with regard to BDS.

But the panel was still a triumph simply because it was at a major national Jewish pro-Israel event and the conversation was civilized, respectful, and for the most part very informative. People listened. Sure, there were occasional murmurs, but everyone was allowed to speak, and the questions that were asked by both sides were genuine and respectful. That in itself is a triumph on this subject.

The panel, in fact was almost completed without disruption. In literally the last minute of the the talk, one unruly audience member began to shout at Vilkomerson (not, in fact, about BDS, but about JVP’s agnosticism on a one- or two-state solution). But that one scar on the perfection of the audience’s behavior, despite strong feelings only highlighted the success of the conversation in that room. Continue reading