More on the J Street BDS Panel

In my recent post on the J Street Conference panel on Boycotts/Divestment/Sanctions, I focused mainly on Rebecca Vilkomerson, whose support for BDS in a moderately left/liberal Jewish space was greeted with civility even by most of those who disagreed with her; and on Kenneth Bob of Ameinu who, though certainly a staunch advocate for peace, made sweeping and unfair generalizations about the BDS movement.

A wish to conserve space led me to say very little about the other two participants, and I’ll address half of that deficiency now.

Bernard Avishai’s stance on BDS largely mirrors my own, in that he supports economic action specifically targeting the settlements, but not Israel. On the other hand, his

Bernard Avishai

“offense” (his word) at those advocating something different is precisely what, on both sides, leads to the anger and useless fighting that student Simone Zimmerman of UC Berkeley (also a panelist at J Street) found so distressing about bringing up the BDS issue.

I offer here Avishai’s thinking on why he believes it is so important to resist all-out BDS against Israel, a point on which I agree with him. I include his full blog piece because it also reflects some of the condescension and hostility (which, to his credit, Avishai is trying very hard to tone down) that is present on both sides. Indeed, Avishai reacts to it and points it out himself as something he sees in “the other side.” I’m seeing it in both, and on both sides it needs to be done away with. As with so much else when dealing with this subject, we should all be taking every measure we can to keep things civilized and reasonable because we’ve seen for decades the result of letting emotions hold sway.

And without further ado, here is Avishai’s piece:

Last week, at the J Street Conference, I appeared on a panel considering BDS. I made the case I had made last spring in The Nation, that lumping the three together–boycott, divestment, and sanctions–was rash. Moreover, targeting West Bank settlements is not the same as targeting Israel more generally.

For my part, I said, I support a boycott of Ariel’s college and of products made in West Bank settlements. When James Baker, back in 1991, told the Israeli government that every dollar spent on settlements would be deducted from US loan guarantees, I supported that. So I could be said to have supported certain sanctions, and would again. At the same time I strongly oppose boycotting Israeli universities or companies or divesting from global companies that do business in Israel, even if some of their products might be used by occupation forces. Continue reading

The UNSC Veto and “The Israel Lobby”

Back in 2007, when John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt released their book, The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, I disagreed with many parts of their thesis. Most of the criticisms at the time attacked the authors as anti-Semites or made straw man arguments about points the authors were not making. Thus, Christopher Toensing of MERIP and I put together an article responding to Walt and Mearsheimer in what I think was a more rational manner. I later issued an update to that article.

While not agreeing with the Walt/Mearsheimer thesis, I disagree at least as much with the two major alternatives: what I’d call the Foxman thesis, and what I’d call the

John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, authors of the controversial book, The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy

Chomsky thesis.

Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League wrote a book in response to Walt and Mearsheimer which offered very little beyond the same straw man arguments and insinuations of nefarious motives about the Israel Lobby authors. But Foxman’s case, separate from his critique of Walt and Mearsheimer, is that the Israel Lobby, as symbolized by the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) simply educates the public and Congress but is only one of many lobbying groups and, in the end, American Middle East policy was based on a careful analysis of American interests, which, to Foxman, are usually identical to Israeli ones.

Professor Noam Chomsky, well-known critic of American and Israeli policy, contends that the Lobby is very powerful as long as it goes along with extant US policies. That is, it does not play a significant role in determining those policies, but does close off debate and discussion about it.

When I wrote my own response to Walt/Mearsheimer, I was living and working on this issue in California. Having now spent three years in Washington, and having been at hundreds of meetings with Congress members and their aides, and State Department and White House staff, it’s very clear that AIPAC is always the 800-pound gorilla in the room. Continue reading