This has not been a good week for Democrats, especially those who wish to cast their party as the progressive alternative to the Trump-McConnell regime. As the feckless party leadership continued to avoid taking any action against Donald Trump for his numerous crimes—which go well beyond the Russia questions—they managed to find time to pass a bill opposing the right of U.S. citizens to use economic leverage to press for change in Israel-Palestine.
H. Res. 246, a nameless bill which declares the House of Representatives’ opposition to the movement for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel, passed with 398 in favor and only 17 (16 Democrats and one Republican) representatives voting against it. The bill was considerably weaker than the sort of legislation the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) had hoped to pass to criminalize BDS at the federal level. Those efforts ran afoul of free speech concerns among a wide variety of Congress members.
In the end, H. Res. 246 addressed those concerns sufficiently to attract the support of comparatively moderate Jewish groups such as J Street, Ameinu, Partners for Progressive Israel, the National Council of Jewish Women, and Reconstructing Judaism. But fundamental issues remained, and if we were having a rational discussion about BDS and U.S. policy toward Israel-Palestine in general, those issues would have been more of an obstacle. Read more at LobeLog
Earlier this month, New York Times columnist Michelle Alexander ignited a controversy by stating her support for Palestinian rights. In her piece, “Time to Break the Silence on Palestine,” Alexander used the act of confronting her own silence on this issue to encourage others to break theirs. She made the case that “criticism of the policies and practices of the Israeli government is not, in itself, anti-Semitic,” while also affirming that
Anti-Semitic incidents in the United States rose 57 percent in 2017, and many of us are still mourning what is believed to be the deadliest attack on Jewish people in American history… We must be mindful in this climate that, while criticism of Israel is not inherently anti-Semitic, it can slide there.
That statement was not nearly enough for the “pro-Israel” community in the United States. The Israeli-American former ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, called Alexander’s column a “strategic threat.” The American Jewish Committee had the audacity to accuse Alexander—a prominent African-American civil rights lawyer and author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness—of “appropriating” Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy. Numerous other voices, conservative and liberal, defended Israel from Alexander’s “attacks.”
“It didn’t have to be this way,” writes Jim Zogby in the new preface to the reissue of his 1981 book, Palestinians, The Invisible Victims: Political Zionism and the Roots of Palestinian Dispossession.
There were, a century ago, multiple threads to the Zionist movement. On the one side, for example, there was Martin Buber’s inclusive vision of spiritual Zionism, advocating the in-gathering of the Jewish people and cooperation between them and the indigenous Arab population in Palestine and the broader region. There was also a thread of what came to be called Political Zionism that proposed a more radical and exclusivist vision that sought to displace the Arabs of Palestine. Tragically, this was the thread that won out.
This is a crucial framing of Zogby’s book. Reissued after 37 years, the book often seems like it could be talking about contemporary events. Zogby’s basic thesis is summed up in his conclusion, where he states, “The violations of [Palestinians’] basic human rights are, quite simply, a function of the political ambitions of the Political Zionist movement and the state it created. Palestinian resistance to Zionism and its dream of an exclusive Jewish state, therefore, continues.”
Zogby’s 1981 book states the Palestinian case. It is a short book and makes no pretense to an exhaustive history or a complete review of then-contemporary conditions. It offers one idea, that the exclusivist vision of Political Zionism is incompatible with a lasting peace. Read more at LobeLog
Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon of Churches for Middle East Peace hosts Jim Zogby of the Arab American Institute, Lara Friedman of Americans for Peace Now and myself for this discussion about the end of the Obama era and the prospects of a Trump administration for Israel and Palestine.