The Winning Tactics on BDS

Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) has won two huge victories in recent days. Anyone who has an opinion that is anything other than the tired notion that somehow Israel deserves some special immunity from economic actions is going to see these victories as vindication for their view.

JVP Protesters calling for TIAA-CREF to divest from Caterpillar
(Photo by Russ Greenleaf of JVP)

So, this is how I see it as vindicating mine.

Let me start with just what that view is, since judging from comments on this site and others where my articles appear, a lot of people have rather inaccurate understandings of them.

I have long been of the belief that pressure from outside is the only hope for getting Israel to change its policies. It is not going to happen internally, nor are the Palestinians ever going to be able to win serious concessions from Israel by themselves against not only the regional superpower but the global superpower that is Israel’s patron and protector.

That pressure, though, is stymied by supporters of Israel in the United States and elsewhere. Those so-called supporters are, in fact, dooming Israel to perpetual conflict and eventual destruction, while critics who care about Israel are trying to save it. But be that as it may, the fact is that the one entity that clearly has the ability to change Israeli policies will, instead, bow to domestic pressure and continue to encourage the worst Israeli behavior.

I therefore have always supported two tracks: economic pressure through grassroots activism and political activism to counter the Israel Lobby. These, to my mind, are not short term activities, but they represent the only hope for changing things in Israel-Palestine before some cataclysmic event changes them for us, quite likely to the detriment of almost everyone on both sides.

Yet I do not support the BDS movement. I stress here “do not support” instead of “oppose.” The Palestinian civil society call on which that movement is based is a perfectly sensible one for the Palestinians to pursue, but it neither speaks to me nor does it strike me as tactically sound, due to its insistence on the full right of return. I have explained this elsewhere, so I won’t go too far into it now. But the bottom line is, I see nothing ethically wrong with the BDS movement, but it doesn’t fit me and I don’t think the movement as a whole is tactically sound.

On the other hand, when I was with Jewish Voice for Peace, I helped craft a strategy of “selective divestment,” which targeted the Israeli occupation, but strove to avoid targeting Israel itself. The point of this framing was ideological and rhetorical. It was meant to target Israeli policies and its occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem (JVP always recognized that the Golan Heights was illegitimately held by Israel, but we, I think rightly, saw it as a separate issue because the people of the Golan were not living under military occupation), but not Israel itself. Continue reading