Identity, Israel, Justice, Politics

Jewish Voice For Peace Endorses BDS

It may come as a surprise to some, but until this past Friday, Jewish Voice For Peace was officially agnostic on the matter of the 2005 Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions. This position was much more a reflection of the unfortunate political toxicity of BDS in Jewish American circles than it was of any firm ideological opposition to the movement. Indeed, most of the members that I met at the 2013 national convention seemed to think that BDS was an important tool in the struggle for justice in Israel/Palestine and many were impatient with the lack of official support. Well the wait is over. In a succinct post on their website, JVP made it official:
“Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) endorses the call from Palestinian civil society for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) as part of our work for freedom, justice and equality for all people.  We believe that the time-honored, non-violent tools proposed by the BDS call provide powerful opportunities to make that vision real.
We join with communities of conscience around the world in supporting Palestinians, who call for BDS until the Israeli government:
Ends its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967 and dismantles the Wall; recognizes the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and respects, protects and promotes the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.
In the long and varied history of Jewish experience, we are inspired by those who have resisted injustice and fought for freedom. We strive to live up to those values and extend that history. By endorsing the call, we make our hope real and our love visible and we claim our own liberation as bound with the liberation of all.
JVP is committed to supporting and organizing all kinds of powerful and strategic campaigns to secure a common future where Palestinians, Israeli Jews, and all the people of Israel/Palestine may live with dignity, security, and peace.”
At a recent screening of my film, A People Without A Land, at the Pasadena International Film Festival, I was asked about the path to a just one-state solution. As this solution is given more attention in my film than in any documentary that has come before it, I get the question a lot and sometimes from people who are disturbed by the isolationist ethos of the BDS movement. How can I, as a supporter of the one-state solution which requires that Jewish-Israelis and Palestinians work together, support the BDS movement in its attempts to isolate Israel? It’s a fair question and my answer is quite simple. At some point in the future, the hard work of reconciliation which includes dialogue, intentional listening, education, and cooperation will need to begin. But the time for such efforts is not now.

In the 1990’s, large sums of money were spent on establishing Israeli-Palestinian dialogue groups and thousands of people participated in good faith. Unfortunately, even as these groups were bringing Israelis and Palestinians together, the situation for Palestinians in the occupied territories only deteriorated. Many of the participants felt betrayed in a very deep way and the Palestinians have since been understandably suspicious of such efforts. There is a fundamental political asymmetry that exists between Israelis and Palestinians and one of the most important lessons of the Oslo years was that until this asymmetry is addressed, the powers that be will use such coexistence projects as a fig leaf for further entrenchment of the status quo. This is the context for the BDS movement’s hard line against what they refer to as “normalization projects.” Nevertheless, it is worth noting and often overlooked that joint Palestinian-Israeli projects which are explicitly about fighting the occupation and restoring rights to Palestinians do not ipso-facto run afoul of the BDS movement’s cultural boycott guidelines.
By formally endorsing the BDS call, JVP is making explicit its intention to be an ally to the Palestinian people. The role of an ally is not to tell the oppressed group how to conduct their struggle against oppression. To be sure, one can have tactical reservations about this or that decision and talking about these reservations in a respectful way is an important part of any healthy ally relationship. Indeed, I think that JVP brings a lot to the table in terms of perspective, strategy, organizational skills, and solidarity. But part of being an effective ally is knowing how not to bogart the struggle. I applaud JVP for this bold move and I’m very proud to count myself as a member. The conversation about Israel/Palestine is finally shifting and it is my fervent hope that this move by JVP will also start the process of detoxifying BDS for Jewish Americans.

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