In his November 5 opinion piece in Haaretz English Edition, Matthew Taylor (“Just who is misguided?”), of the Jewish Voice for Peace, lodged a complaint against the “older [Jewish] establishment” for being “condescending” to young Jews. His protest included an attack on remarks made by Julie Bernstein, of the Jewish Community Relations Council of San Francisco, who was a panelist in a workshop at the General Assembly earlier this month in New Orleans.
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The irony of Bernstein being a young adult and part-time graduate student seems to have been lost on Taylor. The main target of his "j'accuse," though, was the recently launched plan of the Jewish Federations of North America and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs to actively confront the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS ) campaign, a well-funded internationally coordinated movement to isolate and delegitimize Israel. To bolster his argument, Taylor could have tried to demonstrate that BDS does not strive to dismantle the State of Israel. He did not, nor could he had he wanted to - because Israel's demise is the BDS movement's aim.
The leaders of BDS certainly speak plainly about their goals. Omar Barghouti, a founding member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, spoke last March at a church in the San Francisco Bay area, and declared that for the BDS movement the 1967 occupation is "not the most important" issue. Instead, he said, the "foremost" demand of BDS is the right of return. The same Barghouti has also said, "If the refugees were to return you would not have a two-state solution; you'll have a Palestine next to a Palestine rather than a Palestine next to an Israel."
Other BDS advocates are equally explicit. "BDS represents three words that will help bring about the defeat of Zionist Israel and victory for Palestine," said Ronnie Kasrils, the veteran South African political figure and advocate for the Palestinian cause. And Palestinian-American journalist Ahmed Moor writes, "Ending the occupation doesn't mean anything if it doesn't mean upending the Jewish state itself ... BDS does mean the end of the Jewish state."
Some may try to dismiss these comments as merely individual opinions. But that is just more obfuscation. The sum of the BDS movement's central demands (as outlined in its manifesto, the "Palestinian United Call for BDS against Israel" ) - especially the demand for a "right of return" - make it clear that BDS seeks to disassemble the State of Israel. Or, as Barghouti envisions it, a "Palestine next to a Palestine" and no Israel.
While these BDS advocates are clear about their movement's goals, Taylor and Jewish Voice for Peace prefer murkiness. JVP's website declares: "Our mission statement endorses neither a one-state solution, nor a two-state solution ... we have members and supporters on both sides of this question, as well as many others who, like the organization as a whole, are agnostic about it."
In the face of the annihilationist and overtly anti-Semitic ideologies motivating Hamas, Hezbollah and their state sponsor Iran, this agnosticism coming from a Jewish group with respect to Israel's existence, and thus the safety of millions of Israeli Jews, represents a gross moral failure.
JVP's website also states, "JVP defends activists' right to use the full range of BDS tactics without being persecuted or demonized." Missing from this statement, and from any JVP public pronouncements, are any critiques of the BDS movement's explicit goal of dismantling Israel. Further, JVP not only defends pro-BDS groups, it also partners with them. Based in the San Francisco Bay area, JVP for years has repeatedly co-sponsored scores of events and demonstrations with anti-Israel and explicitly anti-Zionist organizations that overtly support the full range of BDS. These include the Al Awda Palestinian Right to Return Coalition, International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, Students for Justice in Palestine, Sabeel, Bay Area Campaign to End Israeli Apartheid and the International Solidarity Movement, among many others.
It is important to draw a stark line between BDS supporters like the JVP and critics of specific Israeli government policies. In the American and Israeli Jewish communities, there is ample space for wide-ranging debate - from left to right - about specific policies. However, "agnosticism" on Israel's right to exist as an independent Jewish and democratic state within secure borders is, in fact, anti-Israel. Delegitimizing Israel and thereby promoting its isolation and destabilization is, in fact, anti-Israel. Applying harsher criteria for and imposing harsher punishment on Israel than are applied to any other country whose policies are considered objectionable, is, in fact, anti-Israel.
The time has come - particularly after JVP's behavior at the General Assembly and the subsequent gloating about its outbursts there - to remove the cloak of respectability that JVP has tried to place over its positions and ask all reasonable people to examine the organization's real record.
Yitzhak A. Santis is director of the Middle East Project of the San Francisco-based Jewish Community Relations Council. In January he and his family will be making aliyah.