Last week, Michael Felsen, an attorney and former president of Boston Workmen’s Circle, published an article in Haaretz calling on Jewish communities throughout the United States to rethink their strategies toward bringing about a peaceful two-state solution, zeroing in on the San Francisco Jewish Community Relations Council’s (JCRC) decision to hire a “Counter-BDS [Boycott Divestment and Sanctions] Grassroots Organizer.” Felsen claimed that such a position will do little to “stem the tide” of BDS, and said JCRC should instead be looking to hire a "Grassroots Organizer for Peace."
Felsen touched on a very real question faced by Jewish community professionals regarding the best way to foster constructive Israel activism in the Diaspora. Should we invest our energies in positively promoting a peaceful two-state solution or do we harness our collective Jewish voice toward combating those who deny Israel’s right to exist?
While Felsen is very clearly in favor of the former over the latter, JCRC, along with other members of the organized Jewish community don’t view this as a zero-sum-Israel-activism game; we believe that promoting peace in the public sphere and speaking out against those who threaten it are two sides of the same pro-peace coin.
In 2007, JCRC issued a consensus statement in support of “constructive efforts to achieve peace in the Middle East … [and] a two‐state solution to end the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis.” JCRC has repeatedly emphasized this position, most recently following U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s July 2013 announcement of an agreement to resume negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. JCRC reiterated its support of two states for two people, expressing hope for “a future in which both Israeli and Palestinian people live within mutually recognized and secure sovereign borders”. The statement also backed the United States’ “continued constructive role in this process, which will be instrumental in facilitating fruitful dialogue and any progress toward peace.”
But while mobilizing our communities and amplifying their calls for peace and security in the public sphere is important and consistent with Israelis’ own quest for peace, we must also recognize – and respond to – those set on harming and preventing the prospects for peace. Divesting from Israel is not only harmful to peace, but it has become an accepted facade for those who advocate its demise. In fact, in 2009, Omar Barghouti, a founder of the BDS movement, publicly stated at the University of Ottawa that he does “not buy into the two-state solution. It is not just pragmatically impossible it was never a moral solution.” Other leaders of the BDS movement, including Ali Abuminah, the co-founder of Electronic Intifada, called the two-state solution “nothing more than a last-ditch plan to save Zionism."
The BDS movement is not intended as an economic catalyst to incentivize good Israeli behavior, but rather an initiative created by a cadre of individuals and organizations that have no interest in Israel behaving as - or in fact being - a sovereign nation at all. The BDS movement’s goal is clear: the elimination of a Jewish and democratic State of Israel. It is difficult to fathom that even in the face of a negotiated resolution, the “fuel for the fire will have been removed,” as Felsen predicts.
There undoubtedly are some who believe that engaging in economic, academic and cultural boycotts will expedite an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and increase prospects for peace and the creation of two states for two people. However, this notion is sorely misguided; economic isolation and a pariah-state status will not motivate Israel to take bold, painful steps required for any long-term resolution. Bullying is not historically the pathway to peace.
In a perfect world, there would be no need for Jewish communities to expend their efforts – and hard-fought-for funds – to counter the BDS movement and those who support it. However, until the fuel for the BDS fire is extinguished, the quest for peace must include working against those who endanger it.
Felsen, one day, I hope JCRC will be able to hire a “Grassroots Organizer for Peace." But until that day comes, JCRC is still looking to fill the Counter-BDS Grassroots Organizer position; relevant resumes welcome.
Elka Looks, originally from Tel Aviv, is the Communications Manager for the San Francisco-based Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), www.jcrc.org the public affairs arm of the organized Bay Area Jewish community.
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