Opinions of Peter Belmont
Speaking Truth to Power

Questioning M.J.Rosenberg on claim that total BDS seeks to destroy Israel

by Peter A. Belmont / 2012-04-26
© 2012 Peter Belmont


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M.J.Rosenberg is one of my heroes in the battle against the Israeli occupation. He is a notable truth-teller and a generally sensible man. But like any of us, he slips up sometimes.

In an Al Jazeera video, M.J.Rosenberg says that a BDS which targets the whole country of Israel—business, culture, academia—is in effect saying the country shouldn’t exist (video at 4:46). And he goes on to say, “And that is never going to succeed.”

While I’ll allow him his opinion on strategy, on what will or will not succeed, I cannot allow him to get away with his silly claim that a total-Israel BDS is in any sense a statement or even a suggestion that “Israel shouldn’t exist.”

It is, rather, a statement that Israel as a settler colonial belligerent occupier—of the lands it captured in 1967 and still holds—shouldn’t exist. It is like a judge saying to a convicted felon, “I’m sending you to jail. When you get out, you will still exist—but you will be different, or so I hope. When you get out, don’t do it again.” BDS wants a different Israel, not no Israel at all.

BDS is directed as a movement by Palestinians who have certain goals for it. However, it will have impact only if it is joined by lots and lots of non-Palestinian people. And all those people will have a variety of goals for their BDS work. The goals of BDS will not be uniform.

I think that ending the settlement program and, indeed, ending the occupation, will be part of anyone’s BDS goals. Also, possibly, securing democratic (non-discriminatory) governance within Israel will be a near universal goal.

However, many people question—wrongly in my view—the BDS goal of securing the right of return for the Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war, so some practitioners of BDS will not adopt this goal.

And it is THIS goal which some Israelis say would “destroy” Israel as a Jewish country, because they imagine Israel being overrun by so many returning Palestinians that the majority of the population would become non-Jewish.

However, M.J.Rosenberg says that the total-Israel BDS would itself say that Israel shouldn’t exist—independent of its goals.

And this is just silly.

Total-Israel BDS is simply BDS targeted on all of Israeli society. Its goal would be to persuade the total electorate of Israel—which for its Jewish people is a democracy—to direct their government to change its policies. The goal of total-Israel BDS is a change of government behavior, not dissolution of the country.

Also, of course, even the best BDS program that a pro-BDS person can reasonably imagine would be far weaker and far slower acting than BDS-activists would wish. So even if its purpose were—which it would not generally be—to seriously injure Israel by destroying its foreign trade, this would not happen right away, and the BDS goals would ebb and flow as time goes on.

So, M.J.Rosenberg’s statement about total-Israel BDS being a project to destroy Israel—or being understood that way—is silly.

What is needed, anyhow, is a BDS movement sufficiently active that businesses and governments outside Israel begin to stop doing business with Israeli businesses. What’s needed is for a lot of countries to take serious steps to admonish Israel to end its occupation, withdraw its settlers, dismantle its wall, dismantle its checkpoints, end the siege of Gaza, and stop taking more than its share (which might be 50%) of the joint-country’s water and petroleum resources.

BDS aims to energize nations to take forceful steps—steps louder than mere words—to tell Israel that the occupation must end. This will take a long time. The nations have spoken “mere words” for many years and it is well known and obvious that words alone mean nothing to Israel. Actions are needed. Total-BDS is a program of action aimed at changing Israeli behavior.

Unless M.J.Rosenberg believes that settler colonial Greater-Israel activity is so intrinsic to Zionism, to the ethos of most Jewish Israelis, that ending it would ipso facto end Israel’s existence, he (who favors an end of occupation) should favor total-Israel BDS.

But saying that total-Israel BDS is in any way a delegitimization of Israel, or a calling on Israel to go out of business, to disappear, is just silly.

Think that through a second time. Mr. Rosenberg,


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