Arab-Israeli conflict BDS boycott Israel Israel Israeli Arabs Israeli occupation one state solution Palestinians

Boycotters? Or thought police? A new war against the “two narratives”

Realistic Dove has never addressed the controversial BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement. One reason is that I keep taking one step towards it and then three steps back. It is a broad movement, and some of what some of its supporters advocate has begun to make sense to me. But much too much of it is ill-advised (c’mon on, let Leonard Cohen sing in Tel Aviv, for God’s sake, and leave the universities alone!). So I’m still trying to figure out what to think and do about it…

Recently, however, the originators of the international BDS movement (the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, or PACBI) put forward a premise that is so disturbing that it is worth singling out even before a broader discussion takes place here.

On July 20th, PACBI published new guidelines that were meant to clarify which Israeli events or institutions should be subject to a boycott. One guideline asserted that the boycott should apply to an event or cultural project that “promotes false symmetry or `balance.'” The explanation:

Cultural events and projects involving Palestinians and/or Arabs and Israelis that promote “balance” between the “two sides” in presenting their respective narratives, as if on par, or are otherwise based on the false premise that the colonizers and the colonized, the oppressors and the oppressed, are equally responsible for the “conflict,” are intentionally deceptive, intellectually dishonest and morally reprehensible. Such events and projects, often seeking to encourage dialogue or “reconciliation between the two sides” without addressing the requirements of justice, promote the normalization of oppression and injustice. All such events and projects that bring Palestinians and/or Arabs and Israelis together, unless framed within the explicit context of opposition to occupation and other forms of Israeli oppression of the Palestinians, are strong candidates for boycott. Other factors that PACBI takes into consideration in evaluating such events and projects are the sources of funding, the design of the program, the objectives of the sponsoring organization(s), the participants, and similar relevant factors.

In other words, they don’t like it when Israelis tell their side of their story! They don’t want to hear the narrative of the Other and they don’t know want other Palestinians to listen to it. They are not only objecting to events or groups whose panels and conversations end up supporting and perpetuating the status quo. They don’t want ANY process that fosters reconciliation or understanding between the two sides unless it is part of an explicitly declared effort to end the occupation or protest Israeli policies.

The mind reels. This guideline takes its cue from Stalin, not Mandela. Unless I missed something, PACBI is agnostic when it comes to a one-state or a two-state solution. In either case, Israelis and Palestinians will have to learn, somehow, to live with each other. That requires at least some understanding of why people believe what they believe, but this formulation condemns understanding itself. This is, to say the least, self-defeating. The PACBI organizers presumably believe in the Palestinian Right of Return. but apparently they don’t want Palestinians and Israelis to meet in neutral settings so the Palestinians can explain why the Right of Return is so important to them.

What about all of the dialogue programs and other projects that foster co-existence and equality between Palestinian citizens of Israel and Israeli Jews? I showed the guidelines to Ami Nahshon, CEO of the Abraham Fund –which operates such programs–and asked him what he thought. Here is his response (it includes a reference to another PACBI guideline, which calls for boycotting anything connected to Israeli municipal governments, including–presumably–those in mixed Arab and Jewish cities like Haifa).

The Abraham Fund (and presumably Givat Haviva and many/most Jewish-Arab coexistence and rights organizations in Israel) would seem to qualify for a…boycott based on any number of “criteria” cited in the document, for example:

— projects carried out in affiliation with an official Israeli body or municipality (this would include most of The Abraham Fund’s work, including our national initiative to bring human rights and multicultural values to the Israel Police; to mandate the teaching of Arabic language and culture in Jewish schools; a pilot program to assist Arab Israeli women in entering the workforce; even our sponsorship of a national Iftar dinner, in co-sponsorship with the Arab municipality of Sakhnin and the mostly-Jewish municipal authority of Misgav).

–projects which bring Palestinian-Arab and Jewish Israelis together to challenge stereotypes, promote mutual respect and engender empathy with the “other’s” historical narrative and experience, as a building block for reconciliation and shared society values. (These programs, sponsored by The Abraham Fund and many others) would be obvious candidates for boycott because they are not “framed within the explicit context of opposition to occupation and other forms of Israeli oppression.”

But one needn’t go into such detail. The preamble to the boycott criteria says it all: “…Before discussing the various categories of cultural products and events and as a general overriding rule, virtually all Israeli cultural institutions, unless proven otherwise, are complicit in maintaining the Israeli occupation and denial of basic Palestinian rights, whether through their silence or actual involvement in justifying, whitewashing or otherwise deliberately diverting attention from Israel’s violations of international law and human rights. Accordingly, these institutions, all their products, and all the events they sponsor or support must be boycotted. Events and projects involving individuals explicitly representing these complicit institutions should be boycotted…”

The message is clear: any Israel-based activity that is not explicitly organized for the purpose of ending the occupation or focusing attention on “…Israel’s violations of international law and human rights” has no place on the international map. Activities aimed at reducing Palestinian infant mortality and poverty, at advocating for government reforms that advance civil and human rights, at creating partnerships for economic, social and political progress across the divide — these are all instruments of complicity with the status quo. That is, of course, a position which one could take. It is, in my view though, an absurd and self-defeating position for those who would purport to be motivated by values of peace, justice and rights for all.

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