Efforts to smother BDS are only empowering it

Efforts to smother BDS are only empowering it
Comment: With endorsement from the Democratic Socialists of America, BDS continues to gain momentum, despite unfounded accusations of anti-Semitism, writes Usaid Siddiqui.
5 min read
16 Aug, 2017
The Democratic Socialists of America voted overwhelmingly to support the BDS movement [AFP]
Earlier this month, the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), the biggest socialist organisation in the US, overwhelmingly endorsed the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) Movement at their most recent national convention in Chicago.

With 25,000 paid-up members, some 90 percent of delegates across statewide chapters voted to support BDS, a victory so outstanding that a formal tally was not needed.

This decision comes against the backdrop of a national debate around BDS instigated by a congress bill that seeks to crackdown on individuals and organisations that support the boycott of Israel.

Since its inception in 2007, BDS has routinely been accused by ardent pro-Israel supporters of being anti-Semitic, and with the goal of destroying Israel. In recent times, the push back against the movement has ramped as BDS has gained steam.

Yet, as Israel continues down the path of becoming an international pariah, now in its 51st year of occupying and colonising Palestinian land, and a peace process that is more or less non-existent, grassroots approaches like BDS are likely to garner more support.

Charges of anti-Semitism

Unsurprisingly the DSA endorsement of BDS saw swift condemnation from pro-Israel circles and pundits. Daily Beast columnist Ronald Radash alluded to the decision as a habit of the contemporary Left of choosing anti-Semitism over fighting Islamic militancy.

Read more:  Anti-BDS bill in US Congress: Criminalising Free Speech

Paul Berman writing in Tablet Mag asked "Do you want to know what is anti-Semitism? It is Saturday voting" - a reference to the Jewish Shabbat when many observant Jews restrict themselves from any public engagement.

Another article lamented that DSA members were heard chanting "From the river to the sea" as the motion passed, a slogan for a one state solution, which the author described as a clear demand that the Jewish state be destroyed and that "knock Israel off the map entirely".

While anti-Semitism remains an ongoing concern, even more so in the past few years with the rise of fascist right-wing forces in Europe and the US, it has often been used against critics of Israel to stifle any legitimate criticism of the Israeli state.

Accusations of anti-Semitism have often been used against critics of Israel to stifle any legitimate criticism of the Israeli state

Hopefully those hurling accusations at the DSA would've noticed that several members of the DSA were critically injured this past weekend at the profoundly anti-Semitic white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, where Nazi flags and salutes were seen, and chants of "Heil Trump!" were heard.

Allegations that BDS or those who endorse it such as DSA wish for the destruction of Israel are laughable, just as they are ridiculous. While many supporters of BDS also support a one-state solution, in no way do they advocate for the displacement or future oppression of Israeli Jews, as some pro-Israeli forces might have it. Rather, it is an alternative to resolving the conflict which would give all Jews and Arabs equal rights in a secular state.

Like BDS, the DSA has not endorsed any one solution to the conflict and has in fact proposed that the makeup of a lasting solution to the crisis be decided mutually by both Jews and Palestinians. 

In a statement after the passing of resolution 2334 at the UN condemning Israeli settlements, the DSA welcomed the decision and called on Palestinians and Jews "to share the land of historic Palestine in a manner to be determined by negotiations between democratic representatives of both parties, free of external interference".

Failure of the peace process

With the Israeli-Palestinian peace process essentially dead for years, grassroots movements like BDS are one of the few avenues for Palestinian solidarity activists to pursue.

Prospects for a viable Palestinian state under the framework of a two state solution; on which there is longstanding international consensus as the only path to resolving the conflict, are now close to none, as Israel continues its annexation of Palestinian land in the West Bank, while maintaining its blockade of Gaza.

The situation has become even more hopeless under Trump's White House, which is arguably more pro-Israel than any previous US administration to date. The administration's lead on resolving the conflict (and President's son-in-law) Jared Kushner, is known for his strong one-sided views on Israel. His family has very cordial relations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

So far in the role, Kushner is seen by many as an abysmal failure and out of his depth. One Palestinian official in a meeting between Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and Kushner said the latter "sounded like Netanyahu's advisers and not like fair arbiters".

BDS and the future

As support for BDS grows, the viciousness and antagonism towards the movement and its endorsers will only become more pronounced. The American Israeli Public Affairs Committee crafted Israel Anti-Boycott Act is the latest example of such efforts.

The bill was swiftly denounced by the American Civil Liberties Union as a clear violation of the first amendment to free speech

The bill introduced last month with bipartisan support, proposes to criminalise all those boycotting with up to $250,000 fine and seven years imprisonment. The bill was swiftly denounced by the American Civil Liberties Union as a clear violation of the first amendment to free speech.

The bill's parameters are so extreme that even some of Israel's most ardent cheerleaders took a step back to warn against its dangers. An article in the National Review, a conservative and largely pro-Israel publication, called the move "unconstitutional and unconscionable, an abridgment of the right to free speech".

With little intelligentsia and public support to legally ban BDS, all future efforts to do so will fail. Its critics would be better advised grasping how unsustainable Israel's occupation has become, rather than going after a non-violent movement whose criminalisation will only gather more support for it, not less.

Usaid Siddiqui is a freelance Canadian writer. He has written for PolicyMic, Aslan Media, Al Jazeera America and Mondoweiss on current affairs. 

Follow him on Twitter: @UsaidMuneeb16

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.