A Follow-Up Letter On BDS (see previous post)

So, I watched the videos and read the links that others shared regarding the BDS Movement.  Thank you for sharing.  I also watched videos from the PennBDS conference.  I must say that I am disappointed that no one out there in cyber world who counts him/herself as a BDS supporter responded to the questions/concerns/links that I shared yesterday.   I know everyone is busy and if I were not leading a series of workshops dealing with the delegitimization of Israel on college campuses, I probably would not be spending so much time on this.  This being said, I shared my concerns with this group and would like to get some feedback from those who support BDS please.

 

My homework over the past two days has not only validated my concerns but also elevated them.  The video featuring J.J, Goldberg, Hannah Mermelstein, Kathleen Peratis and Yonatan Shapira (http://www.cctv.org/watch-tv/programs/jewish-perspectives-boycott-divestment-sanctions-bds-campaign) disturbed me greatly not just because of the anti-Zionist sentiments that were expressed in the video but also because of the hatred of Israel that was expressed in the video and the tremendous distortion of the facts by speakers.  I shared the video with my regular Tuesday study group this morning.  This group consists of many long-term Reconstructionists – and to say that they left upset would be an understatement.  I also watched Ali Abunimah’s keynote speech at PennBDS (http://electronicintifada.net/blogs/ali-abunimah/video-my-penn-bds-speech-and-how-zionist-filmmaker-pretended-be-canadas-cbc).  His demonization of Israel was over the top.

 

Overall, the videos make it clear to me that the ultimate goal of BDS, a goal explained by Abunimah, Mermelstein and Shapira, is to dismantle the Jewish State of Israel and replace it with a new, “democratic”, pluralistic society – a society that is not a Jewish homeland.  This would be the death of Zionism and a horrific loss for the Jewish people.

 

While I am no J-Street supporter, I found myself cheering on Peratis as she said she is committed to a two state solution that includes a Jewish State. 

 

As I see it, one of the huge problems with the BDS movement and many other anti-Israel causes is an issue Daniel Gordis talks a lot about: the faulty assumption that when it comes to democracy, Israel is a Hebrew-speaking, mini-America.   On the contrary, Israel is not like the democracy that we live in here and, if it remains a Jewish State, it never will be. This is a challenging reality for many liberal American Jews – one that must be discussed.

 

The very nature of Israel is to be a Jewish homeland that, in turn, gives Jews a favored status.  This is, as Gordis explains, an “ethnic democracy” which is a democratic system described by Professor Sammy Smooha of the University of Haifa (http://hevra.haifa.ac.il/~soc/lecturers/smooha/files/1572.pdf). 

 

An ethnic democracy is one that “combines the extension of civil and political rights to permanent residents who wish to be citizens with the bestowal of a favored status on the majority group.”  In an ethnic democracy, “the state belongs to the majority and serves it more than the minority.” Israel is not the only ethnic democracy out there.  Latvia and Estonia, Malaysia and Slovakia are also ethnic democracies.  Many consider an ethnic democracy a “diminished” form of democracy and thus many don’t like it.  But, Gordis points out that Professor Smooha, who is a Jew, a critic of ethnic democracy and a passionate defender of the rights of Israel’s Arabs, admits that “the democratic framework is real and not a façade.”  It is part of the reality that is this on-going Jewish project that many of us love with all our hearts and souls – this project we call Israel.

 

I have been thinking a lot about this idea of “ethnic democracy”.  As a congregational rabbi of a liberal synagogue that praises itself on being a democratic, welcoming institution – we, as a congregation, are an “ethnic democracy”.  Our constitution forbids a non-Jew from holding certain board positions including the positions of President and Ritual Chair.  While non-Jews can be members, they are not granted full rights and 99% of the time are expected to be partnered with a Jew.  Non-Jews can’t take part in all aspects of our services.  We will not grant membership to Jews-for-Jesus – this has been discussed – and anyone else who has no “real connection” to Judaism.  We will not enroll students in our religious school unless they are being raised solely as Jews.  In order to become a Jew (not just at Ramat Shalom), we expect people to pledge loyalty to Judaism and renounce all other religions before a beit din.  Once one becomes a Jew, they are given full rights.  Is it fair to compare a synagogue to Israel? Probably not – but there is no question that my congregation is an “ethnic democracy”. (I also think about my days as a Vassar tour guide – telling people that while the school went co-ed in 1969, officials will never allow men to outnumber women because this would change the character of the school.)

 

I know that Israel has many issues to address when it comes to her non-Jewish citizens.  This being said, I accept the fact that Israel is not and will never be a mini-America.  Israel is an ethnic democracy and must remain one in order to remain a Jewish State.  And I always want there to be a Jewish State.

 

I believe, unlike Mermelstein, Shapira and Abunimah, that we Jews need our own nation, our own safe place, our own haven.  Sorry, I don’t believe that the Holocaust is in the rearview mirror.  I believe “Never Again!” and I don’t believe this makes me paranoid.  I believe it makes me a realist.  I also believe that we are entitled to the nation that was created by the UN in 1947.  And I believe that Israel had and still has the right to defend herself.  And I believe that Israel has the right to resolve unsettled territorial disputes that were the result of numerous attacks upon her sovereignty in a manner that insures her safety and her security.  I believe that Israel has the right to be a Jewish State and uphold the law of return for Jews while preventing the return of Palestinian refugees.

 

Because of this, I find the BDS Movement, which singles out, demonizes and delegitimizes the Jewish State and endorses (through BDS) the punishment of the citizens of the Jewish State as a means to achieve its ultimate goal, being the dismantling of the Jewish State, to be not only (obviously) anti-Zionist, but, yes, anti-Semitic.  Please note I said I find the MOVEMENT to be anti-Semitic.  I can’t pretend to know the motivations of individuals who support BDS.  But I can say this: the BDS Movement is committed to end Jewish self-determination in the Jewish homeland officially given to the Jewish people by the United Nations 65 years ago.  (see Professor Dina Porat’s (Tel Aviv University) article “Defining Anti-Semitism in which she argues that denying Jews the right to self-determination by saying Israel is a racist endeavor is anti-Semitic, http://www.tau.ac.il/Anti-Semitism/asw2003-4/porat.htm) Attacking Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish State, comparing it to a Nazi State, applying double standards not expected of other nations (as opposed to working to change Israeli governmental policies) is widely accepted as anti-Semitism.  And when a Jew stands with, supports, gives a platform to the BDS Movement s/he legitimizes this anti-Semitism.  And this brings me back to my original post in which I said: “I fail to understand, am embarrassed by, and am, quite frankly, tired of having to explain to my congregants, the desire among some of my Jewish colleagues to aid those determined to destroy Israel.”



3 thoughts on “A Follow-Up Letter On BDS (see previous post)

  1. Pingback: A few questions for a BDS supporter - ScrollPost.com

  2. I am a Christian, from an Evangelical background – I am worship with and am surrounded by overtly and passionately pro-Zionist supporters.
    I fully share the Biblical belief in the Jews as the chosen race of Jehovah, and the rights of Israel to exist peacefully.
    However, Israeli government policy is one of ethnic cleansing and slow-motion genocide against the Palestinians, and is an affront to humanity and to God.
    I do not support Israeli govt policy, and as a Christian who is passionately against ‘Anti-Semitism’ (as all other racism), I find the somewhat irrational and hysterical denouncement of all differing views to Zionist political orthodoxies depressing (and sadly familiar). They will do nothing to secure Israel’s future.
    The God I believe in says ‘Justice is the foundation of His Throne’…He also says, ‘The Truth will set you free’ (no matter how difficult to come to terms with).
    Shalom. Sam.

    • Thank you for your comment Sam. I fear that your Zionist friends have not encouraged you to seek out the correct information on Israel. Language like “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide” leads me to believe that you do not know the facts and have been influenced by sources that are biased against Israel. I encourage you to visit sites like honestreporting.com and discover the truth.

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