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O My America: Go Ahead and Boycott

Lawrence Bush
December 12, 2017

by Lawrence Bush

YOU WANT to boycott Israel? You now have my blessing, thanks to Donald Trump.

For the many years I’ve been associated with Jewish Currents, and for years before that association began (I was assistant editor 1978-83 and have been editor since 2002), the magazine has defined itself as “non-Zionist, pro-Israel.” This meant that we were not particularly enamored of Zionism as a theory: We didn’t see Jewish peoplehood as needing to be translated into nationhood; we didn’t desire the “normalization” of our people, for we preferred for Jews to be a paradigm people rather than a nation like any other; we wanted Jews to be working for social justice in the countries we inhabit, not “ingathering” to a single location. On the other hand, we were fully cognizant of the horrors that Jewish defenselessness had wrought in the world, especially between 1933 and 1945; we were glad that both the West and the Soviet bloc had endorsed the United Nations Partition Plan in 1947, and we saw as fully legitimate a Jewish state created by the United Nations; and we felt solidarity with those Jews who were swelling the population in Israel from all over the world.

We wanted Israel to survive and to succeed — to thrive and help the Jewish people worldwide to thrive. With that goal in mind, with that desire active in us, we have advocated for the two-state solution, for cessation of settlement activity, for Israel to find a path to peace with the Palestinians and its other Arab nations, ever since the 1967 war.

Let me speak for myself, now. (The magazine’s editorial viewpoints are not always identical to mine.) I don’t especially feel solidarity with Palestinian nationalism. Yes, I am sorry for the Palestinian people and their suffering and their misleadership — leadership that has vainly used war and terroristic violence to try to win self-determination, rather than taking the opportunity for nation-building that the United Nations offered the Palestinians in 1947. And yes, I feel more distressed about the plight of the Palestinians than, say, about the Kurds in Iraq or indigenous peoples in Brazil, because the Palestinians have been the enemies and victims of Jews. Still, my solidarity has been primarily with the Jews of Israel: It is for their future, and the future of their state, that I have urged peace-making ad nauseam, in the belief that occupation could only corrupt the soul of the people and end up in disaster, while a two-state solution could open up doorways to a peaceful and prosperous future, and a Jewish peoplehood true to its prophetic calling.

These feelings that have also guarded me against supporting the BDS movement (boycott, divestment, sanctions). No major elements in that movement have been willing to endorse a two-state solution, but instead speak about their neutrality about a final outcome or else endorse the possibility — the impossibility — of a one-state solution. BDS Jews have always seemed to me to suffering from fantasies about Palestinian nobility and an anti-Zionism that never considers the well-being or even the living reality of Israel’s seven million Jews.

Still, I have wanted Jewish Currents to be a questioning and open-minded journal of the left, so we have been open to pro-BDS voices as well as anti-BDS voices. And that will continue.

SOMETHING HAS CHANGED, THOUGH: The corruption of Israel that I have feared from the occupation has become a fait accompli — and an acknowledged reality, now that Trump has made his deal with Netanyahu. Trump was right: What he has done has only acknowledged the reality. But for me, the pretense of “peace process” possibility was enough to keep me hoping — and to keep me in line.

But now the reality that Jewish Currents has worried about for years — that Benjamin Netanyahu and the forces he represents, who thoroughly dominate the power structures of Israel, have no intention of making peace or allowing a Palestinian state to take root — is undisguised. Indeed, the Israeli right has been seeking a “Greater Israel” land grab since well before their pioneering Likudnik Menachem Begin came into office — and we have been saying so. They have been rolling the words, “two-state solution,” like gumballs whenever the television cameras roll, and then spitting them out each night — and we have been saying so. But now the ultra-rightwing government of Israel is making its move, in alliance with the ultra-rightwing government of the United States and the unspeakable government of Saudi Arabia, to complete the dismantling of the Palestinian dream of a state — and they are doing it with the complicity, through elections and indifference, of a majority of the Jews of Israel.

What happened to Native American peoples is therefore going to happen to the Palestinians, however long it takes. Killings, confinement to reservations, more killings. Despair, religious revivalism, more despair. Suicidal aggressions, just-plain suicide, and other pathologies (while the majority culture says “tsk-tsk”). Meanwhile, Taliban Jews and Never-Again militarist Jews and oh-well-I-need-an-apartment Jews will be taking over their lands in a process that is well underway. The American declaration of Jerusalem as capital of Israel is just the flag being raised over the fort.

If the two-state solution is dead, so seems to be my hope for a progressive Israel worthy of being called a Jewish state. So as far as I’m concerned, the Taliban Jews and their allies can now have the place. They want to be in bed with Donald Trump and the Republicans? I’m sleeping on the couch. They prefer bullshit biblical promised land to a real-life peace? I’m going for a walk. They think they can have a thriving economy without a moral bottom line? I’m boycotting.

Let the Israeli electorate do something to change my “non-Zionist, pro-Israel” mind.

Lawrence Bush edits Jewish Currents.

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.