by Allan Lichtenstein

 

SINCE I AM an Israeli citizen, Israel’s recent decision last March to ban entry to members of certain Jewish activist groups will not affect me. When the ban passed the Israeli Knesset, therefore, taking aim at the international boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS), I did not pay much attention.

The law forbids “granting entry visas or residency rights to foreign nationals who call for economic, cultural or academic boycotts of either Israel or the settlements.” This month, Israel’s Strategic Affairs Ministry published a list of twenty organizations that will not be allowed to enter the country under this law. Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan said, “The boycott organizations need to know that the State of Israel will act against them and not allow [them] to enter its territory to harm its citizens.” Similarly, Interior Minister Arye Dery said: “The people are trying to exploit the law and our hospitality to act against Israel and to defame the country. I will act against this by every means.”

Among the 20 organizations is Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP).

On the third of every month, my MasterCard is charged $5 for my sustaining membership donation to JVP. I joined the organization and continue to be a member because it best represents the position I feel is needed to bring the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians to a just resolution.

My attachment to JVP is not without reservation. I am not an active member and I do not necessarily endorse every position JVP takes or every action they commit to. I have very serious reservations about JVP’s support of Rasmea Odeh, who may well have been responsible for the death of a close friend.

As a JVP member, I nevertheless signed on to their active participation in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign — a campaign they describe as seeking to end “the occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967,” to dismantle the Wall, to “recognizes the fundamental rights of Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality,” and to promote “the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.”

 

WHEN THE BAN came down, I decided to take another look at JVP’s website to better understand what I have signed on to, what JVP has committed to, and what is so incensing the Israeli government.

I couldn’t find any discrepancies between my position and that of JVP.

I am quite comfortable with JVP’s mission statement:

JVP seeks an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem; security and self-determination for Israelis and Palestinians; a just solution for Palestinian refugees based on principles established in international law; and end to violence against civilians; and peace and justice for all peoples of the Middle East.

I certainly embrace JVP’s grounding their positions in Jewish tradition:

We are inspired by Jewish traditions to work for justice and such work is part of our own liberation. We work to build Jewish communities that reflect the understanding that being Jewish and Judaism are not synonymous with Zionism or support for Israel.

On BDS, I find it reasonable enough that JVP should respond to the call from Palestinian civil society to help in its struggle. Born and raised in South Africa, I am well aware of the role that boycott, divestment and sanctions played in bringing the apartheid regime to an end. I am quite confident that a campaign of similar magnitude could make a real contribution to ending the conflict.

JVP endorses the call from Palestinian civil society for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) as part of our work for freedom, justice and equity for all peoples. We believe that the time-honored, non-violent tools proposed by BDS call provide powerful opportunities to make that vision real. 

Our goal, and the goal of the BDS movement, is ending Israel’s ongoing violations of the rights of Palestinians and setting the stage for a lasting and just peace for all peoples of Israel/Palestine. 

Boycott, divestment campaigns, and sanctions are tactics that have been used by formerly vilified, but now celebrated, nonviolent activists and minority groups to advance numerous social movements throughout history. 

The BDS call is conditional and asks people to stop applying pressure when Israel stops violating three fundamental Palestinian rights. 

I am certainly in favor of the position that BDS is conditional, tactics to be discontinued once three fundamental Palestinian rights are satisfied.

End the occupation and dismantle the Wall; 

End discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel; 

Respect, protect and promote the rights of Palestinians to return to their homes 

At the same time, I appreciate the concern that realization of the right of Palestinians to return to their homes will undermine self-determination for Israelis. However, recognition of the right of return need not result in a mass migration of Palestinians to areas in Israel where they resided until 1948. JVP’s non-commitment to a specific political solution to the conflict, leaving it for resolution after the three fundamental Palestinian rights are recognized, allows for flexibility and avoids ruling out options down the road.

Supporters of the call include those who support one state, two states, a confederation or some other configuration — but we all agree Israel must recognize the fundamental rights listed above 

I find it counter-intuitive and perplexing that Jews who support these positions are accused of being antisemitic. The opposite would seem to be true. Organizations such as JVP are doing what they are doing because of their devotion and concern for the future of Israel and, ultimately, the Jewish people.

As Jews who believe in the Jewish tradition of social justice, and in whose name Israel claims to act, we feel particularly accountable to respond to Palestinian civil society’s call. . . . Jews have an important role to play in calling out false charges of antisemitism by those who wish to silence human rights advocates. 

Clearly, the BDS movement must be presenting a real threat to the government of Israel. Maybe, what is arousing such drastic resistance from the Israeli government is actually the effectiveness of BDS in highlighting the plight of the Palestinians.

 

THE DECLARATION of the Establishment of the State of Israel states that Israel will welcome all Jews and that not only Jews, but all citizens will enjoy “complete equality,” irrespective of political views.

The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles: it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations. 

Furthermore, the Declaration appeals to Jews throughout the world to assist in the “upbuilding” and “redemption of Israel.”

We appeal to the Jewish people throughout the Diaspora to rally round the Jews of Eretz-Israel in the tasks of immigration and upbuilding and to stand by them in the great struggle for the realization of the age-old dream — the redemption of Israel. 

The Law of Return passed in 1950 facilitates this request by granting “every Jew the right to come to this country as an oleh (immigrant),” on condition that the prospective oleh “is (not) engaged in an activity directed against the Jewish people.”

An active Jewish member of JVP could request on arriving in Israel to become a citizen. Yet that person could now be barred (and actually has been) from boarding the plane that would take her to Israel because her political views and actions are deemed to be “directed against the Jewish people.”

Surely, if entry of Jews to Israel is arbitrarily restricted because a person’s politics does not coincide with that of the governing coalition in Israel, the definition of who is a “qualified” Jew is very slippery — and the rationale for a Jewish state begins to disintegrate.

 

Allan Lichtenstein, our contributing writer, has a Ph.D. in urban planning from Rutgers University and has been working in the field of  poverty research for many years. He writes a regular blog for us about economic justice statistics, most recently, “Guess How Much Museum Guards Are Earning?”