AW: But there is a huge difference between South Africa and Israel. In South Africa, the U.S. government was not pouring billions of dollars into the country. Whereas, in the case of Israel, the U.S. government is. That support seems to me to be far more the point.
The likelihood of Israelis saying, “Wait a minute, this is a serious problem,” is going to be much greater if the Obama administration says: “Here’s the deal. There’s going to be an emergency peace conference in the Middle East. It’s going to come out with a Palestinian state that’s really independent, not chopped up in little bits, and there will be a peace treaty with all the Arab states.” I can see the possibility of a whole new American outlook making peace in the Middle East.
NK: Once again, the question is how do we get to the point where the Obama administration feels the need to get tough and say, “Here’s the deal.” I don’t believe that mere dialogue will bring us there. I’m arguing that BDS is a fantastic movement-building tool precisely because it is a conversation starter; it ignites the debate. It makes the conflict personal in the same way as the amazing grassroots movement we had in the ’80s against South Africa did in the United States. It is only once those debates are raging that there will be the kind of bottom-up pressure on Obama that could lead to a real shift in U.S. policy.
AW: Yes, there needs to be a real life, day-by-day connection to making change happen. But from my point of view, if you could bring Muslims and Jews and Christians together, meeting each other, talking to each other, getting past the fear and stereotypes about each other, if you could get that happening, that would be a piece of the future the way the sit-ins were a piece of the future.
The way to build the movement in the United States is for the people who are here to build a movement among themselves. A big chunk of the unrepresented Jewish population in the United States—somewhere between half and two-thirds of it—agree that there needs to be a two-state solution. Their institutions either don’t agree or won’t do much about it.
Arthur, during the war on Gaza, J Street, which is a new “pro-peace, pro-Israel” group, posted an editorial on its website stating, “We recognize that neither Israelis nor Palestinians have a monopoly on right or wrong.”
In response, Noah Pollack, on the Commentary magazine blog, wrote, “It is time that thinking people start calling J Street what it actually is: an anti-Israeli group.” What is it about Israeli politics that makes it so difficult to discuss?
AW: Well of course Commentary would say that. But it’s not difficult to discuss. In fact, J Street has gone right on and continued speaking out.
Much more to the point, and much more upsetting, was that Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, wrote an op-ed in Forward condemning J Street, saying that J Street’s “words are deeply distressing because they are morally deficient, profoundly out of touch with Jewish sentiment and also appallingly naive.” He represents, in theory, a million Jews. But it didn’t kill J Street.