To Boycott Israel…or Not?

You can’t do now what was done in the 1970s to the first American Jewish organization to talk about a two-state solution, Breira, which got killed by attacks from the center as well as the right wing of Jewish institutional life. That’s not working this time.

NK: While I understand that the Jewish community is finding voices that are more diverse, we have to be clear that this is not just a Jewish issue. And maybe it shouldn’t even be Jews who lead this issue. In Europe, it isn’t just Jews who are leading this issue.

AW: Well, the other difference between Europe and the United States is that in Europe, the Jewish community, for reasons of history 75 years ago, doesn’t have much political clout. In the United States, the Jewish community does. So changing the Jewish community, building progressive organizations is both possible and necessary in the American Jewish community.

I don’t attack BDS as unethical. I’m saying it won’t work. But there is one major ethical defect to it, I think, which is that it doesn’t embody the future in the present. The future it does not embody is the one most precious and most legitimate for Israel: peace with all the Arab states.

I agree that a policy of all carrots for Israel and all sticks for the Palestinians is both an ethical and practical disaster. But sticks-only for Israel won’t and shouldn’t work, and that’s what the BDS approach feels like. Sometimes that works anyway—it did in South Africa. But it hasn’t worked (and shouldn’t) when used against Palestine—what stronger BDS could there be than the one against Gaza?—and it hasn’t worked (and shouldn’t be used) against Cuba.

In the United States around civil rights, it was embodying the future in the present that worked. What will and should work now is that One Big Carrot of peace, with sticks right behind it if an Israeli government rejects the carrot.

NK: First of all, Israel has received all carrots all the time, and introducing any sticks at all would represent real progress. Also I think BDS does embody the future, because it says that Palestinian lives matter deeply. There is such an asymmetry of outrage on this issue—the uproar about Israeli universities facing a boycott at the same time as Palestinian schools and universities are being bombed, for instance. When we treat Israeli war crimes as deserving of international sanction, we are rejecting this double standard and embodying the future we want, which is a future of genuine equality.

AW: But what would have happened if Hampshire College had twinned itself with the university in Gaza and a university in Ramallah and had done its best to make real-life connections?

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