I support BDS, mostly, but . . .

I support BDS, mostly, but . . .

Marilyn and Fred’s arguments in support of Boycotting (and Divestment and Sanctions against) Israel are compelling, and I am fully behind them. But …

There are a few things about BDS that makes me uncomfortable, and prevents me from unreserved support.

There are few things in life that match my beliefs and values 100%. Even though I am a committed Green Party activist and will always vote for them, I don’t support every last one of their policies or initiatives, and am frustrated about their lack of staunchness; but I accept that mostly they are on track, and, unless another party comes along that is better, I donate to, vote and volunteer for them.

With BDS there are a few of their positions (reading from their web site) that don’t sit well with me.

These relate to their boycotting of any Israeli academic, cultural or sports person who may wish to travel and ply their trade outside of Israel, unless those individuals openly and clearly proclaim their opposition to the occupation. This is problematic, and unfair, I feel, and a sanction against freedom of speech and expression.

The rational for this position given by BDS is that, for example, an academic who wishes to give a speech or lecture overseas or at a conference inherently supports the occupation by virtue of their being part of a University or institution that does the bidding of the Israeli Government, e.g. by participating in research that may be used by the military to oppress Palestinians. This paints every person who works or holds a position at an academic institution with the same brush. But clearly many if not most lecturers work there because that is the University where they live, or where their academic discipline is strongest.

I suppose if one works for a tobacco or oil company, it would be fair to hold that person responsible for the harm done by their employer. But that can’t fairly be said to apply for, say a philosopher or ancient history professor or psychology researcher, even if their institution, or one part of it, is complicit in collaborating with the Government in activities that directly enhance the control over and therefore the harm to Palestinians under the occupation.

I was never an employee, but as a Masters student at Victoria University of Wellington, or a B.A. student at the University of California, I hardly (if at all) knew what that institution’s policies were regarding Israel, or the US military, or research into nuclear power or whatever nefarious activities their Board of Governors or donors were up to. Indeed, where I was aware (as at UC Santa Barbara re nuclear power research) I joined public protests against involvement in such activities. Should I have refused to attend those schools and instead find another institution that was more ‘pure’ and fully aligned with my values? Even if I knew, should I be guilty of their crimes or associations? If I buy petrol from BP, am I collaborating with and therefore equally responsible as those who criminally destroy the planet? OK, bad example.

But where is the choice of an Israeli resident who needs an education, a job, or wants to play tennis or violin for an academic, cultural or sporting institution in Israel, where they live?

These people should not be treated as criminals or collaborators to be banned from lecturing on their expert subject to a New Zealand public that is interested in hearing what they want to say. They should not be excluded from a sports competition because their citizenship is Israeli, or refused a venue to perform a classical piece of music. None of these activities has anything to do with actively supporting the illegal and oppressive occupation by Israel of Palestinian lands and people.

There should not be a litmus test for artists, thinkers or sportspeople to declare their political stance against the occupation or on any issue. We should be an open society, and free to choose who we see, listen to and cheer for. Or not to. If someone has abhorrent views, let them come and be seen in the full light of day, and lets protest about those issues. But don’t ban them, or exclude them.

That is where I depart ways with BDS official policy and means, while fully supporting their position on the occupation and the appropriate targeting of those directly culpable and responsible for Israeli Government oppressive actions.

Alternative Jewish Voices oppose Wellington City Council’s non-notified consideration of controversial definition of anti-Semitism – Media release 24/2/20

MEDIA RELEASE 

A group of Wellington Jews (named below) are in the process of forming a collective to provide alternatives to the current narrow range of voices that speak publicly in the name of the Jewish community.  We believe it is important for us to speak out publicly to better represent the diversity of views on Jewish issues, especially on matters of Zionism, the occupation of Palestine, and anti-Semitism.

We have been prompted to speak out now, having learned of the Wellington City Council’s Agenda item this week to consider adopting a controversial definition of anti-Semitism.

We do not support WCC’s consideration of the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) definition of anti-Semitism for reasons of process and of substance:

1.      The Council is proceeding to consider a definition of anti-Semitism without consultation with the public or Jews in the region. The document under consideration is hugely controversial and has been the subject of furious debate, global petitions and activism across Europe, Canada and the USA. A key concern is the risk that anyone who airs legitimate criticism of Israeli Government Policy may be labelled as anti-Semitic. Jewish leaders and Talmudic scholars feature on both sides of this debate.

2.      In substance, this document is simply a wrong response to racism.  It is wrong to imagine that any definition can protect anyone.  We believe that the response to racism must be a common, steadfast, loving embrace of justice and diversity.  Racism is not just a Jewish issue, and there will be no separate Jewish resolution. Muslims and other marginalised groups face racism and bigotry. The community must support a strategy to address racism against all groups.

Therefore, we urge WCC Councillors to reject the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, explain what it hopes to achieve in combatting racism, and put the issue out for public and community consultation.

Supported by

David Weinstein

Fred Albert

Marilyn Garson

Jeremy Rose

Contact for further comment – email: Shma.Koleinu.nz@gmail.com