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Omar Barghouti at UCLA: No to BDS, no to occupation

by Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller

January 23, 2014 | 1:53 pm

Omar Barghouti

Omar Barghouti

BDS is poison and Omar Barghouti is its purveyor. 

On Jan. 15, I subjected myself to a tirade of anti-Israel fulminations by BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti. I went to hear him deliver a speech to UCLA students, out of a sense of obligation to the Jewish students whom I serve. I always feel that I must be present when a threatening speaker comes to campus. But given the claims of our local Palestinian students that BDS means only a boycott of the major Western corporations that are implicated in sustaining the West Bank occupation (e.g., Caterpillar) and the fact that many maintain that BDS is a legitimate nonviolent way of protesting Israeli “oppression,” I was also curious to learn how this popular campaign was being promoted. 

The damning result was that I was cured of any illusions regarding the moderate intentions of BDS. 

BDS is poison and Omar Barghouti is a classic anti-Semite. 

What almost all observers — supporters and detractors alike — fail to realize is that what is objectionable about BDS is not only the practice of boycott but the ideology that underlies the movement. 

[Omar Barghouti at UCLA: A speaker who brings hate]

Barghouti was explicit in explaining that the real aim of BDS is the end of Zionism, not just the end of the occupation. He is careful to assert that BDS is agnostic on the question of two states but makes it clear that what he ultimately desires is to uproot the “unjust ideology” that is responsible for the Israeli regime. Barghouti and BDS thus have no constructive vision for the future. There is no articulated aspiration for peace, only a negative desire to destroy the very foundation of the State of Israel. This is just recycled Palestenian rhetoric about the pursuit of justice in the mouth of a sophisticated, smart, Israeli-educated and wiley ideologue. “Justice” is simply a political code word for no compromise. And everyone knows that any peaceful outcome is contingent on mutual compromise. 

What was genuinely disturbing and compelled my verbal protest and walkout, however, was Barghouti’s denial of Jewish peoplehood. Teaching that Jews are not a people and appropriating the right to define who we are is an aggressive act of denying Jews the fundamental right of self-definition. It constitutes a delegitimization of my being and of my identity as a Jew. Moreover, that’s why all of Barghouti’s supporters applauded. Because if the Jews are not a historical people, then they have no claim to what we understand to be the natural right of a people — a land of their own. To assert that the idea of a Jewish people is a Zionist fabrication, as Barghouti did, was an overt act of anti-Judaism. As a rule, no group ought to be building up its identity by trampling on the identity of another group. That violates the basic principles of multiculturalism. Barghouti has no room in his heart for me and my people, and he wants to poison the hearts of others. 

But if it is so clear that Barghouti’s way is a road to continued conflict, why is there growing sympathy for the BDS movement in liberal circles? Here, a moment of self-examination is in order. For we — and I mean we who love Israel and care about her survival — have spoken out neither forcefully enough nor lovingly against the occupation. We have not made it clear that “for the sake of Zion” and in pursuit of the “freedom, justice, and peace ... envisaged by the prophets of Israel” (Israeli Declaration of Independence), we, the Jews, cannot rule over another people. It blatantly undermines the democratic principles upon which Israel was established. In this way, the occupation is even more dangerous than BDS. For BDS is only an external threat that has not yet gained traction in the United States, while the occupation is corrupting from within, having already dulled our Jewish moral sensibility (see, most recently, Ari Shavit’s “My Promised Land”). By failing to explicitly link the embrace of a two-state solution with the end of occupation and by continuing the legal nitpicking over the definition of the term, our community has closed the door to many of those, including some of our friends, who find the status quo deplorable and indefensible, compelling them to be open to an alternative political path. 

Indeed, BDS is poison, but so is the occupation. Wisdom, morality, and loyalty to Israel and Judaism demand that we say no to both. 

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