BDS supporters should stop the one-state talk and help J Street, ‘New York’ magazine advises

Big Thief (Wikimedia)

Philip Weiss

Mondoweiss  /  July 1, 2022

Ross Barkan, a writer with progressive credentials, has advice for the BDS campaign in New York Magazine. Throw in with J Street and two-state “moderates” who focus on the occupation. Help out Rep. Andy Levin’s embattled campaign in Michigan and Donna Edwards’s in Maryland. Give up on the one-state talk. You will only set the movement for freedom in Palestine back because it is unrealistic, and Washington will never go there. The right of return and talk of “genocide” put moderates off. Israel is a “more complex” case than South Africa. There is broad “global support” for a Jewish state.

The indie band Big Thief’s cancellation of Tel Aviv under pressure from the left was just Brooklyn hipsters in an echo chamber. BDS can’t win against the rightwing forces in Israel and their supporters in the U.S. But J Street can.

My quick response begins with areas of agreement with Barkan. He says the greatest victory of the Israel-critical movement was the Iran deal in 2015 under Obama, and that was the work of moderates. I agree, and I regularly praise J Street for its work on that deal. Barkan says we must support people who favor conditioning aid to Israel not to go to the occupation. I think the left should work with such people, yes. And while I have friends who can’t forgive Andy Levin’s strongly pro-Israel comments during Israel’s regular slaughter of Gazans, Levin is way better than AIPAC’s candidate in Michigan, Haley Stevens.

I have long cheered J Street for breaking up the old Israel lobby and presenting an alternative Jewish voice. They said they don’t want Israel to be a political football, but they have helped make it one. Good for them. That opens the door to others further left. A Levin victory empowers the Squad. There is a lot of overlap of agendas in D.C.

The reason I won’t join up  with J Street –speaking as a journalist — is that it cannot face two fundamental truths: There will never be a two state solution. There is apartheid in the occupied territories and that extends to Israel. J Street is dishonest about these realities because it is sworn to the idea of a Jewish state, and acknowledging the truth would obliterate that fantasy. It is interesting to me that Barkan, while acknowledging Israeli human rights atrocities, can’t bring himself to say apartheid. But countless human rights organizations and people of conscience have said just that. The former Chancellor of Brown called it “apartheid on steroids” ten years ago. Barkan repeats the leftwing charge, “genocide,” and says that won’t win over the moderates–well, I don’t use that word. But I say what I’ve seen: apartheid, segregation, persecution, the ghettoization of 2 million in Gaza– the humiliation and brutalization of a people based on ethnicity.

J Street’s leadership is D.C. establishment, but its rank and file know this. They’re generally on the left, and the young say it’s apartheid. I can’t wait to watch the J Street conference this October. I predict that IfNotNow will have an honored place there, because J Street knows that all the energy on this issue is on the young left, and IfNotNow will use the word apartheid and talk about a future without Zionism. Peter Beinart will probably also be represented there, and he crossed the street out of Zionism and called for one state.

Ross Barkan seems to believe that giving up the one state talk and working with liberal Zionists against the occupation is ultimately the best way to avoid violence. Many have said so. Norman Finkelstein used to say similar things. The problem with that advice is that the situation is way more dire than that. Israel destroyed the two state solution and Zionism presses on to extend the “Jewish state” to far corners of Palestine, oppressing the occupied people at every turn. This is an inherently revolutionary situation. The two state solution was supposed to accommodate Palestinian nationalism and Palestinian rights, but the Jewish government is incapable of renouncing that territory. Even a good moderate like Yair Lapid is just another racist when it comes to the West Bank.

J Street calls this a robust democracy. For me it is reminiscent of Algeria, South Africa, and the segregationist south. It demands action.

Palestinians have shown incredible restraint, and also shown us that they will never accept subordinated status in their land. Anyone who has met Palestinians over there comes away with a very strong feeling: These people should have the right to dream of a better life for their children; and nothing liberal Zionists are doing has advanced that prospect. Barkan admits that the nonviolent BDS campaign has made incredible progress in the last few years but says Big Thief’s change of heart does nothing for Palestinians. (Jeremy Ben-Ami of J Street has made a similar argument.) But if Palestinians truly don’t care about bands boycotting, then why did so many organizations with Palestinians support it? As Michael Arria frequently points out here, BDS comes from a call from Palestinian civil society. And we should be listening to the persecuted.

Barkan is right, BDS is not winning, now. The turnaround by Unilever on Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, pleasing the Israel lobby, is a blow to BDS campaign. But it is even a bigger blow to J Street. While J Street never endorsed the Ben & Jerry’s move, they certainly cheered it on, and Israel’s defeat of the Ben & Jerry’s gesture shows that there is just one state. Yair Lapid is the great white hope of liberal Zionists, and he called those who want to boycott the West Bank settlements “antisemites.”

Barkan’s response is likely to be, Israel is a special case because the world accepted the Jewish state in Palestine as an answer to the historical suffering of the Jewish people in Europe. I agree with him, and for me this is the key part of the struggle, convincing Zionists or Zionist sympathizers that far from being an answer to persecution Zionism is an “anachronism,” (as Tony Judt put it in calling for one state 20 years ago). Convincing Democrats of that (including the Jewish community) is the best answer I know of to the Violence question. That is what could change the pressure from Washington. Ultimately even J Street will agree.

P.S. I didn’t even deal with Barkan’s claim that we are singling Israel out, and what about Saudi Arabia and China? My country has singled Israel out for the “special relationship,” and so has my community, the Jewish community.

Philip Weiss is senior editor of Mondoweiss.net and founded the site in 2005-2006