Recently, the AJDS issued a statement about some BDS protests that we believe work against justice for Palestinians. The statement evoked a strong reaction and has been misinterpreted by some. It was our intention that the statement clearly articulate the concerns we have with some BDS protests, as a contribution to the overall debate about the Israeli Palestinian conflict. While our concerns with the BDS protests has not altered, we acknowledge from the feedback, that aspects of our statement needed changes.
A discussion ensued within the AJDS executive on those changes and it was decided that in addition to publishing the revised statement on our website, we would also include some of the arguments that contributed to the final version of the statement.
The AJDS executive comprises a group with a variety of views and we accept that those differences are an important aspect of the way in which we consider issues of interest. In fact we see those diverse views as AJDS strengths.
A significant question is: What do we see as our role? Are we simply a forum for the discussion of political ideas? Or are there times when our voice needs to be heard in an advocacy role? And if we see an advocacy role; to what extent should we temper our comments in an effort to maintain relationships with people in the Jewish community and with people who support the Palestinian cause?
These BDS protests remind us of events from over 30 years ago. In the late 1970s Bill Hartley was highly influential in the ALP and was pushing a line harshly critical of Israel. Norman Rothfield, founder of the AJDS, and a group of other people, ran a campaign to counter his influence. Norman must have gone through similar considerations in taking an active role on his issue.
We hope that our revised statement and the discussion underneath it contributes to a more open debate and the maturing of opinions on highly contentious issues. One of the major difficulties in discussing the Israel-Palestine conflict is that there is a great reluctance to engage in self-reflection because of the perceived need to present a water-tight ‘position’.
Revised Statement from the AJDS: AJDS criticises disruptive BDS protests
The Australian Jewish Democratic Society strongly objects to some of the recent Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS) protests such as those targetting the Israeli-owned Max Brenner store in Melbourne and the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra’s prom concert in London. The tactic of angry confrontation used by the protesters is antithetical to anyone concerned with finding a just solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
The protests are organised by people from ultra-left organisations whose disruptive, angry and aggressive tactics give no dignity to the cause of justice for the people of Palestine. Their tactics also serve to interfere in good-faith efforts between people from the Jewish, Muslim and Palestinian communities to conduct their causes in a civil and respectful manner, and to build positive relationships.
We are opposed to excesses from the far Left as we are to excesses from the far Right.
We do not contest the right of the BDS protesters to carry out their protests lawfully. Our concern is with the specific tactics that we think are very negative. Those tactics play into the hands of groups and politicians who reject the justice of the Palestinian position. Furthermore, to the extent that it shields the Jewish community from being confronted by the truth of the Palestinian narrative and the intransigence of the Israeli government, it does a disservice to the cause it purports to help. Supporters of Palestinian rights strengthen their cause by engaging Jews rather than by alienating them.
In addition, the use by local BDS protesters of slogans such as, “Palestine from the river to the sea” – captured on video – also demonstrates that they have attached themselves to the most radical and uncompromising position possible, one that rejects UN resolutions adopted over the years. This is despite the fact that the BDS movement claims not to advocate a particular political resolution.
It is interesting that Australians for Palestine – which takes an uncompromising view on BDS has said that “Actions aimed at disrupting businesses, aggravating customers or challenging police authority are detrimental to our aims”.
Regrettably, local BDS protests focus more attention on the protesters and their tactics than they do on Israeli settlements, the occupation, the rights of Palestinians in Israel, and the creation of a Palestinian state. The AJDS remains committed to seeking justice for both Israelis and Palestinians beyond noisy propaganda and supporting efforts towards a negotiated resolution of the conflict.
Below is some of the discussion that helped shape the statement. Parts of the discussion refer to paragraphs, phrases or words that were not included in the final version.
There was argument for and against the following paragraph – ultimately the paragraph was not included:
“Melbourne in 2011 is not comparable to the antisemitic environment of 1930s Europe, but for many people in the Jewish community the tactic of blockades and chanting directed against an Israeli business resonates with the memory of anti-Jewish activities back then. Perhaps the distress caused to Jews/Zionists, is justified in the minds of the protesters as a form of political retribution for the pain experienced by Palestinians in exile or living under occupation.”
The argument against including this paragraph was:
This is unnecessarily emotive. It may be true, but it does nothing other than distract from the bulk of the statement, and the focus becomes….Are you calling us antisemites/Nazis?…I don’t feel comfortable with including this.
The argument for including the paragraph was:
Whatever has been said by the critics of our earlier version of the statement, it was never the intention of the AJDS to label protesters as nazis or antisemites. We have been vocal in the Jewish community (see our response to Seven Jewish Children) against throwing around terms of abuse gratuitously, but we are also sensitive to the reason that people in the community react in that way. Antisemitism was endemic in pre war Europe and the nazi genocide was preceded by attacks against Jewish businesses in the 1930s.
Melbourne in 2011 is not comparable to those times. In the view of the AJDS the protesters are not antisemites, but many Jews do see an association – we used the word resonance – with events from the 1930s and it was appropriate to confront the demonstrators with that reality.
It may be that the message we wanted to convey has been lost in the angry responses. But it is also possible to read the reaction as indicating that some notice was taken of what we said.
Another opinion supporting the inclusion of the paragraph:
What I find reprehensible is that on numerous occasions in the past, and most recently on Facebook, we have explained over and over that this tactic does the cause of Palestine a complete disservice in a place like Melbourne. We need to take a position that we reject the raising of a disturbing historical memory as a way of vicariously punishing the local Jewish community for the suffering of Palestinians. While supporters of BDS deny anti-Semitism, they are either intentionally or unintentionally seeking to upset people.
The first paragraph of the statement we originally wrote contained the following words:
“The Australian Jewish Democratic Society deplores some of the recent Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS) protests…”
There was an argument against using the word “deplores”:
I think deplore is very harsh and judgmental. We could instead say something like, we disagree with the tactic and feel it is doing a disservice.”
The counter argument was:
It is harsh and judgemental, but consider the context. We have reports from the BDS protesters that they only have peaceful if noisy protests, but other reports have referred to clashes with police and arrest. We have reports of at least one protest where protesters formed a barrier to prevent people from entering or leaving Max Brenner.
Our response to the BDS protests should not be to simply accept the reports from the BDS people any more than we should accept without question, reports from the Jewish community. We can take the comments from Australian friends of Palestine as an indication that the BDS protests are not as peaceful as the organisers have claimed.
But we should look at the protest itself and measure it against our opposition to BDS and whether it is reasonable under the circumstances. And we have every right to voice objections where we think it appropriate.
The indymedia website has the justification for the BDS protest outside Max Brenner:
“Max Brenner Chocolate is owned by the Strauss Group, Israel’s second largest food and beverage company. On its website, the Strauss Group emphasis its support for the Israeli military, providing care packages, sports and recreational equipment, books and games for soldiers. Strauss boasts that it supports both the Golani and Givati (Shualei Shimshon) Brigades of the Israeli military. Both of these brigades were heavily involved in Israel’s 2008/2009 Gaza massacre, which killed more than 1300 Palestinians, the majority civilians, including 300 children.”
We need to use some clear thinking here. Max Brenner Chocolate provides “care packages, sports and recreational equipment, books and games for soldiers”. The Strauss group which owns Max Brenner does not supply military equipment, does not make any statement about the occupation and does not manufacture goods in Israeli settlements on the West Bank.
If Max Brenner manufactured military equipment or was vocal about the importance of Greater Israel or grew its chocolate beans in West Bank settlements then we could understand a direct link between the protest and its target. But to picket a chocolate shop that provides “care packages, sports and recreational equipment, books and games for soldiers” is rather deplorable.
Their spin is that Max Brenner supports both the Golani and Givati Brigades and that associates them with (alleged) war criminals. But the connection is not military in nature and in any case the allegations against Israel and the Golani and Givati Brigades are statements without a context.
There was an argument about the formulation of the last sentence of the first paragraph. It says:
“The tactic of angry confrontation used by the protesters is antithetical to anyone concerned about finding a just solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.”
The argument against using the term “finding a just solution..” was:
We may want the BDS protesters to radically alter their tactics, but BDS is about raising awareness and about the attack on the human rights of the Palestinians.
This was the argument in favour of the wording:
The AJDS has, over the years, tried to focus on the main game which is a peaceful, negotiated settlement to the conflict. When we clarified our position on BDS to the Jewish Community Council of Victoria, we said that we supported those who choose not to buy goods manufactured in the West Bank because we didn’t want to put money into the settlements.
But we also said “that deciding not to buy settlement products is a negative action”. We take the same view of the BDS action – it’s a distraction from the main game of getting the two sides to negotiate their way to a resolution.
That’s not misreading what BDS is about. Our comment is consistent with our negative view of BDS and consistent with a focus on resolving the conflict.
As we have said in the statement, the AJDS remains committed to seeking justice for both Israelis and Palestinians beyond noisy propaganda and supporting efforts towards a resolution of the conflict.
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