What BDS won’t tell you

One of the next battles over BDS will be fought in a little more than two weeks, when the 222nd General Assembly begins in Portland, Oregon. Portland was site of the recent United Methodist Church’s General Conference, which rejected BDS efforts at divestment, and even saw the Methodists end ties with the “US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation”, an umbrella organization of BDS groups in North America. The UMC is a much larger Church than PCUSA, and I am hopeful that we Presbyterians can learn from the wisdom of our Methodist brothers and sisters. The BDS Movement has targeted the PCUSA for more than a decade. It includes a relatively small, but extremely vocal and effective group of activists who have worked very hard to get the Church to adopt social witness policies promoting the goals of the BDS movement, while often masking them in claims that the policies being sought are not about BDS, but about justice for Palestinians. Two years ago, they succeeded in getting the Church to selectively divest from three companies doing business in Israel – Caterpillar, HP, and Motorola Solutions, while claiming that divestment was in no way an embrace of BDS.  Boycott. Divest. Sanction. How could anyone ever think that divesting from these companies was related to BDS?

The problem with BDS is that it claims to be something far different from what it is. BDS wants to be perceived as promoting human rights, while masking the true goal of eliminating the Jewish state.  It wants to shut down communication and exchanges between Israelis and Palestinians, because it realizes that when Jews and Arabs engage in dialogue, and listen to each other, they not only see similarities, but also realize that it is possible for them to co-exist. BDS wants to pressure Israel to end the occupation of the West Bank, and end the blockade of Gaza. But it does not really want a two state solution, because a two state solution would mean there would be an Israel and there would be a Palestine. BDS seeks to have only one of them – Palestine, from the river to the sea. It seeks to deny the existence of a Jewish state.  It seeks to undo the events of 1948, but not return the land to what it was before (namely, a land under British control, and for hundreds of years before that, the Ottoman empire), but to instead create another Arab state, in which Jews would become a small minority, if not driven out entirely.    

BDS advocates in the Church rarely are as bold as to state that publicly. They hesitate to say “what we want is the end of Israel.” Partly because they know there would be little support from church-goers for that position. Partly because they know that to say it would be to explicitly align itself with Hamas, a US-designated terrorist organization with a founding charter pledged to the destruction of Israel. Yet, at this General Assembly, the church is being asked to endorse a report that not only questions the wisdom of a two state solution, but opens the door to a one-state solution. In order to accomplish this, the authors of the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy’s report are forced to distort facts and engage in one-sided polemics. They will tell us how Israel mistreats children, and how the Israel Defense Force uses excessive force in Gaza, while ignoring that Hamas intentionally puts its rockets in civilian areas, and wants Israel to bomb them, creating a public relations victory claiming, “Israel is killing Palestinian children.”  

BDS advocates do not want to talk about co-existence. They certainly do not want to talk about programs like Roots, the co-existence project on Gush Etzion that brings Jewish settlers and Palestinians together in shared projects, seeking to transform hatred and mistrust into mutual support, empathy, and providing the foundation for a reality in which a two state solution can become a reality.   BDS advocates do not want to talk about bilingual schools like Hand in Hand, or co-existence programs for young people like Kids4Peace, bringing Jews, Muslims, and Christians in Jerusalem together in multiple-year programs beginning in 6th grade.  They do not want to talk about the Arab-Jewish Community Center in Jaffa, with its tolerance programs, elementary-age school exchanges, and youth parliaments.  They are not interested in programs like Seeds of Peace, or any of the other co-existence projects that take place between Israeli Jews and Arabs.  They don’t want to talk about environmental sustainability projects led by EcoPeace that tie Israeli and West Bank communities together, and in the process encourage dialogue. 

BDS advocates do not want to talk about investing in peace. Divesting church funds from Caterpillar or HP has no actual impact on peace, and only serves to close off the Church’s ability to have any meaningful influence. But it is a symbolic statement. BDS advocates dismiss economic development projects like Rawabi, a new city being built in the hills north of Ramallah as merely “normalizing” the occupation, even though such projects provide economic opportunities for the very people that they supposedly desire to help. They dismiss a project that has employed 7,000 Palestinians, just in the construction stage, and which has reduced unemployment in the West Bank by 4 percent, and offers economic hope for the future. But they will celebrate victories such as the relocating of the Soda Stream plant out of the West Bank settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim, even though in doing so, 500 Palestinians lost good paying jobs.  

BDS advocates want to tell us that the time has past for the two state solution. They want to see their pressure on Israel empower the Israeli right-wing, further weakening any chance for the peace process. Why Presbyterians would choose to align with organizations with links to terrorist groups like Hamas makes no sense. Why would we refuse to hold the Palestinian leadership in both Fatah and Hamas accountable for the numerous human rights violations against their own people?  But those advocating for BDS don’t really want a peace process leading to a two state solution.  It is really the last thing they want. It is crucial that GA recognizes this, and not only reiterates our commitment to two states, but rejects BDS in all forms.