From Socialist Voice, September 2010


Palestine, Israel, BDS, and the left

Part 1

I am confident most readers will not need to be convinced of the justness and necessity of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign aimed at forcing the rogue state of Israel to comply fully with international law and respect the full human, civil, political and national rights of the Palestinian people.
     However, there remain those—groups and individuals—on both the “hard” and “soft” left that, for a variety of reasons, refuse to support the BDS campaign, despite being supporters of the Palestinian struggle for justice.
     The first thing to be said about BDS is that it is not an invention of western “do-gooders”: it is what the Palestinian people—through their worker and civil society organisations—have called on internationals to engage in. Who are we, living thousands of miles away, to say, “Actually, we know better”? It is not we who have suffered the brunt of Zionist-Israeli violence, occupation and colonisation for more than six decades. The call, issued five years ago, comes from the oppressed, and we should respect and observe it and do all in our power to build the BDS campaign in this country.
     I would like to deal first with the “soft” left, wherein the main counter-argument to BDS runs something like this: “We cannot boycott one side in this conflict: we need to respect both sides and encourage them to resolve issues through dialogue.”
     There are two false assumptions inherent in this reasoning, at least for anyone who is serious about Palestinians obtaining their freedom.
     The first is the idea that there are two more or less equal parties in this “conflict.” In fact on one side there is an oppressive colonial state with the fourth-largest army in the world, which enjoys the overt support of US imperialism, the complicity of the European Union, and the tacit support of the United Nations and various corrupt Arab regimes. On the other side there is an oppressed colonised people, badly armed, with little meaningful international support aside from civil society campaigns, terrorised, brutalised and humiliated daily. We do not need to “respect” the brutal oppressor in this equation: indeed it deserves only our contempt, and we should do all we can to help defeat it.
     The second false assumption is that Israel negotiates in good faith, when history has shown the exact opposite. A mere example: during the so-called Oslo “peace process” years, illegal Israeli colonial settlements doubled in a clear violation of the Oslo terms. As far as Israel is concerned, current negotiations serve as nothing more than a fig leaf while it busies itself with creating “facts on the ground.” Israel would be more than happy to endlessly “negotiate” until there are no Palestinians left in Palestine.
     Of course, for the reasons outlined above and more, Israel can act this way because it enters negotiations from a position of power, while the Palestinians enter from a position of relative weakness. Capitalist states do not act out of the goodness of their hearts: they act in their own self-interest, and to expect such a powerful state to cede anything meaningful to a weaker adversary is absurd.
     This is why, if one accepts—as most soft-leftists do—that only talks can provide a genuine road to a just peace, there must be some degree of parity between the negotiating parties. BDS offers us—international civil society—the means to help achieve this parity. BDS enables us to pressure the Israeli state to show that its actions have repercussions internationally and that it is no longer acceptable for it to act as it does. BDS aims to isolate and weaken Israel and, as a corollary, strengthen the hand of the Palestinians.
     On this basis it is logical that BDS can play only a positive role in laying the groundwork for future genuine negotiations on a more or less level playing-field, as thus far “negotiations” and “balance” have produced only further colonisation and imbalance. Without BDS, negotiations are essentially pointless.

■ Part 2 of this article will be published in next month’s issue.

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