A better way than BDS

19 Dec

by Ittay Flescher

I have proudly voted Green in the past three elections because of the party’s courage in standing up for refugees, the environment and more marginalized people in Australian Society. I have also promoted the values of the Greens to many of my friends in the Jewish Community through articles, and by assisting candidates in the seats of Melbourne Ports and Caulfield at recent Federal and Victorian elections.

The recent endorsement of the BDS by NSW Greens is making me reconsider my support for the Greens. While I commend the concern that you and all the members of our party have for the people of Palestine, I am convinced that BDS is not the way to improve the lives of the people who live there.

My conviction comes from the fact that I have spent a number of years living in and writing about Israel, and have volunteered with several NGOs that promote a two-state solution. In my assessment, one of the major obstacles to a two state solution is the lack of trust and sometimes hatred that exists between Israelis and Palestinians. Politicians feed off this hatred to promote policies such as loyalty oaths and exclusively Jewish neighborhoods on the Israeli side, and terrorism or Judeophobia on the Palestinian side.

There are more constructive and less divisive approaches that encourage Israelis and Palestinians to put their weapons down and start listening to each other’s narratives. These may include support for one of the following organizations, with whom I have volunteered or supported in the past:

Combatants for Peace

The “Combatants for Peace” movement was started jointly by Palestinians and Israelis, who had previously taken an active part in the cycle of violence; Israelis as soldiers in the Israeli army (IDF) and Palestinians as part of the violent struggle for Palestinian freedom. The group is committed to acting only by non-violent means so that each side will come to understand the national aspirations of the other side. It sees dialogue and reconciliation as the only ways to terminate the Israeli occupation, to halt the settlement project and to establish a Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem, alongside the State of Israel.

The Parents Circle

Parents Circle – Families Forum (PCFF) is a grassroots organization of bereaved Palestinians and Israelis. The PCFF promotes reconciliation as an alternative to hatred and revenge.

Hand in Hand Schools

The vast majority of families in Israel – Jewish and Arab – send their children to segregated schools. This segregation tends to promote rival viewpoints and attitudes that become ripe for exploitation by proponents of violence. Hand in Hand runs Israel’s first and only network of integrated, bilingual schools where Jews and Arabs study together in both Hebrew and Arabic and learn each other’s historical narratives.

Sulhita Training Peace Leadership

The Sulha Peace Project, a grassroots organization, inspired by the indigenous process of mediation (“Sulha”), aims to rebuild trust, restore dignity and move beyond the political agenda. The Sulhita program includes monthly gatherings for 24 Israeli Arab and Jewish adolescents (15-17 years old), chosen from a partnership of several Jewish and Arab schools around the country, to introduce the concept of reconciliation and train participants for future peace leadership.

These four organizations are only a few of many hundreds of others, actively working towards an end to the conflict through constructive and non-violent means. Participants in these organizations are often branded as naïve, utopian or even traitorous by the majority of their respective societies. I believe that if they had the financial and political support of the international community to promote their agenda that would be far better for the people who live there than the current situation where the bulk of funding goes towards partisan Israeli and Palestinian groups whose sole aim is to delegitimize the other.

What these grass root organizations now need is not divestment and discouragement but active support from the international community. People genuinely interested in peace and justice for all the people who live in Israel and Palestine need to stop being pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian and start being pro-Peace. This means openly criticizing acts of violence whether committed by the Israeli military or the Palestinian organizations as the Greens have done in the past. It also means providing positive and constructive support for the people working against violence, segregation and occupation.

Finally the specific resolution makes a number of comparisons between Israel and the former Apartheid regime in South Africa. Uri Avnery, a leader of Israel’s peace movement for the past 20 years has noted that while there were many similarities there were many differences between the two countries. Avnery argues that it is important to understand the differences, not as a matter of propaganda but to understand that unlike the situation in SA, a BDS strategy will not encourage Israelis to vote for and otherwise support future leaders who would seek a just solution. If anything, it is likely to embolden the Right to act as it wishes, building more settlements, walls and confiscating more land using the argument that “if the whole world is against us anyway, we may as well do whatever we want.” What is really bizarre in this NSW resolution is that it would boycott people of the stature of Uri Avnery or Daniel Barenboim – in fact taken to its logical conclusion it would boycott the Palestinian Authority and al Fatah because they only call for limited boycotts in West Bank settlements.

May also the people who genuinely care about the welfare of Israelis and Palestinians find a better way to bring the long awaited peace, security and justice for which these two peoples have so long hoped and prayed.

Ittay Flescher is a Jewish educator, working in Melbourne, Australia. He blogs at ittay.blogspot.com, where this blog entry was also published, and can be contacted at ittay78@gmail.com

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One Response to “A better way than BDS”

  1. Dan Ziv December 19, 2010 at 7:53 pm #

    The programs listed are admirable for their ability to build mutual understanding between the communities by shifting the paradigm from the abstract to the interpersonal.

    However, no good can be achieved by shifting morality to facilitate that conversation:

    If “loyalty oaths and exclusively Jewish neighborhoods” are wrong, there can be no equivalence with racism or murder (“terrorism or Judeophobia”). Building on a foundation that forces both parties to accept equal responsibility is in such a case not just unfair, but harmful to resolution. Not only does one side bear too large a burden, but one side will never realize all of their misdeeds, and will thus likely repeat them.

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