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BDS vs. the lie of ‘woke Zionism’

“Woke Zionism” is a lie that seeks to conflate anti-Zionism and antisemitism.

BY OLIVIA KATBI SMITH AND DYLAN SABA.

We must respond by reaffirming the reality and demands of Palestinians living under apartheid.

Amidst the post-Trump euphoria and inauguration festivities, President Biden’s Secretary of State nominee quietly affirmed the new administration’s intent to keep the U.S. embassy to Israel in the disputed city of Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, the military occupation and colonial settlement of the West Bank continues unabated, despite immense cost in lives and human dignity as well as near-ubiquitous global condemnation.

Gaza, one of the most densely populated areas on earth, remains under siege; its nearly two million inhabitants (over 40% of which are under the age of 14, and most of them are refugees from other parts of Palestine) do their best to carry on despite serial Israeli bombing campaigns from which Gazans are materially unable to rebuild.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a new front to Israeli apartheid, as Israel refuses to provide vaccinations to millions of Palestinians within its sovereign domain.

The incoming Biden administration has signaled no desire to deviate from the unflinching American political, military, and diplomatic support for Israel that has maintained these degrading conditions for decades.   

In response, the American left, freshly torqued off four years of a Trump presidency and an insurgent Bernie Sanders presidential run, has seen the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), the Red Nation, and other left organizations join the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement.

This call to end Israeli apartheid was originally initiated by wide swaths of Palestinian civil society in 2005.

The BDS movement emerged after the relative failure of two intifadas (the first unarmed and the second armed), bilateral negotiations mediated by the US, and appeals to US-controlled international bodies.

It calls for an international boycott of Israeli institutions that uphold the apartheid regime until three demands are met:

1) the end of Israeli occupation and colonization of lands, including the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights and the dismantling of the Wall of Shame;

2) recognition of the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and

3) recognition and promotion of the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

Since its initiation, it has gained notable steam both globally and in the US as various unions, churches, NGOs, movement organizations, and celebrity activists and academics have pledged support for the effort.

Unsurprisingly, BDS has been systemically opposed by those in the US who support apartheid.

For years, critics have argued that the BDS movement is unfairly targeting Israel for its human rights and humanitarian abuses, since other such atrocities exist around the world without corresponding boycotts.

Critics claim on this basis that support for BDS within the US is veiled antisemitism directed at the only Jewish majority nation and that opposition to the occupation of Palestine operates as a cover for this hidden animus.

They point to growing incidents of antisemitism nationally and to openly antisemitic statements and demonstrations from neo-Nazi movements as part of a rising tide of cross-ideological antisemitism, of which they view the BDS movement as one expression.

It should go without saying that these criticisms are completely unfounded.

There is no reason why Palestinian civil society should be expected to organize boycott campaigns against other repressive regimes aside from the one imposing apartheid on their homeland.

The BDS movement directly targets those state institutions and private corporations which uphold the apartheid regime. This includes security and technology firms, but also universities and agricultural businesses that support the infrastructure of apartheid and occupation.

Any entity that refuses to participate in the oppression of Palestinians is by definition not a target of BDS. Neither is any person in their individual capacity as an Israeli subject to BDS. 

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Nevertheless, the smear of antisemitism has been increasingly levied against BDS and its proponents in the United States and Britain.

Jeremy Corbyn, former leader of Britain’s Labour Party, has been an outspoken supporter of the Palestinian cause throughout his career, including through partial support for BDS. As a result, he and his allies in the party have been plagued by unsubstantiated accusations of antisemitism (based entirely on this support) since his 2015 ascendancy to party leadership.

These accusations from conservative forces within the Labour party escalated into an all-out witch hunt, resulting in a purge of hundreds of party members.

Corbyn himself was eventually suspended from the party and forced to apologize, even after it was revealed that his own party intentionally sabotaged his campaign.

New Labour leader Keir Starmer and his allies have made it their mission to eradicate any trace of respect for Palestinian rights and dignity from the party, creating purge lists of Labour MPs and members. 

This strategy has been so successful in Britain that pro-Israel counterparts in the US are now seeking to replicate it.

In the Fall of 2020, New York City DSA was lambasted by the Israel lobby and friends when the chapter’s city council questionnaire was leaked, asking candidates if they would pledge not to travel to Israel.

Following this, 50 Democrats in the New York State Assembly signed a statement suggesting DSA should be banned from its halls. And just last month, Queens DSA became the subject of a city council candidate forum after Soma Syed, a candidate who sought DSA’s endorsement, walked back her previous, favorable position on BDS, dragged DSA through the mud, and pledged her loyalty to capitalism.

Another frequent critic of DSA and self-proclaimed “pro-Israel progressive” Ritchie Torres has called BDS “an insidious form of antisemitism,” arguing “the act of singling out Israel as BDS has done is the definition of discrimination.”

Andrew Yang, who is now running for mayor of New York City, even went so far as to compare participants in BDS with Nazis refusing to patronize Jewish establishments in the lead up to the Holocaust.

Perhaps the best way to understand this phenomenon is as a marriage of convenience between the institutional forces within center-left parties opposed to socialists in their ranks and an Israel lobby concerned about growing momentum for BDS.

To this end, the framing of BDS as a front for left antisemitism accomplishes a dual function: first, it serves to castigate the anti-Zionist left in the ostensibly progressive language of nondiscrimination, and second, it serves to delegitimize the preeminent form of nonviolent Palestinian resistance by conflating anti-Zionism with antisemitism. 

In order to criticize the left in ostensibly progressive terms, the antisemitism smear employs a perverse form of what Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò dubs deference epistemology: the discursive practice of “listening to the most marginalized” or deferring to those in the proverbial room whose lived experiences are most at issue.

In the United States, Palestinians suffering under occupation tend not to be in the room, and advocates for BDS are generally engaging in political solidarity.

By redefining all solidarity action with Palestine as antisemitism, BDS critics demand ultimate deference to Jews directly experiencing antisemitism, cropping both Palestinians experiencing violent apartheid and their advocates out of the conversation.

Excluded by this institutionalized mandate for deference, oppressed Palestinians are prevented from defining the scope and source of their own harm; instead, that power is awarded to their oppressors. This allows critics from within nominally left-leaning institutions to oppose solidarity with the Palestinian liberation movement, and indeed to oppose leftist political currents more broadly, all while maintaining their claims on a progressive identity and brand.

Wielding the language of identitarian politics against the left is not unique to proponents of Israel. In their 2016 presidential primary, Hillary Clinton infamously derided the Bernie Sanders campaign with the quip “if we broke up the banks tomorrow, would that end racism?” ( And Hillary lost the Presidency because Sanders followers refused to vote for her)

We can look to just a few months ago, when Democrat mayors were renaming streets and painting Black Lives Matter on roads while simultaneously increasing the budgets and military equipment of their police forces to see how the cooptation of identity and branding works to quell real movements for change.

Accordingly, it should come as no surprise that this strategy of specious progressivism forms the backbone of messaging against the anti-Zionist left. 

This framing aims to conflate anti-Zionism and antisemitism, and does so with some success. Political institutions in the United States and Britain have been systematically adopting formal definitions of antisemitism that are vague enough to include targeted criticism of the state of Israel—most notably the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, a definition so controversial that its original author now opposes its formal use.

By adopting these expansive definitions and then referring to them as evidence for the claim that BDS is antisemitic, institutional actors tautologically identify BDS as the left expression of a cross-ideological wave of antisemitism.

This is of course absurd: neo-Nazis such as Richard Spencer and his ilk are both openly antisemitic and support the Zionist project, going so far as to use it as inspiration for their imagined American ethnostate.

This association, which is common enough to be stated openly, is a much more damning one than any between anti-Zionism and antisemitism. Additionally, there are many anti-Zionist Jews who support Palestinian liberation as well as BDS.

Nevertheless, these contradictions are routinely ignored, and the false association between anti-Zionism and antisemitism is assumed to be self-evident. 

Critically, the success of this rhetorical strategy, which we might call “Woke Zionism”, depends on the irrelevance of material Palestinian suffering. If proponents of BDS are antisemites operating based on anti-Jewish animus, the substantive basis of their claim—namely the inhumanity of the occupation—can be ignored as pretext for a covert bigotry.

Under the logic of Woke Zionism, the American BDS advocate is merely appropriating alleged harms suffered by Palestinians as a guise for covert bigotry.

As such, Palestinians, their experiences, and their harms endured are quickly evacuated from the discourse. There is a marked shift in subject: the material harms of occupation are supplanted by the supposed harms a national boycott inflicts on non-nationals of the same religion thousands of miles away.

This becomes an increasingly attractive rhetorical move for supporters of the status quo as conditions on the ground in Palestine worsen and the indignities of the Zionist project become harder to dismiss or justify on their face.

While the particular rhetorical tactic of Woke Zionism is a relatively modern innovation, the erasure of Palestinian existence, both physically and discursively, is one of Zionism’s fundamental features. “

“A land without a people for a people without a land” is more than a foundational myth for the Israeli state; it is the aspirational horizon that Zionism, as a settler-colonial project and as an ideology, is constantly operating towards.

It is to this end that more crass Zionists will insist, as a rebuttal to the charge of oppression, that Palestine does not exist and the Palestinians are an invented people.

The physical Zionist project operates to concentrate Palestinians living in historic Palestine into Bantustans, clearing the way for the expansion of the Israeli state.

To the same extent, its ideological commitment is to the de-subjectification of the Palestinians, scouring clean the discursive terrain to allow for Zionist logic to take root. Palestinian suffering must always be folded back into the frame of Jewish subjectivity.

For this reason, it is critical that we respond by reaffirming the subjectivity of Palestinians living under apartheid. Pro-Israel critics have clearly decided to attack BDS with specious claims of antisemitism because they are not comfortable defending apartheid directly.

Likewise, conservative forces within center-left institutions see an opportunity to scold the left in its own increasingly popular lexicon. As socialists, and as supporters of the Palestinian cause, we must reject this entire discursive frame. 

In DSA, we have already seen our own candidates and elected officials smeared along these lines, and we should only expect this to escalate as our movement builds power. Democrat and so-called progressive candidates for elected office will most often default to “security for Israel” and “the two-state solution” as their “safe space”: their uncontroversial, unexamined, and unquestioned position on Israel/Palestine.

If progressives are serious about challenging the status quo, their default position should not be to defend the status quo, which in this case happens to be an apartheid regime. If they feel the need to default, it should be to their values: equality for all and respect for human rights.

In any other context, this would be uncontroversial, and upholding these values consistently is all that the BDS movement asks.

So from those who claim to be progressives who support Israel, we’d like to know: which of the three objectives of the BDS Movement do you so vehemently oppose? Is it the demand to end Israel’s illegal occupation and colonization of the West Bank, Gaza, and the Syrian Golan Heights, and to dismantle the apartheid wall?

Do you oppose recognizing the fundamental rights and full equality of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel? Or is it the right of return for Palestinian refugees who were forced from their homes as stipulated in UN resolution 194 that you can’t abide?

Like it or not, these are the only demands of the BDS Movement. Claiming that the movement represents anything other than demands for equality, freedom, and justice for Palestinians is simply false.

Our job as socialists is not to be defensive and apologetic when faced with baseless accusations meant to derail our advocacy, but to be proactive in promoting the virtue of our cause. We stand with Palestine because the Israeli apartheid regime is an ongoing and pervasive affront to law, justice, and fundamental principles of human dignity.

Anyone seeking to smear us, our candidates, and our organizations with ugly accusations of antisemitism should be made to answer why they do not.

The original version of this article ran in Partisan on March 30, 2021 under the title “Reclaiming the Palestinian Subject.” 

Partisan is a forum for communist discussion created by members from four caucuses in the Democratic Socialists of America: the Communist Caucus, the Red Caucus in Portland, Oregon, Emerge in New York City, New York, and Red Star in San Francisco, California. 

Ridiculous: Palestinian people have never been “Invented People”

Note: Re-edit of “Are Palestinians an “Invented People”? And how Israel was invented? 2012″

I received a developed feedback from a reader (a Jew and Israelite), probably from a collection of posts on Palestine, and I decided to publish it, with minor editing.
“The name “Palestine” has been around for a long time. “Peleset” is transliterated from Egyptian hieroglyphics “P-l-s-t”. Palestine is found in numerous Egyptian documents referring to a neighboring people or land starting from around 1150 BC.
The “Philistine” States existed on the coastal plain between Jaffa and south to Gaza. At a short period Philistine co-existed with the faked ancient Kingdoms of Judah, located above this coastal  line. This supposed Kingdom of Israel never contemplated or was able to reach the seashore.
In the 5th Century BC, Herodotus wrote of a “district of Syria, called Palestine”.
About a century later, Aristotle described the Dead Sea in Meteorology and located it in Palestine:
“Again if, as is fabled, there is a lake in Palestine, such that if you bind a man or beast and throw it in it, it floats and does not sink, this would bear out what we have said. They say that this lake is so bitter and salty that no fish live in it and that if you soak clothes in it and shake them it cleans them.”
This writer frequently engaged in debates with Zionists (a bad habit I need to kick out!) who often tend to seize on small ideas, such as “When did the Palestinians ever have their own country?”
In order to win such an argument I would have to reduce myself to their terms, and produce a map that shows a country and borders: “Palestinian Kingdom, 1587- 1702”, and then let them present their map of ancient Israel and Judah, and then get into a wrestling match, and the winner would claim the territory of their own. 
Or perhaps the issue would be better settled the way the New York colony won Staten Island from New Jersey: with a boat race.
If the goal is exclusivity, as it always has been with Zionism, then the only criterion in achieving it is winning, whether a war or a race.
 
There was no 17th century Palestinian Kingdom, or 18th or 19th. This region was dominated by the Ottoman empire. Various provinces in a larger Ottoman empire, ruled from Istanbul (previously known as Constantinople, and before that, Byzantium), much as there are today various American States governed from Washington.
Allied victory over Germany and Turkey in World War I and the League of Nations granted “mandate ”power to France and England to control the region. France over Syria and Lebanon and Mosul: France relinquished more land to Turkey than current land in Syria. England had mandated power over Palestine, Jordan and middle and southern Iraq.
Objectors will cry “Foul!”, as Americans are governed by Americans in Washington, whereas “Arabs” were governed by Turks, a different ethnic group with a different language. As if the USA is one ethnic group.
Fine. So I modify my comparison to the Spanish speaking Puerto Ricans governed from Washington, or the French speaking Quebecois governed from Ottawa. Neither the Puerto Ricans nor the French Canadians are being ethnically cleansed.
 
Prior to Zionism, there was no need for the Palestine to focus on Palestinian identity. They were citizens of the Ottoman Empire. When, during the mandate years the British made contradictory promises to the Zionists and the “Arabs” in the Arabian Peninsula.
The “Arabs” and the Palestinians expected, and had the right to expect, eventual self-rule, it was certainly not a foregone conclusion that there was going to be an independent Palestine.
Palestinians might well have been a part of a larger South Syria, or of a Greater Syria, and happily so.
They certainly would not have been ethnically cleansed under those circumstances.
The Palestinians have always had their own distinct “Arabic” dialect, and various other cultural attributes that set them apart from other regional Arabic cultures, but that was never particularly relevant.
Many various subcultures existed within the Ottoman Empire, and continued to exist within British and French mandates. Interestingly, during the years of the Yishuv, the pre-Israeli-statehood, Zionist community in Palestine and Jewish-Zionist settlers called themselves “Palestinians”.
In this way, the Zionists ironically affirmed it Palestinian identity that many of them wish now to deny.
In 1948, amid the massacres and military forced mass expulsions of the “nakba” (Arabic for catastrophe, the name commonly given to the events of 1948), as the State of “Israel” was recognized by the UN by a majority of a single vote, all of the Jews who had been calling themselves Palestinians became “Israelis”.
When the dust cleared after expelling the Palestinians from their towns and villages, the Palestinians  who remained within the green line became “Arab Israelis”, like it or not.
The designation “Palestinian” was more actively embraced beginning in 1964, with the forming of the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization), this out of necessity, because a people who had been ethnically cleansed, who were in a state of shock and humiliation, and who were desperate to recover and regain what was rightfully theirs, found it useful to rally around symbols representing themselves: A name and a flag are two of the basics.
Golda Meir famously said in 1969, during her tenure as Israeli prime minister;
“There were no such thing as Palestinians. When was there an independent Palestinian people with a Palestinian State? It was either southern Syria before the First World War, and then it was a Palestine including Jordan. It was not as though there was a Palestinian people in Palestine considering itself as a Palestinian people and we came and threw them out and took their country away from them. They did not exist.”
I would not have been able to show Golda a map that says “Kingdom of Palestine” or “Grand Duchy of Palestine” or any of dozens of designations that might have satisfied her. But this I can say for sure: There were human beings on that land, and they had been there all their lives, and their families for many generations before them down through the centuries.
And many Palestinians were actually descended from ancient Jews who later converted to Christianity and Islam, while Golda’s and the Ashkenazi Jews, were converting to Judaism in the Khazar Kingdom on the shores of the Caspian Sea.
 
Golda actually knew and the information, which has become available to the general public in the decades since, that: We Jews did come and throw them out and take their country away from them. It’s been thoroughly documented. It wasn’t when she made this statement in 1969.  
Golda was able to get away with it then.
But since an entire generation of Jewish-Israeli scholars, (and many others, but we Jews need to hear it from Jews first!) has carefully documented the ethnic cleansing of Palestine and presented the history that she personally knew, but actively hid and denied.
Golda and her colleagues concealed the truth from Jewish supporters of Israel all over the world, including my family, who taught me lies quite innocently, because they didn’t know any better.
 
In 1984 a book written by Joan Peters, entitled From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict over Palestine, was released to the world. The book claimed that the Palestinians were not resident in Palestine long-term, but were recent arrivals, having come to take advantage of economic opportunities in Palestine which were largely the result of Zionist Jewish settlement.
What a perfect way for us Zionist Jews to massage ourselves (I was one at the time!) and drive a wedge between ourselves and the growing awareness about Palestine in the world around us! So it really was a “land without people for a people without a land”?  And all those “Arabs” were immigrants!
And how ungrateful that the Palestinians hate us after all the opportunity we gave them! A wave of related claims surfaced among the Zionist community. An essay by Mark Twain describing his touring of a sparsely populated 19th century Palestine, was offered up into the mix of “Palestinian-denier” evidence.
Twain, whose writing was full of humorous and ironic opposition to human bullshit, was no doubt rolling in his grave over this. And claims were often heard that prominent Palestinians, from Edward Said to Yassir Arafat, were “not really Palestinian”.
 
Enter another book, in 2003, The Case for Israel by Alan Dershowitz. After 19 intervening years, Dershowitz borrowed heavily from same, Joan Peters’ book, giving the same statistics and making the same conclusions.
 
Enter yet another book, but this one very different: In Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History, published in 2005, Norman G. Finkelstein exposed Peters’s statistics as fraudulent, and with that revelation both her argument and that of Dershowitz, collapsed.
However, the damage is done among those who wish to ignore Finkelstein, and there are many! “Isn’t Finkelstein a holocaust denier?”, I’ve been asked. I respond: “No. His parents were holocaust survivors.”
Zionists have long used a familiar tactic against those who challenge their propaganda: Defamation. And so the lies persist.
This writer still has people putting From Time Immemorial in his face to prove their argument. They refuse to be embarrassed.
At the time of this writing (January 2012), the American public is being treated to an entertainment we get every four years: the run up to our presidential election. As the Democratic candidate will obviously be the incumbent, we are witnessing the Republican candidates claw at each other in their striving to win support for the Republican nomination.
Enter a billionaire Jewish American Zionist named Sheldon Adelson, casino magnate and the 8th wealthiest American alive, who along with his wife has donated $10 million to candidate Newt Gingrich. Adelson, whose holdings include the Israeli newspaper Israel HaYom (Israel Today) made some interesting statements while in Israel at an Israel Media Watch event in 2010:
“I am not Israeli. The uniform that I wore in the military, unfortunately, was not an Israeli uniform. It was an American uniform, although my wife was in the IDF and one of my daughters was in the IDF … our two little boys, one of whom will be bar mitzvahed tomorrow, hopefully he’ll come back– his hobby is shooting – and he’ll come back and be a sniper for the IDF.
 And:
“All we (the Adelson family) care about is being good Zionists, being good citizens of Israel, because even though I am not Israeli born, Israel is in my heart.
Does it sound like this guy has “divided loyalties?” Maybe like the Jewish/Evangelicals neocons in the Bush administration who got us to fight a proxy war for Israel in Iraq? No- you can’t say that! It would be “anti-Semitic”!
So is it any wonder that Newt Gingrich has made the utterly incorrect and profoundly idiotic statement that he has made about the Palestinians being an “invented” people? It has nothing to do with any education on the subject of the history, or any awareness of the current situation. 
It’s simply a question of wanting to win, and of reiterating nonsense he has heard in conversations with a very rich and generous supporter, nonsense which jives with the general impressions that Americans get from our Zionist-controlled media, and that no doubt circulate in Gingrich’s Republican circles.
Does anyone think Gingrich has read Finkelstein? I doubt it! And if he did, would he turn down $10 million in favor of truth and justice?
 
The people native to the land of Palestine were not “invented” as Rich Siegel said, and foolishly repeated by Newt Gingrich . It is indeed unfortunate that someone who is supposedly educated, and who has achieved position in life where he is poised to potentially become the next president of the United States, is putting forth such foolishness

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