Saturday, April 21, 2012

In BDS, golden opportunity

Eran Shayshon A curious phenomenon has been emerging recently among Israel’s anti-Zionist adversaries. Their ability to tactically collaborate with liberals, both Zionist and non-Zionist, has been greatly compromised. Noticeable cracks are surfacing and can no longer be shoved under the rug. Their true colors have been revealed. Israel’s anti-Zionist adversaries are considered peripheral almost wherever they operate. Yet, their willingness to adopt an “open-tent approach,” overlooking ideological differences, to promote tactical collaboration with those critical of Israeli policies, even self-identified Zionists, has been the secret to their success. This open-tent approach, coupled with the deadlock in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has resulted in an anti-Israel zeitgeist and a gradual erosion of support for Israel — particularly within liberal circles. Indeed, many liberals have come to perceive Israel as a country that can do no right, and only rarely give Israel the benefit of the doubt. While intending to express opposition to Israeli policies, many of them, often unwittingly, engage alongside anti-Zionists in acts of delegitimization such as the boycott movement. But this is changing. A growing frustration among Israel’s adversaries is now apparent, as they find it increasingly difficult to engage with liberal Israeli and Jewish groups. Some examples: The co-founder of anti-Zionist Electronic Intifada Ali Abunimah’s referred to the Israeli Peace Now movement as a “right-wing Zionist racist group”; the public frustration of Omar Barghouti, a prominent leader in the anti-Israel boycott movement, stemming from his inability to engage liberal Zionist organizations; and the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights’ harsh criticism of B’Tselem for participating in J Street’s conference, a platform that featured former Israeli prime minister Olmert as a speaker. The most intriguing dynamic is that some of the individuals most quoted by Israel’s anti-Zionist adversaries are now mounting a backlash against them. Most prominent are Norman Finkelstein and Noam Chomsky’s open denunciations of the boycott movement. It seems that their positions on Israel do not extend to the annihilation of the country, and the now-overt knowledge of the boycott movement’s aim to do so has led them to rebel. The frustration of Israel’s adversaries is understandable. Progressive, non-establishment groups and individuals that are critical of Israeli policies often authentically embody exactly what Israel’s anti-Zionist adversaries falsely claim to be: voices motivated by the values of human rights and international law. This authenticity can add much-needed credibility to the campaigns of anti-Zionist movements. The inversion of many politically liberal, grassroots, and fringe groups against Israel’s anti-Zionist adversaries is a result of increased awareness of the latter’s true colors. Despite the sometimes hardline nature of Jewish deliberations about “who should be considered pro-Israel” and “how broad the pro-Israel tent should be,” this emerging phenomenon has created a space for diverse, ad-hoc partnerships to emerge between critics of Israeli policies and Jewish establishments. A recent key manifestation is in the successful effort to vote down of a Park Slope Food Coop initiative to boycott Israeli products. However, Israel’s adversaries will not give up and are conducting an intensive and unprecedented charm offensive, aimed at liberals and the Jewish community. They are doing their utmost to get exposure in the Jewish and mainstream media outlets and to create pseudo-academic conferences with anti-Israel agendas. To fight against them, Israel and its allies must “institutionalize” the new cracks in the delegitimizers’ networks by cementing our newly formed relationships, while continuing to build key strategic alliances, cultivate our network, and bridge the gaps within our ranks to fight for our common goal. The AJC Access 20/20 Weekend, in partnership with the Reut Institute, is designed to promote this strategy. Taking place in Washington, D.C. in May, the event will bring together Jewish leaders of the future, Israeli government officials and a diverse range of individuals from all over the world and from across the political spectrum, who are committed to defending Israel’s right to exist. In the fight against the assault on Israel’s legitimacy, the diversity of the Jewish people is an asset. We must embrace our differences and continue to focus on standing together against the common threat, using this opportunity to shrink the reach of Israel’s delegitimizers back to its proportionate size – almost negligible. * * * Eran Shayshon is the Director of National Security & Global Affairs at the Reut Institute. Reut is partnering with the American Jewish Committee for its annual ACCESS 20/20 Conference, which aims to empower young Jewish leaders and build bridges for key strategic alliances against the assault on Israel’s legitimacy.

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