By Bradley Burston
JERUSALEM – If I were a person who wanted to see the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land continue for as long as possible, I would be beside myself with relish at the thought of the current Boycott,Divestment,Sanctions (BDS) campaign
at the school I love, the University of California, Berkeley.
A word of background. At the time when I was an undergraduate at Berkeley, to talk with Palestinian peace activists and to back a two-state solution was to risk arrest in Israel.
I strongly believed then that a Palestinian state should be established on the West Bank and Gaza land which Israel captured in the 1967 Six Day War, and that the capital of that independent nation should be in East Jerusalem.
I still do. And because when I left Berkeley, I went to Israel and have lived here ever since, I take heart in the polls which for years have shown that a majority of Israelis want to see an eventual two-state solution to their long conflict with their Palestinian neighbors.
This is something else I have learned about living in this place: You get to know acts of political narcissism when they see them. You get to know when people, in the guise of putting themselves on the line, are merely putting themselves in the spotlight. And you get to know double standards like nobody else.
That is why, when right-wing organizations like CAMERA and NGO Monitor pretend to fight bias by attacking only bias against Israel, their efforts are a dismal, baldly disingenuous failure – except, that is, in soliciting donations and publicity.
And that is why hardliners can only adore the current campaign to pass a Berkeley student senate resolution entitled “A bill in support of UC DIVESTMENT FROM WAR CRIMES.”
The Associated Students of the University of California [ASUC] senate bill, which could come up for a decisive vote as early as April 14, plays directly into the hands of those who want to see the occupation go on and on.
Simplistic as it is pretentious, the bill is easy to dismiss even by those who agree with its thrust, but who also are aware of the morass of moral issues involved.
The measure’s own preamble puts this better than its critics could, explicitly acknowledging the “complexity of international relations in all cases, including the Middle East,” and going on to recognize “the inability of a body such as the ASUC to adjudicate matters of international law and human rights law, or to take sides on final status issues on wars and occupations throughout the world.”
That out of the way, the bill instructs us in the wrongful acts of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which, in its view, consist in their entirety of Israeli acts of collective punishment and violence against Palestinian civilians.
This is followed by a declaration which sets new standards for dissembling:
RESOLVED, that this ASUC resolution not be interpreted as the taking of sides in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, but instead as a principled expression of support for universal human rights and equality.
It is not the universal issue of war crimes against civilians in the Holy Land that is of interest to the campaigners. If it were, the bill would at least make mention of the conclusion of the UN’s Goldstone report , which states [Paragraph 1950] that Palestinian rocket and mortar launches into southern Israel “constitute a deliberate attack against the civilian population,” and that “These actions would constitute war crimes and may amount to crimes against humanity.”
Or, in their zeal to support universal rights and equality, the bill’s authors might have made mention of Paragraph 1955 of the Goldstone findings, referring to the Palestinian government which rules Gaza:
The Mission finds that security services under the control of the Gaza authorities carried out extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests, detentions and ill-treatment of people, in particular political opponents, which constitute serious violations of the human rights to life, to liberty and security of the person, to freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, to be protected against arbitrary arrest and detention, to a fair and impartial legal proceeding; and to freedom of opinion and expression, including freedom to hold opinions without interference.”
From the standpoint of advancing the causes of peace and justice for Palestinians, the Berkeley bill is worse than useless. It feeds the far-right portrayal of proponents of an independent Palestine as being unremitting opponents of anything and anyone Israeli.
Moreover, it suggests that the best way to get a pointed message to Israel and to Washington, is to sell some pension fund shares in American companies which make military aircraft engines – and which will continue to do so, and sell them to Israel, regardless of the vote.
If the ASUC’s goal is to effect positive change in Israel-Palestine, the ways to do so are many and well worth supporting. The best place to start, here and in the Bay Area, is to back the many organizations actively working for a two-state solution and Jewish-Arab reconciliation.
The proof is in the performance. From Britain to Berkeley to Toronto, the only actual consequence of the BDS movement has been to dramatically inflate the importance of its proponents in their own eyes.
Think about it. If you wanted to do something direct and concrete to protest the killing of civilians and journalists by a U.S. Army Apache helicopter gunship in Baghdad, you could take direct effective action in a number of ways. You could organize and hold a demonstration. You can contact public officials directly. You can take your case to the media, and do community organizing.
Alternatively, the next time you fly home, you could politically spin your wheels by boycotting Boeing, which made the helicopter. You’ll be doing the government a favor, getting yourself off its back.
Should you decide to go this route, which, the path both of least resistance and of least likely good, it’ll be easy enough for you to remember. Boeing refers to its division which manufactures the Apache, by the initials BDS.
Next week: Part 2 – How to know when a ‘Mideast Expert’ is lying