Can We Get Israel's BDS Issue Straight Once and For All?

As an American Jew who supports Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) in response to Israel’s violence against and persecution of Palestinians, I was appalled to see a list of congress-people, especially Democrats, against the BDS movement. I understand their reluctance to go public on the issue – even those who actually agree with BDS - because they take large sums of money from individuals and lobbying organizations seeking their support of Israel, right or wrong.

However, the time has come to make clear to politicians and regular people alike that the BDS movement is aimed at stopping the Israeli policy of inhumane treatment of Palestinians. It is not an anti-Semitic point of view.  People like me support BDS as a movement because we are against Israeli policy – not against Jews or the right of a Jewish state to exist. 

Why, I wonder, is that distinction so difficult to grasp and elucidate? I’d like to have a dollar for every time I’ve been tagged an anti-Semite by friends and family because I criticize Israel’s policy – not Jews.

As a human being sickened by Israel’s apartheid policies, and yes, that’s what they are, policies that translate into violence against an entire people, I ask this: What if another country – say Germany – was doing to --say Jews – what Israel is doing to Palestinians? Would people shout terms like “anti-Semite” at those decrying cruelties against an ethnic group?

Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., headlined by many in the media as a Muslim freshman in the House of Representatives, (emphasis mine) was pilloried when she spoke out as so many others have done, and was immediately tagged an “anti-Semite.”  I would argue that the attacks on her are not so much about anti-Semitism as they are about anti-Muslim sentiment.

Omar, as you will recall, used the term “Benjamins” in a tweet that set Twitter on fire. Let’s be clear: Ben Franklin’s picture appears on the US $100 bill. “Benjamins” was a term coined to refer to money, especially large amounts of it, as in “I’m broke! Can you lend me a Benjamin?” It was coopted to refer to Jews with money and has now become a trope to convey anti-Semitism. I wonder if Ilhan Omar even knew that.

In response to the accusations against Omar, Rashida Tlaib, the other Muslim woman elected to the House of Representatives, said, “This is the U.S. where boycotting is a right and part of our historical fight for freedom and equality.” The ACLU agrees. That’s why they are fighting against laws, already in place in many states, mandating state contractors to sign a pledge stating they don’t participate in boycotts of Israel or the settlements.

In Texas, several people including a school speech pathologist and a teacher have already lost their jobs.  It all smacks of McCarthyism, and violates the Constitution and its guarantee of the First Amendment right to free speech.

Let’s be very clear: As the Palestinian BDS National Committee puts it, The BDS movement is a global campaign promoting various forms of boycott against Israel until it meets what the campaign describes as “Israel’s “obligation under international law,” defined as withdrawal from the occupied territories, removal of the separation barrier in the West Bank, full equality for Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel, and “respecting, protecting, and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties.” Nothing anti-Semitic about it.

Protests, conferences, and conversations in support of the campaign have taken place in numerous countries while support for the BDS movement grows. This movement is not run by anti-Semites, but by people of conscience representing all faiths, including a global coalition of 40 Jewish groups from 15 countries that has issued a statement condemning attempts to stifle criticism of Israel with false accusations of anti-Semitism.

In its 2017-18 “Report Freedom,” Amnesty International cited numerous violations of human rights currently being implemented in Israel. Among them are illegal air, land and sea blockades of the Gaza Strip, now in its 11th year, humanitarian crises resulting from reduced access to electricity, reductions in clean water and sanitation, diminished health services and more, making Gaza “unlivable” according to the United Nations.

In the West Bank, Palestinians are restricted in their movements by military checkpoints and firing zones and live in fear of collective punishment. The report documents arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture, unlawful killings, excessive use of force, violence against women and girls, limitations on association and assembly, denial of refugees and asylum seekers, and punishment of conscientious objectors.

America stood by far too long as genocides occurred in countries all over the world, despite post-Holocaust pledges of “Never Again!” None of those events led to labeling meant to shame those who spoke out against such passivity.  Yet when it comes to Israel, the anti-Semitism charge is immediately invoked. It is the refuge of scoundrels. Among those scoundrels are politicians eager to accept money from those who remain willfully blind to Israeli atrocities.

It’s time that politicians and ordinary people alike stand up to Israel’s policy of ethnic cleansing. It’s time to recognize what happens when people like Ilhan Omar, and me, speak out. It’s time to support BDS.

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Elayne Clift writes about women, health, politics, and social issues from Saxtons River, Vt. 



Troubling Times in the Bush, and in Media's Back Rooms

Everyone now recognizes Cecil, the majestic lion who roamed the Zimbabwean savannah until he was lured into danger by an American hunter who paid megabucks to kill him. Cecil’s death set the Internet on fire and garnered huge amounts of mainstream media attention.  The Doris Day Animal League demanded “Justice for Cecil” and the Empire State building put his regal face on its urban façade as if he were part of a guerrilla marketing campaign. A bill introduced in Congress named after Cecil aimed to extend U.S. import/export restrictions on animal trophies that are threatened or endangered.

All the attention about poached, murdered African animals is good and necessary; what’s happening to these magnificent creatures is horrifying and reprehensible. Anyone lucky enough to have visited Africa and seen its animals knows how small our own place on the planet can seem.

Still, as attention paid to Cecil grew, I wondered why it was that everyone knew a lion’s name and face while virtually no one knew the name or face of a Palestinian baby burnt alive by an Israeli zealot or of a young woman stabbed to death because she attended Gay Pride in Jerusalem. (The baby’s name was Ali Dawabshe. Shira Banki was the sixteen year old murdered in Jerusalem). 

Writer Roxane Gay captured this troubling situation in The New York Times. “I’m personally going to start wearing a lion costume when I leave my house so if I get shot people will care,” she wrote, while acknowledging the brutality of Cecil’s death. But, she said, while “some people also mourn the deaths of Sandra Bland and Samuel DuBose, this mourning doesn’t seem to carry the same emotional tenor. A late-night television host did not cry on camera for human lives that have been lost. … He did, however, cry for a lion and that’s worth thinking about.”

When Cecil’s picture lit up the Empire State Building, I thought, why not Sandra Bland or one of the other 678 Black men and women killed in the last seven months at the hands of law enforcement? Why not that Israeli baby or teenager? Why not one of Boka Haram’s captured girls or one of the women suffering unfathomably at the hands of ISIS?

Then MSNBC announced that it was cutting several journalists: Ed Schultz, Alex Wagner, and four hosts of The Cycle, liberals all. (Joy Reid had already been demoted to “national correspondent”). 

That’s when I began to feel like I was watching a drama that was bizarrely like Out of Africa meets Citizen Kane. (Kane, you will recall, began a career in the publishing world because he was idealistic but he gradually became ruthless in his pursuit of power.)

What, I wondered – if not profit and market share - was going on with mainstream media (which now includes cable news)? Why were TV talk shows and news programs barely covering heartbreaking stories of people in distress (immigrants, refugees, captives, disaster victims) and instead cuing up footage of Cecil interspersed with true crimes stories, weather disasters, and replays of a piece of MH 370? Why were they bringing back bad boy Brian Williams and giving ho-hum Chuck Todd more talk time in place of journalists who are unafraid to do their homework or ask tough questions? In short, why are media moguls allowing Fox News to set the nation’s media agenda?

Out of curiosity I did some research. Google turned up a number of stories about females suffering in the grip of ISIS but with one exception none was more recent than 2014. (Been there, done that?) And none of them delved into the personal stories of the enslaved women. At best, there was a cursory quote or two, but nothing like the heartrending testimonials to be found via alternative sources.  The New York Post did run a story in 2015; it was about “Why are girls flocking to ISIS?” (Borderline sensationalism?)

Meanwhile, Cecil still roams on in our imaginations, kept alive by pundits, reporters and news readers whose editors and producers want to avoid tackling tragedies with a human face because their sponsors know that all the world loves a lion.

Another movie, The Wizard of Oz, also has a lion.  He longs for courage while his friend the Scarecrow wants a brain and the Tin Woodman desires a heart.

It seems to me that we are all in need of courage, intelligence, and a heart in our daily news cycle. Journalists need the courage to ask hard questions without fear of reprisal, and the people who own their outlets and employ them must exhibit intelligent judgment and a sense of priority and balance as they determine the day’s top stories. Working together, they must draw upon what we must hope remains on the road to power, and that is compassion.

As for news consumers, we need to care as much about human beings as we do about animals like Cecil. Only when we demand a more courageous and compassionate media will we have brought home our collective, truly important trophy.