The following Resolution was not voted on at the Convention as it came up near the end of the Plenary Session on Resolutions. It was referred to next month’s meeting of the National Executive Committee. It was approved at the NEC by a close vote.
After Fifty Years of Occupation, A Social Democratic/Democratic Zionist Case Critically Endorsing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement:
A Resolution Essay (Submitted by Sheldon Ranz & David Hacker)
Historical Preamble to the Resolution
Social Democrats USA has been unique on the Left in explicitly defending the existence and security of the State of Israel. In fact, under the former leadership, and in front groups such as the Youth Committee for Peace in the Middle East, the emphasis was on attacking the anti-Israel positions of other Left organizations. What criticisms were made of the Israeli government, even under the pro-West Bank settlement positions of various Likud governments were minor, along with a general distrust that a Palestinian leadership would arise that would seek a real peace with Israel. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was viewed as an explicitly anti-Israel terrorist organization. In essence, SDUSA was aligned with the right-wing of the Israeli Labor Party. Only in September 1993, after the Israeli Labor government of Yitzhak Rabin signed the Oslo Agreement with the PLO, did the SD change its position on the PLO. However, the National Office began its slow disintegration after 1994; thus any evolution in the old leadership’s position after Oslo broke down in 2000 and criticisms of subsequent Israeli governments are unknown.
After the National Office closed (without informing the membership of the SD) and the subsequent reorganization of the SD by the remaining active members and one surviving Local, we still felt that it was necessary in our new Statement of Principles to have a plank stating unequivocally “WE DEFEND THE RIGHT OF ISRAEL TO EXIST.” In some versions, the title read, “WE DEFEND THE EXISTENCE OF ISRAEL AS A JEWISH STATE.” The more detailed version of this specific Principle that appears in the so-called “SD Manifesto” explained why we believe that we had to write such a plank and the historic background behind it:
“The fact that we even have to make such a declaration, in our statement of principles, about an independent nation that is a member of the United Nations, is a result of the shameful view in a large percentage of the Left, worldwide that Israel is a product of ‘racism’ or ‘imperialism,’ and therefore illegitimate. We fervently disagree. It is a democratic society, though imperfect, especially in its treatment of Sephardic Jews from Arab countries and the native Arab or Palestinian citizens of Israel. Nevertheless, it should also be pointed out that Arabic is one of the two official languages of Israel and that Israeli Arabs, share the same democratic voting rights of all Israelis and also have representatives in the Israeli Knesset. Similar examples of democratic rights are denied to the citizens of most Arab countries in the Middle East. Israel’s (Labour) movement, the Histadrut, is led by Social Democrats, with the Red Flag of the international Socialist Movement proudly flying above its headquarters. During the first decades of its existence, Israel was founded and governed by a Social Democratic Labor Party. Then, what is the source of the hostility of much of the Left to Israel, in the last several decades, which goes so far as to question its very existence as a sovereign state, rather than focus its criticisms on the action of its government, as it does in the case of every other country in the world?
“A little historical background is necessary here. Up to the 1967 war, the Left was generally seen as pro-Israel and Israel, under the political domination of a socialist party, Mapai, in alignment with an even more Leftist Zionist party with Marxist-Leninist roots, Mapam, plus the Histadrut Labor Federation and the Kibbutz movement, was viewed as being on the Left and building a true democratic socialist society. The radical, independent pro-Soviet weekly newspaper, The National Guardian, was sympathetic to Israel from its first issue in 1948 till 1967. The CP-sponsored Anniversary Tours would advertise tours to the USSR, Eastern Europe and Israel. In 1948, the most pro-Israel candidate for President was Henry Wallace and the Progressive Party, which called for full de jure recognition of the State of Israel and an end to the arms embargo that the U.S. placed upon it, in its platform. In fact, the champion of Israel and the Zionist cause in the UN from 1947 to 1949 was the USSR and its Eastern European allies. A pre-state book that illustrates how anti-Cold War progressives in the immediate post war years were devoted to the cause of Jewish statehood and self-determination in Palestine was Behind The Silken Curtain: A Personal Account of Anglo-American Diplomacy in Palestine and The Middle East by Bartley C. Crum. Crum later became the attorney of the Hollywood 10. Even when publications like the National Guardian were critical of Israeli actions, such as in the 1956 Suez War, the critiques were written with sympathy for Israel’s dilemma of being surrounded by hostile Arab nations devoted to its destruction, and without any denouncing of Zionism, much less questioning the very existence of Israel as a Jewish state.
“Suddenly, groups like SNCC and the Youth Against War & Fascism attacked Israel, after the 1967 Six Day War, in almost identical language as the racist right-wing National States Rights Party. They, and the Socialist Workers Party, the Guardian (which purged the original founders of the newspaper and drop the word “National” from its name), and most of the radical or socialist Left, did not merely criticize Israel’s action in the war, but went on to deny its legitimacy as a sovereign state. Zionism became a new epithet on the Left. The exceptions to this anti-Israel position on the left were the Socialist Party and the two Jewish publications that came out of the CPUSA, Jewish Currents and the Morgan Freiheit. Similar reaction occurred in Leftist groups and journals around the world that were outside the social democratic movement
“Did the breaking of relations with Israel of the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies, with the exception of Romania, help spark this anti-Israel sentiment on the Left? Certainly, from that time, to the Gorbachev period, the Soviet Union conducted a crude anti-Zionist propaganda campaign, that was actually pure anti-Semitism, in the state-run media. Israel’s occupation of Gaza and the West Bank after the 1967 has been cited, by its critics on the Left, for the hostility toward it. The international dimensions of this campaign became so strong that the United Nations General Assembly, on November 9, 1975, passed a resolution which was called ‘Zionism, a Form of Racism.’
“Thus, forgotten was the fact that from 1949 to June 1967, Jews were barred from the Old City of Jerusalem, including the holiest site in Judaism, the Western Wall. Now imagine how Catholics would feel if they were to forbidden to visit Vatican City and Moslems were banned from their sacred cities of Mecca and Medina? Also forgotten were the100,000 Jews living in the Arab world, many for 1,000 years, who were forced to flee after the establishment of Israel in 1948. When Egypt occupied Gaza from 1949 -1967 and Jordan, East Jerusalem and the West Bank, during the same period, there were no calls from anywhere for a Palestinian state to be created in that area. Where were the criticisms of those occupations? In fact, from the late 1950s to the 1967 Six Day War, the call in the Arab world was Pan Arabism, the unification of all the Arab states into one central country. That is why Egypt under Gamal Abdal Nasser was called the United Arab Republic. His plan was for Egypt to be the center of a united Arabia. It was only after 1967 that Palestinian nationalism arose and replaced the cause of Pan-Arabism.
“Accordingly, we are unconditional advocates of Israel’s right to exist, and that our support does not depend on its being “nice” in order to deserve our defense. But that doesn’t mean that we are never uncritical of its governmental policies. We oppose the settlements policy of the right-wing Likud government. We support Israeli democratic ideals and those who work for them. Whenever those ideals are compromised, we will vigorously protest because we are pro-Israel. Sometimes, being pro-Israel means being critical of the policies of its government. Rather our slogan is Israel is here to stay and also Israel must be saved. But at times, we could add, Israel must be saved from itself, if we believe that some governmental policy or action that it is engaged in would be detrimental to establishing a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, etc.”
Since that statement was written in 2008, the political situation, and the fate of democracy itself, has greatly deteriorated after 50 years of occupation of the Palestinians in the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza. Rather the slogan, Israel must be saved from itself, is becoming more and more the relevant cry for those of us on the Left who care for the survival and security of Israel. Palestinian citizens of Israel have had their rights to vote threatened and their Knesset members threatened with expulsion. There have also been calls in Israel’s parliament to drop Arabic as being one of the official languages of the nation. Freedom of the press and the right to dissent has been attacked by the Israeli government. Representatives of American Zionist organizations such as the New Israel Fund, who oppose the occupation, have had travel restrictions placed on them coming to Israel, as have Jews who merely support a limited boycott of goods that are produced in Israeli settlements on the West Bank.
The collapse of the Oslo Agreement in 2000 has led to more restrictions on the Palestinians who live under occupation, along with continued expansion of Jewish settlements, making it almost impossible to envision a viable Palestinian state, next to Israel, needed to achieve the goal of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. More and more, it is become clear the present right-wing Israeli government’s true aim is a Jewish-dominated one-state solution, without any national rights for the Palestinians.
Rather than fill up this Historic Preamble with pages giving the ugly details of the current situation, we are reprinting, as an appendix to the Resolution, an essay by Dr. Alon Ben-Meir entitled “Fifty Years of Immoral Occupation.” Dr. Ben-Meir is a professor and Senior Fellow in the Center for Global Affairs at NYU and Senior Fellow at the World Policy Institute. Dr. Ben-Meir is an expert on Middle East affairs specializing in international negotiations and conflict resolution, and was actively involved in the past two decades in various negotiations between Israel and its neighboring countries and Turkey. In addition, Dr. Ben-Meir has written two open letters, one to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, and the other to Palestinian Authority President Abbas, that give a balanced critique of each side’s activities and positions, the general gist of which should inform how Social Democrats USA views the conflict. The letters can be found at http://alonben-meir.com/writing/unfinished-six-day-war-open-letter-prime-minister-netanyahu/ and http://alonben-meir.com/writing/fifty-years-occupation-whats-next-open-letter-president-mahmoud-abbas/. His latest article is at http://alonben-meir.com/writing/gaza-disaster-making/
Dr. Ben-Meir doesn’t discuss in these essays what should be the policy of the United States or political organizations in light of the real facts on the ground. U.S. governmental calls for the Israeli government to stop building settlements in the West Bank has fallen mainly on deaf ears. And how serious could the Israeli government take these calls when there are no threats of cutting off economic and/or military aid to Israel? Rather, Israel defies the U.S. and the U.S. responds by raising military aid to Israel to record levels.
This has led Middle East analyst, such as Nathan Thrall in his new book The Only Language They Understand: Forcing Compromise in Israel and Palestine, to conclude that “the United States has consistently sheltered Israel from accountability for its policies in the West Bank by putting up a facade of opposition to settlements that in practice is a bulwark against more significant pressure to dismantle them.” Therefore only coercion by the United States, such as cutting economic and military aid to Israel and UN sanctions can pressure the Israeli government to change its intransigent position, or the citizens of Israel to elect a new government which would negotiate, in good faith with the Palestinians a successful and just two-state solution of the crisis.
This directly leads this organization that has always been a friend of Israel, though often times critical, equipped with a sharp sense of knowing which critiques of Israel and Zionism are constructive and which are merely code words for the expression of anti-Semitism, to consider the current Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. We have been skeptical and suspicious of the motives behind the organizers of BDS. We remember the Arab State’s economic boycott against Israel after the Jewish State’s creation in 1948. Is BDS actually a boycott against Jews, in general, when academic bodies vote to exclude at their conferences Israeli scholars, even if they have been openly critical of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank? Thus, we have been wary of engaging, much less, endorsing the BDS movement and have turned to other less coercive methods of pressuring Israel, including boycotting products that were made on Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Nevertheless, all similar efforts short of BDS have failed thus far, and the crisis in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is only getting worse, with no peaceful solution in sight. Therefore, we, as members of Social Democrats USA, as lifelong Democratic Zionists, sons of Holocaust resistors and survivors, urge Social Democrats USA to formally vote at this National Convention to critically support BDS from a Democratic Zionist, Social Democratic / Democratic Socialist standpoint. There is simply no alternative. In other words, we ask our fellow members & friends who would disagree with the SD giving critical support to BDS, what are the alternatives that other Comrades would support, in place of BDS, since nothing else has worked thus far to move the Israel government to agree to a just resolution to the crisis between Israel and Palestine?
While the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement started in 2005 with little media attention, it has now burst on the public scene to such an extent that attempts in Congress to criminalize advocacy of BDS now make front-page news. Over 170 Palestinian non-governmental groups formed the BDS National Committee to promote the boycott of Israel, divestment from Israel and international sanctions against Israel. Inspired by a similar campaign against apartheid South Africa, the now-global BDS movement calls for Israel to meet its obligations under international law by complying with these three demands: ending the occupation of surrounding Arab lands that began with the Six Day War of 1967; recognizing the fundamental rights of Israel’s Palestinian Arab citizens to full equality, and instituting and promoting a Palestinian Right of Return that allows Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and property in Israel in accordance with UN resolutions.
Increasing numbers of US student bodies have endorsed it; so have the Connecticut branch of the AFL-CIO and the United Electrical Workers Union. Two of Bernie Sanders’ delegates to the Democratic Party platform committee, John Abourezk and Cornel West, are outspoken advocates of BDS. Depending on how authorities choose to enforce anti-BDS laws, supporters of BDS would be subject to fines, jail time, or both. This is such a clear threat to civil liberties that one initial co-sponsor, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), withdrew her support after protests erupted.
The BDS movement, which is non-violent and recognizes Israel, has had slow but steady success in getting international corporations to divest from Israel, especially from the Occupied West Bank, where egregious violations of the human rights of the Palestinians occur daily. By contrast, a smaller, less organized tendency among those whose views fall within the dovish part of the Israeli spectrum to boycott only products made in West Bank settlements has not produced a single known success.
So, can Zionists & Social Democrats support BDS? That question needs to be answered first with another question – what kind of Zionists? From an institutional framework, there are two kinds of Zionism: State Zionism and Democratic Zionism. Democratic Zionism posits that Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people and the state of all its citizens, period. State Zionism is the doctrine that Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people and the state of all of its Jewish citizens who are to enjoy a wide range of privileges over its Gentile citizens. No State Zionist, by definition, would endorse the demands of BDS.
Looking at the three demands of BDS from a Democratic Zionist perspective results in the following:
Demand #1 calls for an end to the 1967 occupation, a long-standing goal of Israel’s Peace Now movement and Left Zionist opposition.
Demand #2 calls for Israel to live up to the words of its own Declaration of Independence:
“…THE STATE OF ISRAEL…will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants…it will ensure complete equality (emphasis mine) of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex…WE APPEAL…to the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve peace and participate in the upbuilding of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions…”
However, immediately after the State of Israel was born, its Arab inhabitants were subjected to military rule; their movements restricted; they were deemed a security risk. After Israel imposed this military rule, it rolled out other laws discriminating against its Arab, indeed, against all of its Gentile inhabitants. Today, there are around fifty such laws; one of the most odious is the law, enshrined by the Jewish National Fund, barring Gentiles from owning land. Looking at these laws as one package led the Black Lives Matter movement to characterize not just the occupied West Bank but Israel as a whole as an apartheid state. While this label is controversial, these laws clearly undermine democracy and promote bigotry.
Demand #3 appears on first glance to play into fears that it would force Israel to accept a flood of Palestinian refugees that would turn Israel’s Jewish majority into a minority. Not only is this highly unlikely, since Jews have never flooded Israel under the Jewish Law of Return, but the demand’s wording only deals with the principle of the Right of Return and does not concern itself with its actual implementation. More importantly, Israel owes recompense to its loyal Arab citizens who were victimized by false promises of equality, and this should include repatriation of some of their displaced relatives from the Palestinian Diaspora.
In summary, all three demands actually promote the spirit and substance of Democratic Zionism.
Why is BDS especially important right now? The current direction of Israel paints a bleak picture. In 2014, its government launched an unprovoked attack on the Gaza Strip. This resulted in the deaths of over 1800 Palestinian civilians, including 500 children. This was the first time in Israel’s history that it directly committed mass murder. Israel is now led by the most right-wing government in its history, featuring a Justice Minister, Ayelet Shaked, who has called for the extermination of the entire Palestinian people, and a Prime Minster, Benjamin Netanyahu, whose followers cheered the 1995 assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the Labor Party chief who helped negotiate the Oslo Agreements.
Although Netanyahu is the Prime Minister, Shaked is the true face of Israel. She will be so in the future if the BDS movement does not succeed. We believe that the most effective way to help this movement is to do so as Democratic Zionists. It is not necessary to be Jewish to support Democratic Zionism. American taxpayers should be appalled that billions of our tax dollars are being sent every year to Israel, whose government is saying and doing all these terrible things.
If the BDS movement fails, then this most right-wing government in Israeli history, joined with this most right-wing government in American history, will plunge the entire Middle East into a regional apocalypse. BDS is the last best hope for a genuine lasting peace with justice between Israel and Palestine.
Therefore, we resolve that Social Democrats USA not only oppose any restrictions on the right to advocate BDS, but join in its advocacy. We support pressuring our government to, in turn, pressure Israel, our largest foreign aid recipient, to adhere to its own founding documents by complying with the three demands of the BDS movement.
However, as defenders of the right of Israel to exist and militant opponents of any kind of anti-Semitism, either subtle or overt, Social Democrats USA reserves the right to engage critically with the BDS movement and disengage from supporting it, if we discover that the movement has been hijacked by extremists.
It is in that sense that we believe DSA’s resolution endorsing BDS at their recent national convention will alienate not only dovish Jewish organizations such as Americans for Peace Now, Partners for a Progressive Israel or J Street but also the majority of American Jews who feel an emotional attachment to Israel and who, historically, have comprised a critical constituency for any social justice movement. DSA’s resolution, mean-spirited and prosecutorial in tone, reads like a list of demands on Israel, and Jews in general, without addressing the understandable fears of American Jews. There is only a pro forma reference to anti-Semitism in the document. Similarly, it does not try to reach out to Gentiles on the democratic Left who both care about the survival and security of Israel and are strong critics of Israeli governmental policies. The resolution is ahistorical, oblivious to the fact that the merger agreement that created DSA explicitly committed the organization to support American military aid to Israel.
What the DSA resolution also lacks is the acknowledgment that just as there were bad actors and extremists in the anti-Vietnam War movement and the anti-South Africa apartheid movements, so there are among those who advocate BDS against Israel. The Chicago Dyke March Coalition expelled three Jewish lesbians from its event after they were seen marching with a Jewish Pride flag and interrogated by other marchers as to their views on Zionism. Members of the Coalition hurled anti-Semitic epithets, including the term ‘Zio’ coined by Klansman David Duke, at a transgender Jewish reporter for writing honestly about the March. Then, two noted Jewish anti-occupation groups, Jewish Voice for Peace and If Not Now, piled on, endorsing the expulsions, as did Alicia Garza, one of the leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement. SDUSA condemns the Chicago Dyke March for its actions and expresses great disappointment with the other aforementioned groups, who contradicted their own stated goals to oppose all forms of bigotry.
We firmly believe that it is our critical backing of the BDS movement, without ideological blinders, that can move it to be accepted by the mainstream American Jewish community, Democratic Zionists, and the democratic Left, in general.
Therefore, SDUSA view that the final resolution toward a two-state solution of Israel living in peace and harmony with a united sovereign state of Palestine that incorporates the Occupied Territories, while situating their respective capitals in Jerusalem, will only occur when they both have a commitment to a secular, democratic and social democratic future in their respective states.
It is in this spirit that we resolve that Social Democrats USA will assist in whatever way it can to promote BDS in a principled, anti-racist manner.
Fifty Years Of Immoral Occupation
By Dr. Alon Ben-Meir
Today, the Israeli occupation of the West Bank has reached the milestone of 50 years that will be recalled in shame.
Fifty years that have dehumanized both the occupier and the occupied; years of failing to muster the courage to right the wrong.
Fifty years that bred nothing but hatred and contempt for the other; years of illusions trying to deny the other the right to a home of their own.
Fifty years of yearning for peace only to be crushed time and again; years of submission to hopelessness and despair.
Fifty years of pessimism, paralysis, and abdication of responsibility; years of fearing to grasp the only solution but choosing instead to hold onto self-delusion.
Fifty years of disingenuous engagement with one another for the worthiest cause of peace; years of mutual victimization and finding comfort in self-pity and stolen dreams.
Fifty years of occupation that transcends the pale of human decency, subjecting the Palestinians to dejection and despair; years of colonization, home demolitions, terrifying night raids, uprooting of olive trees; years of usurping Palestinian land, robbing them of their dream to be independent and free.
Fifty years of inflicting pain and anguish that spared but a few; years of constant fear of administrative detention and incarceration, with thousands of political prisoners languishing in jails; years of being deprived of their basic rights, not knowing what tomorrow will bring; years of outcry of Palestinian youth, born and reared under occupation with no hope and no prospect of being unshackled from the chains of dishonor and despair.
For fifty years, Israel denied the Palestinians self-determination, justifying it in the name of national security—but nothing threatens its security more than the continuation of the occupation. Breaching the moral law and flouting the Palestinians’ human rights only nurtures another generation who live to resent, live to hate, and live to harm, for there is nothing left for them to lose.
For many Israelis, fifty years of occupation seems to pass as if it were normal, conditions to which they have simply become accustomed—never mind that moral erosion has infected the Israelis’ social fabric, defying the moral principle on which the state was erected.
They have been led astray by corrupted leaders with no courage of conviction to change direction, exempting themselves of the moral obligation to be just and fair. They have become indifferent and complacent, blind to the light, with little concern about where Israel will be in ten or fifteen years if they do not end the inhumane occupation.
Israel has spent fifty years preparing its youth for the next violent battle, injecting the poison of hatred into their veins, and viewing the Palestinians as objects that can be dispossessed without any sense of moral culpability.
To end the occupation, the Palestinians must do their share. Years of misguidance, division, and violent extremism, while remaining bent on destroying Israel and inciting the people to violence, was nothing but self-defeating.
Plagued by factionalism and blind rivalry, the Palestinians missed one opportunity after another to reach out for peace, choosing instead to fight hopelessly unwinnable wars, leaving them shattered yet still holding onto the illusion they can prevail.
Palestinian leaders have spent fifty years squandering resources for personal gains, guarding their power while riding on the backs of the poor and despondent. They have victimized one generation after another, robbing them of a promising future, alienating and leaving them languishing in the darkness of their despair, rather than defying the Israelis by building a free, independent, and flourishing country in which they can take pride.
When will this all end? How many more children must die for an elusive goal that defies reality and common sense? Those Israelis and Palestinians who believe in a shared destiny must never agree to cooperate with the corrupt leaders who are oblivious of how ominous the future will be if there is no change.
Israeli leaders must end the occupation and stop reveling in the lies of their own creation. It is time to recognize that the occupation is an albatross choking every Israeli ever so slowly, sapping their spirit, corrupting their soul, and stripping Israel and the Jews the world over of the values of what is right, what is just, and what is caring—the pillars of their very survival.
I call on every man and woman of conscience to bring the madness of this debilitating conflict to an end. No Israeli or Palestinian child should die in another violent conflict between the two sides that will change nothing but bring more suffering, despondency, bloodshed, and sorrow.
As the late President Kennedy said in the 1960s, “[the] people expect more from us than cries of indignation and attack. The times are too grave, the challenge too urgent, and the stakes too high…”
It is time for both sides to rise and demand that their leaders compromise and come to terms with a reality that neither can change, and seek a just and fair solution that must bring an end to the occupation.
If the Israelis and Palestinians continue to hate, resent, and kill each other, they will be consumed by the land they are fighting for. But if they learn to live in harmony and peace, together they will make the land exude milk and honey, ushering in a renaissance the likes of which has never been seen before.