August 8, 2016 | The Hill

How US states can promote Israeli-Palestinian peace

Co-written by Asaf Romirowsky

The growing number of laws and resolutions approved by US states, designed to block anti-Israel boycotts, divestment and sanctions efforts have sent shock waves through many organizations concerned with the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Take the case of the Oakland-based Jewish Voice for Peace, whose executive director, Rebecca Vilkomerson, is an advocate of the BDS campaign. While the desire to persuade the Israeli government to change its policies is legitimate, she and the BDS movement make the demise of the two-state solution ever more likely.

BDS is one of the leading obstacles to negotiations, designed to turn the conflict into a global battle. It is a movement tinged with anti-Semitism. Senator Bernie Sanders, the major presidential candidate most critical of Israeli policy, said in oft-overlooked comment on MSNBC on March 21, when asked if he shares the view of Hillary Clinton that there is a link between BDS and anti-Semitism: “I think there is some of that, absolutely.”

Jewish Voice for Peace is extreme. The Anti-Defamation League calls JVP “the largest and most influential Jewish anti-Zionist group” in the US. Anti-Zionism is understood to mean the rejection of a Jewish state.

Ms. Vilkomerson fails to acknowledge some of the key statements from BDS leaders about the campaign’s true goal. Omar Bargouti, a co-founder of BDS and the leading face of the movement, celebrates the so-called obituary of the peace process: “Good riddance! The two-state solution for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is finally dead,” he said, and he goes on to advocate “the one-state solution.”

His definition of a one-state solution is a country where “Jews will be a minority” and be absorbed into a new Arab state.

The Israel-based watchdog group NGO Monitor correctly characterizes the overarching goal of JVP: to weaken US support for Israel and divide the US Jewish community.

Vilkomerson and JVP take advantage of the “big tent” philosophy that prevails in the American Jewish community, where they look to create a gap between Judaism and Zionism, i.e., we are good Jews but are against the tough “Zionist policies” which offends our understanding of Judaism.

The problem with the “big tent” philosophy is that it has no red lines. It holds that everyone is welcome, even at the expense of Jewish identity and the survival of the Jewish state.

The vast majority of Israelis who live and breathe in Israel, even those in far-left circles, believe that Israel has the right to exist as a state in some capacity, whether within the 1949 or the post-1967 borders. You can understand why Israelis do not fully understand what is happening in the Diaspora with regard to these matters, as they have never faced the challenge of debating Israel’s right to exist in the environment we find on North American college campuses, in Western Europe and in many Jewish left-wing circles outside Israel.

This is not to say that diversity of opinion and academic freedom are not vital. But there needs to be a differentiation between criticism and delegitimation of the right to exist. Most Jewish BDS supporters, in their naiveté, have no grasp of how they fuel the virulently anti-Israel groups that use this message to validate their agendas. Even more problematic are those groups within the Jewish community that believe dialogue via this kind of discussion will further peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

As the US presidential election approaches, there is a need to make a stronger case for Israel, as this has becoming increasingly more difficult when Jews adopt a Palestinian agenda that detracts from the real issue behind the conflict: mutual recognition. And above all, mainstream Jewish groups have a responsibility to their stakeholders to establish clear lines that they will uphold while affording their constituents a wide range of opinions that fall within the realm of legitimate debate and public discourse. However, being a “big tent” community doesn’t mean killing yourself to be in it.

New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order, signed on June 5, which punishes companies that engage in BDS activity that conduct business with NYS, is a healthy response to BDS. In short, anti-BDS laws and regulations show real promise to influence a change in Abbas’s effort to internationalize the conflict strategy and his refusal to negotiate with Israel.

An important next step would be for European countries to follow the lead of France and the United Kingdom. France’s 2013 anti-discrimination Lellouche law has been successfully applied to BDS groups seeking to damage Israel’s economy. Former British Prime Minister David Cameron helped enact penalties against city councils that promote BDS.

BDS is a dead end street for those seeking a two-state solution. The challenge for the next US president will be to de-internationalize the conflict and let Palestinians and Israelis take control over the negotiating process.

Benjamin Weinthal is a Berlin-based fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Asaf Romirowsky is the executive director of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East and a Fellow at the Middle East Forum. Follow him on Twitter @BenWeinthal


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