Hillary Clinton has the answer to BDS
I’ve been thinking for years about the best way to respond to the threat of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. I’ve read pretty much everything on the topic and brainstormed every possible idea, but I’ve never heard anything that really made sense to me.
Until I heard from Hillary Clinton.
Ironically, Clinton wasn’t trying to provide any answers; she was merely asking for assistance. In a letter this week to a small group of Jewish leaders, including mega Democratic donor Haim Saban, that was made public, she asks for advice on how to fight the BDS movement, which she says is seeking to “isolate and delegitimize Israel.”
“BDS seeks to punish Israel and dictate how the Israelis and Palestinians should resolve the core issues of their conflict. This is not the path to peace,” Clinton wrote. “From Congress and state legislatures to boardrooms and classrooms, we need to engage all people of good faith, regardless of their political persuasion or their views on policy specifics, in explaining why the BDS campaign is counterproductive to the pursuit of peace and harmful to Israelis and Palestinians alike.”
On the surface, this sounds like typical political talk designed to win points with major Israel donors, and maybe it is. Clinton is a politician, after all, and she’s focused like a hawk on becoming the leader of the free world in 2017.
But politics shmolitics—a good idea is a good idea, and focusing on the moral pursuit of peace is a darn good idea.
The genius of the BDS campaign is that its proponents have grabbed the moral high ground. They have crafted an image of fighting for the rights of powerless Palestinians. Inevitably, in this scenario Israel becomes the oppressor worthy of boycotting, just as the apartheid regime that once ruled South Africa was worthy of boycotting.
Any response to BDS that doesn’t address this moral issue is guaranteed to fail, especially when Israel’s image is already under siege throughout much of the world.
That is the main problem with so many of the ideas I have seen as responses to BDS, and I include my own. They beat around the bush. They’re either too defensive or too mushy or too aggressive. “Demonizing the demonizers” sounds like a good strategy if you want to give red meat to angry right-wing donors, but it doesn’t address the real problem.
It’s not about demonizing BDS or defending Israel. It’s about providing calm, clear, credible information that will topple BDS from its throne of high morality.
This is where Hillary Clinton comes in.
Her powerful moral insight couched inside her letter to Saban is that BDS is bad for the Palestinians. That’s right—it’s bad for the very people BDS claims to represent.
It’s bad for the Palestinians, and it’s bad for peace. When Clinton says BDS is “not the path to peace,” she is driving a stake through the heart of the movement.
When she writes that “BDS seeks to punish Israel and dictate how the Israelis and Palestinians should resolve the core issues of their conflict,” she is being fair, reasonable and moral.
Clinton also writes that “Israel is a vibrant democracy in a region dominated by autocracy, and it faces existential threats to its survival.”
Those are strong words that provide important context. In terms of fighting BDS, however, they are nothing without her previous moral assertion that BDS is bad for the Palestinians and bad for peace.
If I were Saban, I would respond to her plea for advice as follows:
“Thank you, Hillary, for your request for my assistance regarding the BDS movement, which, as you say, seeks to isolate and delegitimize Israel. I have to point out, however, that you have turned the tables on me. Your letter already lays the groundwork for a brilliant response to BDS with this one simple, moral insight: BDS is bad for the Palestinians, bad for peace and bad for the two-state solution.
“Everything we do in response to BDS—from campuses to Congress to the Israeli Knesset to the White House—should capture this messaging: BDS does not bring us closer to peace. In fact, it does the very opposite. Hopefully, with time and effort, we will develop an alternative movement that will attract all people of good faith, including Israelis and Palestinians, to sit down and do the hard work of engaging and wrestling with this complicated conflict.
“And when we do that, I hope we will announce it in the Rose Garden together, and that it will have your name on it.”
David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.