by Cantor Michael Davis
Israel has withdrawn once again from peace talks with the Palestinians. Where, then, are we supposed to put our hopes for a peaceful and just resolution in Israel-Palestine? I have chosen to embrace the Palestinian call for boycott campaigns against Israel. Until Israel grants its Palestinian citizens rights equal to those of its Jewish citizens, addresses the legitimate grievances of the Palestinian refugees and, most urgently, ends the Occupation of the West Bank, this is our best option. A broad coalition of Palestinian civil society has called for our support of Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). Supporting campaigns against Israeli companies, institutions and people who are complicit in the Occupation and discrimination against Palestinians is a way to affirm our commitment to justice and equality.
My position shouldn’t surprise anyone, least of all, my fellow Jewish leaders. As Jews, we’re called to heed the oppressed and to remember, as the Bible and our prayerbooks reiterate time and time again, the moral imperative that “we were once slaves in Egypt.”
As a Jew whose grandparents died in the Holocaust, I find the rhetoric of the Israeli government and certain American organizations trying to taint BDS with charges of anti-Semitism laughable. According to their spokespeople, to stand for equality in Israel-Palestine is to hate Jews. Recently, state legislatures have been considering bills opposing BDS and tarring its supporters as anti-Semitism. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The leaders of the BDS movement speak with a commitment to fairness and human dignity that stirs my own sense of justice. I believe their position, if voiced in any other context, would resonate deeply with Jews worldwide. It is an honorable call. Palestinian proponents of BDS have repeatedly distanced themselves from all racism including anti-Semitism. They have spoken clearly and consistently on the subject. They hold themselves to the high standards we should expect from social justice activists; and if they didn’t, we would demand it of them. Still, the charge of anti-Semitism is in the air, even though no evidence is provided. The reason for that is simple: no evidence exists. The goal of those who throw around words like “anti-Semitism” is to silence Palestinians and those who support their call for justice.
There is real anti-Semitism in the world, so let’s not throw the phrase around carelessly. I know. My grandparents were killed by the Nazis. I am named after their young son — my Uncle Michael — who was murdered alongside his mother, my Grandmother Rosa at the Birkenau death machine in Auschwitz. As a child in England, my synagogue was once attacked as we stood in prayer. The sanctity of our silent prayers that Saturday night was shattered by stones cracking the windows. So my response to those who would smear supporters of BDS with the anti-Semitism charge is: show your evidence or withdraw the charge.
BDS is the best hope for a desperately needed change in Israel’s policies towards its Palestinian population. It is an appropriate non-violent civil response to systemic abuse. Last week, on the West Bank, a 6 year-old Palestinian boy was detained by a squad of Israeli soldiers in full combat gear on his way to school. The Israeli authorities routinely demolishes Palestinian homes simply because they were built by Palestinians, including within Israel. At the same time, the State of Israel continues to build illegal settlements on Palestinian land. These are real and ongoing abuses. We — Jews, Christians, Muslims, and all people of the world — must respond. Raising the specter of “anti-Semitism” does nothing to advance the cause of peace for Israel and Palestine.