I have complicated feelings about Israel and I don’t really feel like I am under any compulsion to come up with one single all-embracing and coherent way of looking at or treating the country. I have never come out and endorsed the BDS movement, but neither have I ever said one word against them.

Perhaps it’s because I count so many Jews among my closest friends that I agonize over issues like this. After all, I watch my friends agonize over Israel’s politics and settler policies all the time, and it’s probably not surprising that I share their ambivalence.

Under certain circumstances, I might be willing to make arguments against the BDS movement, or, more likely, certain elements of it. But that doesn’t mean that I can approve of seeing the movement smeared on the front page of the New York Times.

I think this topic is prone to oversimplification, and the complexity of the issues is what makes me cautious about making confident declarative statements. You can’t really build a movement based on the idea that the Israeli government is committing gross human rights violations without attracting anti-Semites. But whether Jew-haters are part of the conversation or not actually has nothing to do with what Israel’s government does or does not do, or whether or not people should try to force that government to change course.

You can’t take anti-Semites out of the equation, but you can avoid granting them agency that they don’t actually have. Every anti-Semite could be raptured off the planet tomorrow, and that wouldn’t make young progressive Jewish college students one bit more comfortable with the right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu and Naftali Bennett.

I’m not Jewish; I am white protestant-raised man. The closest I’ve come to understanding what progressive Jews are going through in America is when I was in Paris at the time we executed Timothy McVeigh. I was treated with hostility just because I was an American without any regard for whether I actually supported the federal death penalty or the policies of Bill Clinton. These types of things can be uncomfortable, certainly, but it’s ultimately the fact that many Jewish-Americans don’t support Israel’s policies that causes this discomfort.

This is why you see statements like this from Jewish students:

Voting for divestiture, she said, is “pointing fingers, it’s aggressive, it’s misinformed, it’s unjust, and — most important for this campus — it’s totally one-sided.”

This student has family in Israel and she feels compelled to argue against divestment, but she doesn’t have any positive case to make. Why should people invest in Israel? She doesn’t really say, unless it’s to avoid being judgmental or getting accused of aggression. It’s a totally defensive posture, and that’s because she knows that frontally defending Israel would violate her values. So, she follows the well-worn path of comparing Israel to its neighbors and accusing critics of having selective outrage. It’s a fair point as far as it goes, but no one is investing in Syria anyway, so this kind of argument doesn’t do any actual work. It doesn’t convince anyone of anything. And it often devolves into the accusation that the reason people are focusing on Israel instead of, say, Saudi Arabia, is because they hate Jews.

In some cases, yes, but that doesn’t really change a single important fact about Israel’s policies or the divestment movement.

In any case, a better way to look at this issue is to go find the people in this country who actually support both Israel’s recent policies and the logical implications of those policies. Most of these people will not be Jews.

That’s an important thing to keep in mind.

Once you have that idea front and center in your mind, it is no longer a matter of people of color ganging up on Jews because of the way the Palestinians are treated. It’s really a disagreement about what to do about Israel’s policies because there’s a very big consensus that something needs to change.

And that gets me to the last point I want to make which is that it’s too easy to assign evil intent to Israeli politicians because, at this point, it’s just not possible for people who want to do the right thing to win elections there and get the power to make the momentous decisions that need to be made. When you ask a politician to do something impossible, you’re going to be disappointed, but the next step isn’t to demonize the politician. We went through this with Southern Democrats during Jim Crow. Some were true implacable foes, and some were foes only for so long as they needed to be. I know the right never tires off rehashing Jimmy Carter’s shameful 1970 race for governor of Georgia. Well, it worked, and that meant Carter was able to move Georgia forward on race, win the White House, and negotiate the Camp David Accords.

So, if people think BDS is the best way to prepare the ground, I’m willing to give them credit for good intentions and not stand in their way. They shouldn’t be denigrated.

Personally, I’m not signing on for this movement, but that’s mainly because I haven’t made my mind up about how I feel, let alone about the best strategies to pursue.

And the NYT’s piece is an unhelpful hit job.

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