The Israeli conference that shouldn’t have been

 

 

Click photo to download. Caption: Roseanne Barr (left) with "Aliyah Annotated" columnist Eliana Rudee at the "Stop the Boycott" conference in Jerusalem. Credit: Courtesy Eliana Rudee.

By Eliana Rudee/JNS.org

A few days after returning to Israel from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference, I attended another conference in Jerusalem. But unlike the AIPAC conference, which supports the U.S.-Israel relationship, this conference shouldn’t have happened. 

Yedioth Ahronoth and Ynet hosted the “Stop the Boycott” conference, featuring many of Israel’s leading politicians and thinkers, along with Roseanne Barr—yes, I did get a selfie with her!—who was brought to Israel and hosted by StandWithUs. 

Don’t get me wrong—it was a great conference educating, analyzing, and strategizing about how to counter the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. But it shouldn’t have happened because BDS shouldn’t occur in the first place. 

As a journalist, I feel like I have had a good amount of exposure to people who have diverse experiences in Israel. In these past eight months, I’ve spoken to West Bank Muslims, Arab Christians, Nazareth-born Muslims, Ethiopian Jews, and even Syrians being treated in Israeli hospitals (to name a few). I’ve heard from people who love Israel as well as people who first and foremost criticize Israel, arguing that there are too many areas that need to be democratized and made just. In fact, I’ve met with representatives of the Palestinian government who are against BDS and instead believe that economic collaboration could pave the way to peace. But there are three words I have never heard any of these people use when it comes to Israel, and those three words are boycott, divest, and sanction

Although I’ve only been in Israel as a citizen for eight months now, my experience with the three nasty letters B, D, and S goes back to the summer of 2012. 

Back in Seattle, I had discussions with fellow college students, a Jewish girl and an Arab girl, who were pro-BDS. These University of Washington students were leaders at the “Middle East Peace Camp” where I volunteered as a senior counselor for a fleeting summer. The two girls told me that BDS worked in South Africa when there was apartheid there, so it should work in Israel as well. 

I thought it was strange that they said this, as Israel is clearly not apartheid South Africa, but I didn’t have the understanding to tell them that this reason was complete and utter BDS without the D. 

Living here, I have come to believe even further Khaled Abu Toameh’s famous quote that BDS supporters are trying to be “more Palestinian than the Palestinians.”

I have found and I have seen with my own eyes that their thought process is a great hypocrisy. They argued that Israel is also punishing innocent civilians when the military strikes terrorist cells, but the same logic can be applied to boycotting Israel. 

I wish I could have gone back to tell them that Israel is simply not apartheid South Africa. In South Africa, everyone agreed there was segregation. Here, the international community sees an Israel where even Arabs in eastern Jerusalem are given the opportunity for full Israeli citizenship (with even fewer fiscal and military responsibilities than other Israelis). We don’t have separate buses and water fountains for separate races like they did. There are Arabs serving in our parliament, our justice system, and our top schools. The comparison is seriously lacking. 

I wish I could have told them that being pro-BDS is not about working towards a Palestinian state or towards a good life, but instead about hating on Israel. 

I would have told them that about a month ago, I visited the site of the new SodaStream factory. There, I was told about how pressure from the BDS movement resulted in the closing of a West Bank factory. The BDS movement wanted the Israeli company out of the “occupied land.” And with that, the factory was shut down, and with it, almost 700 Palestinian jobs were gone. Many of the Palestinian workers there had spouses who also lost their jobs. And these were extremely high-paying jobs by Palestinian standards. BDS is not helping Palestinians and the Palestinians at large do not support BDS. Many want to work with Israel if it means building their own economy and maintaining high-paying jobs. 

This particular factory closing was mentioned at the “Stop the Boycott” conference, which had various plenaries, workshops, and panels all relating to BDS. 

Musician Idan Raichel even came to a panel about how artists face BDS as they play or act other countries. I was particularly excited to meet Raichel, whose songs helped (and continue to help) me learn Hebrew. The only disappointing part of the conference is that he didn’t sing for us afterwards. Perhaps the conference organizers will see this and have him perform next year. But on second thought, it would be even better if there is no need for a next time—in which case I’ll need to buy a ticket to one of Raichel’s shows, which I will gladly do if it means “buycotting” Israel in an effort against BDS. 

Eliana Rudee is a fellow with the Haym Salomon Center and the author of the “Aliyah Annotated” column for JNS.org. She is a graduate of Scripps College, where she studied international relations and Jewish studies. Her bylines have been featured in USA Today, Forbes, and The Hill. Follow her column on JNS.org.

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Posted on March 30, 2016 and filed under Aliyah Annotated, Opinion, Israel.