(October 21, 2013 / JNS)
I recently received an email from a friend of mine who lives in Brighton, a town on England’s south coast. He told me about the success of a local organization, Sussex Friends of Israel, in countering the angry demonstrations organized by pro-Palestinian activists outside the store owned by Sodastream, an Israeli soft drinks company that is based in the West Bank.
Sodastream employs about 700 Palestinian workers and also maintains an onsite mosque. But none of that concerns these Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) propagandists, who would be quite happy for hundreds of Palestinian families to be left without an income for the greater “good” of destroying the Jewish state.
In defending the right of consumers to purchase Sodastream’s products free of intimidation, Sussex Friends of Israel describes, correctly, the BDS strategy as one grounded upon bigotry. And at a time when, according to a new European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights poll, three-quarters of European Jews sense growing anti-Semitism, it’s heartening to see supporters of Israel successfully engage weekend shoppers in an English seaside town with complimentary bagels and a calm explanation of why Israel isn’t the rogue state depicted by the BDSers.
It’s also further evidence that the BDS movement is running out of steam. Its ambition to become the 21st-century incarnation of the movement against apartheid in South Africa has signally failed. And while it’s true that many Jews and Israelis have been scarred by the experience of being targeted by BDS activists—I think especially of those Israeli academics who have suffered from boycotts solely because of their nationality—the movement has not managed to penetrate the mainstream of politics.
In a rational world, you’d think that the BDSers would have finally thrown in the towel. But the reverse is true. In fact, they’ve just added a new voice to their nefarious campaign in the form of a Jewish lawyer who describes herself as a Zionist and who thinks that quarantining the Jewish state is compatible with Zionism.
The woman in question is Kathleen Peratis, a founder of J Street, the leftist group that poses as a pro-Israel organization. In 2011, though, even J Street felt obliged to distance itself from Peratis, after she visited Gaza and met with Hamas leaders, showing off rather pathetically in a piece for The Nation that she’d ticked off these terrorist murderers over their contempt for women’s rights.
Now, still calling herself a Zionist, Peratis has come out in favor of BDS. Writing on the Open Zion blog, Peratis gushes that BDS is a “non-violent tool.” From the comfort of her New York law office, Peratis declares, “[N]ot buying Sodastream or Gush Etzion wine is a start,” displaying her utter indifference towards the effect that boycotting these enterprises would have on the Palestinians who work for them.
“BDS just makes Israelis feel that the world is against them, engenders a siege mentality and is therefore counterproductive,” Peratis observes. “But what has been gained by such deference? For how long do we have carrots only and no sticks?”
So here we have a self-described Zionist arguing that she wants to take a stick to the Jewish state. In doing so, Peratis has not only embraced a strategy that was developed by 21st-century anti-Zionists whose explicit aim is to destroy Israel, but also by more classical, 20th-century anti-Semites, from the German Nazis to the Arab League, who presented boycotts of Jews as a first step towards destroying the global Jewish power of their demented fantasies. My guess is that Peratis knows very little of history, because if she did, and if she had any humility, she would recognize that this poisonous tactic cannot be separated from the poisonous worldview that grounds it.
Peratis is not the only American Jew to have jumped into bed with the anti-Zionists. Some readers will have heard of, for example, MJ Rosenberg, a blogger who trades on the fact that he once worked for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and Richard Silverstein, another blogger who fuses a kind of hippie Judaism with full-throated defenses of the Iranian regime.
It leads them in farcical directions. Rosenberg, the man who popularized the anti-Semitic term “Israel-Firster,” has been complaining of late about anti-Semitism in the pro-Palestinian movement, while Silverstein has gone in the other direction, berating, on his twitter feed, a woman from Gaza for not being sufficiently supportive of Hamas!
For those of us watching this public spectacle of neurosis masking as political analysis, it’s all weirdly amusing. But nothing is so exquisitely ludicrous as Peratis’s view that you can be a Zionist and support an anti-Semitic movement at the same time.
Ben Cohen is the Shillman Analyst for JNS.org. His writings on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics have been published in Commentary, the New York Post, Ha’aretz, Jewish Ideas Daily and many other publications.