August 03, 2011

No, it’s actually not all about you

There’s a rather neat encapsulation of the Israeli peace camp’s attitude towards Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) on display at the Daily Kos website (Daily Kos is a sort-of leftish US site which has recently smeared Philip Weiss as an antisemite). In this article, a stalwart member of that vanishing tribe of Zionist peace-folk is given free rein to complain about BDS. The problem with BDS, or rather his problem with BDS is that it fails to give him and other Israelis an adequately heroic role, a central enough place in any liberation of Palestine. Instead Israelis are reduced to objects, no longer all-important subjects.

Some may consider this to be a pleasant side-benefit of BDS, a demonstration of how Palestinian-led it actually is. Indeed the article could be read as a critique of the failure of that Israeli peace movement, its slide into irrelevance. There’s the glimmer of understanding that no-one bothers much with them anymore because they have proven so useless. We can find perhaps a certain self-mockery in the depiction of their dreams:

“If only the left could organize more successfully! If we had just a bit more electoral power, a bit more leverage, then a government would come into power and start the transition - undoubtedly lengthy - into a real democracy, side by side with Palestinians.”

Yet any nascent self-awareness is drowned by the sludge of self-indulgence. This feeling of being a victim increasingly appears to be the default setting, the patina through which Israelis of a certain age address the world. It is a self-indulgence the author doesn’t need to confront precisely because he is allowed to express and emote it so freely among his civilised Western peers, thereby feeding their own feelings of helpless superiority.

His lack of interest in understanding the Palestinian point of view makes it paradoxically hard not to imagine what a Palestinian in Gaza or Qalqilya, or even Dublin, would make of this. Of someone declaring that the problem with BDS is… well, it’s that I don’t feel wanted, I’m not getting enough attention.

Essentially what drowns the self-understanding is the underlying colonial attitude, the absolute failure to understand that those enlightened sections of the colonial elite that exist only do have a supplementary role to play – something the author bemoans as unacceptable, unfitting for people of his status. But as those in the Boycott from Within movement understand, as South African white involvement in the anti-apartheid movement demonstrated, such a supplementary role can be important . It is probably no coincidence that this article appears now, in the aftermath of the anti-boycott law in Israel. Or in other words, at precisely the time when Israeli support for boycott does become politically significant, the author is seeking to undermine this support, saying it’s not something for Israelis to get involved in, not really.

Instead, just as Western charities talk of ‘partnership’ with those natives somewhat lest benighted, somewhat more pliable than the rest of the lumpenmass in the third world, so the author’s vision remains that of partnership. Partnership with the nice Palestinians, the grateful enlightened ones who do not threaten his wielding of the whip hand in this partnership. Understandably he feels betrayed that Palestinians - for some strange reasons of their own – are no longer playing his self-esteem shell games.

So maybe there’s some understanding after all. Palestine will not be liberated to the strains of some Israeli Zionist peace song. The question then becomes what role these Israelis now have. Do they become like the author – just another obstacle, or can they do what the rest of the world has managed to do – as evinced by the success of BDS - and get over themselves.

P.S. This piece could be read as a companion piece to Gabriel’s brief and very informative analysis of the tent city movement in Israel. It’s not directly related and the two posts were thought up separately, but in some ways this is a commentary on his post – especially his fourth point. The comment being that if the tent-city protests are to develop into anything and fundamentally address the problems of Israel, Israelis need to get over their myopia about Palestinians.


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