Anti-BDS summit raised millions to bully the movement for justice
Sheldon Adelson’s Mistake
by Rebecca Vilkomerson
Originally published in The Hill, 6/9/2015
This weekend, Sheldon Adelson hosted a summit in Las Vegas - intended to be secret - to talk about how to fight the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Meanwhile, in Israel, President Reuven Rivlin this week called academic boycott a “strategic threat of the highest degree” and the country’s leading newspaper, Yediot Ahronot, announced it is “mobilizing for war” against BDS.
Ten years almost to the day after the call for BDS was issued by Palestinian civil society, this diverse, grassroots and global movement for Palestinian freedom and rights has become successful enough to nearly panic those dedicated to maintaining the political status quo in Israel and the occupied territories.
They are fighting a battle against history, and one that they cannot win. Millions of dollars and more polished propaganda will not be enough to suppress BDS and the growing movement for freedom and equality for all peoples in Israel and Palestine. As long as the state of Israel continues to demolish Palestinian homes, uproot villages, imprison children, build illegal settlements on Palestinian land, and maintain a cruel and illegal blockade that has decimated the lives of people in Gaza, more and more people of conscience will support the BDS movement.
In just the last year, BDS proponents in the U.S. have marked several major victories, including Lauryn Hill canceling a concert in Tel Aviv, Israel; the Presbyterian Church (USA) divesting from three companies profiting from the occupation; and at least a dozen university campuses passing divestment resolutions. The Gaza War last year, with its terrible toll on civilians, and the recent election of the most right-wing and overtly racist government in Israeli history, have convinced more people that they must act where governments have failed to end Israel’s denial of Palestinian freedom and equal rights.
In stark contrast to the rightward trend in Israel, in the last year the Black Lives Matter movement has galvanized a new generation of Americans to fight racial injustice; student groups are seeing some success using divestment as a tool in the fight against climate change; and immigrant rights groups are fighting companies using similar tactics and equipment on our own borders and along Israel’s wall. A powerful multiracial, multiethnic coalition, led in large part by young Palestinian-Americans, is emerging that insists upon holding corporations and countries accountable for human rights violations and inequality, regardless of whether the injustice is happening in the U.S. or Israel.
Contrary to most portrayals, many Jewish Americans, especially younger ones, are active supporters of the BDS movement. Those of us with strong ties to Israel _ like me _ are drawn to support BDS not just because its core principle of justice reflects our own, but precisely because we’d like to see Israel transform into the place we always thought it was. In that, we join a small but valiant number of Israelis who put their bodies on the line in an increasingly hostile society to support the nonviolent movement in Palestine. We do so in the hopes that it will lead to a brighter future for Israelis and Palestinians alike.
The alternative offered to this vibrant, creative, inclusive movement _ whose aims are freedom and equality _ are right-wing, anti-democratic forces attempting to bully and bribe their way into maintaining U.S. policies toward Israel. Our military, economic and diplomatic support of Israel is a linchpin of the Israeli ability to continue its current policies, so it is hardly surprising that those committed to Israel maintaining dominance and control are mobilizing to oppose a fundamental shift in the U.S. approach.
What is surprising are the tactics they are willing to engage in _ from trying to intimidate and libel student activists, to using accusations of anti-Semitism to keep criticisms of Israel at bay. These morally reprehensible strategies lead to cynicism about real anti-Semitism and create an atmosphere of bullying and intimidation _ especially toward young Muslim and Arab activists who already face Islamophobia _ that can have real consequences on peoples’ careers and livelihoods.
Even more disturbing is that major Jewish organizations like the Jewish Federation of North America, Hillel and the Anti-Defamation League, which profess to support democracy and civil rights, are joining extremists like Sheldon Adelson _ who makes no secret of his disdain for democracy and contempt for the Palestinian people _ to fight a nonviolent grassroots movement. These Jewish institutions should be putting their energy into their missions: serving Jewish students, fighting bigotry and discrimination, and supporting local Jewish communities, not spending their time and resources fighting activism for equal rights and an end to nearly half a century of Israeli occupation.
Vilkomerson is the executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace.