The Jewish community has an obligation to push back on the arguments and actions made by the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement as it opposes Israel. The supporters of the BDS movement claim that Israel has denied Palestinians their fundamental rights and has refused to comply with international law. How should each of us answer these claims?
The arguments made by BDS supporters should be met with a few facts. First, the originator of the BDS movement is Omar Barghouti, a Palestinian who opposes “a Jewish state in any part of Palestine.” Anyone adopting the goals or activities of BDS must understand that the true goal of the founders of the movement is to eliminate Israel as a Jewish state.
Second, one of the supporters is an organization called Jewish Voice for Peace. It is also a supporter of the call for a single binational state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Such a call is the equivalent to the eventual elimination of Israel as a Jewish state. If the Palestinians are eventually a majority of residents in the area between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, and there is not a structure set up for there to be a Jewish state, there will be a vote to replace Jewish control of Israel with Arab control of Israel. In combining all of the residents of Israel, Gaza and the West Bank, the numbers are close to parity now.
Third, another goal of BDS is the return of Arabs to their homes in Israel. In some cases, Arabs were forced to leave by the Israelis during the 1948-49 War for Independence when five Arab countries attacked the new state of Israel. In other cases, Arabs left voluntarily based on the calls of the Arab nations to do so, expecting to return once the Arab armies won. The important fact to remember is that the Arabs attacked Israel in 1948. It is NOT the case that Israel simply forced all of the Arabs out for no reason, which is what the supporters of BDS want to argue.
Regarding the Palestinian state, that should have been decided in 1947 when the United Nations created a partition plan with one Jewish state and one Arab state between the Jordan and the Mediterranean. When the United Nations proposed the partition, Jewish leaders decided to accept it; the Arab leaders did not. Instead, they started a war once the Jews announced the State of Israel. In fact, if the Arabs had accepted the plan, they would have ended up with more land than they will now have if they form a Palestinian state today in a two-state solution.
Those who argue that Israel is a colonist state that continues the European model of settlement and exploitation in other parts of the world are wrong. Jews have lived in some numbers in the area for 3,000 years. They were not inserted into the Middle East by Europe, as the BDS supporters have claimed. While the number of Arabs at times was greater, the land of Israel has always had Jews and has been an integral part of Jewish history, heritage and memory.
Moreover, it was not just Jews from Europe that came in the 20th century; it was also Jews from other Middle Eastern countries. An important fact to remember is that Arab countries forced out 800,000 Jews from what had been their home countries after 1948.
That 800,000 is also the number of Arabs who left Israel proper during Israel’s War for Independence. The 800,000 Jews were assimilated into Israel, often not very easily, but they were. The Arabs who left, now called Palestinians, were often left in refugee camps by their Arab neighbors – and some still are there today. Many of the Arab countries do not allow the Palestinians to become citizens or do not allow them to even engage in various occupations.
The most important statistic to remember is this: there are 22 Arab states. There is only one Jewish state.
Harold Kirtz is president of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Atlanta.