Last week my husband and I went to a meeting of the student union at UBC to display the Independent Jewish Voices – Vancouver banner in support of the impending vote calling on the university to endorse boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Apartheid Israel. As we were entering the student union building, I spotted a sign on the lawn that said “It’s about hate, vote no to the BDS referendum.”
I smiled. If this is the key argument left to the pro-Zionist side, we’ve already won.
This argument — that BDS is about hate — is bizarre for a number of reasons. I was actively involved in the original anti-Apartheid movement that opposed the racist system in South Africa. It’s fairly obvious that my opposition to this cruel and unjust system was not because I hated Whites. I did, of course, hate, but what I hated was a system that discriminated against the non-White majority.
Obviously, the term “hate” has a bad connotation in most of our minds, but a moment’s thought will tell us that, in fact, many things are indeed worth hating: fascism; mass murder; child poverty; homelessness; gender inequality; homophobia; discrimination against minorities…the list is endless. Yet social movements are not, at their core, about hate: social activists are struggling for change, hopefully, in their eyes, for the better, and often for people other than themselves.
Many in the Zionist movement refer to people like me as “self-hating Jews.” Again, these absurd labels are attempts to discredit legitimate criticism of Israeli government policies. They are also a sign of desperation, a form of name-calling similar to schoolyard taunts. Their point, of course, is to keep folks from actually listening to our positions or examining the facts on the ground.
Our opponents have also attempted to discredit the BDS movement by claiming it is “anti-peace,” “against Canadian values,” and “one-sided and disingenuous.” The irony here is that these descriptors are, in fact, extremely accurate descriptors of their side.
This past Sunday, some 50,000 Israelis filled Rabin Square in Tel Aviv in opposition to Netanyahu and his party’s policies. The keynote speaker was Amiram Levine, former deputy head of the Mossad, who stated, “If we continue to hold on to the dream of a greater Israel and control another people, we will lose all of Israel.”
Another speaker, Michal Kesten-Keidar, whose husband was killed in combat last July during Operation Protective Edge, spoke against Netanyahu’s policies: “I am asking you, for our children, we deserve hope, we deserve a different, better life. Do whatever you can to prevent the next war.”
So, to those of you who want to stop the BDS campaign at UBC and elsewhere, I have to ask: do you oppose this mass movement inside Israel because it too is about hate — in this case, of Netanyahu’s policies? Although these protesters wouldn’t necessarily agree totally with our movement here, they clearly agree that Israeli policy needs to change now.
BDS is one peaceful way to push that change forward, as it did in South Africa. Isn’t it time for our opponents to let go of the silly, childish argument that it’s simply about hate?
Joanne Naiman is Professor Emerita, Sociology, Ryerson University, Toronto, and a member of Independent Jewish Voices – Vancouver.