Campaigns like Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions (BDS), which have the goal of isolating Israel, are not helpful. They can have limited effectiveness because isolating Jews from the rest of the world has been a component of anti-Semitism for hundreds of years.For some groups, African heritage people for example, one of the core mechanisms of their oppression entailed ripping families apart, which was a systematic strategy for maintaining control. Destroying Black families is one of the unconscionable legacies of slavery in the U.S. For many Black people, fighting against the history of racism has meant creating opportunities to increase family connections: holding family reunions; developing a culture of taking relatives in; and calling each other, even on first meeting, brother or sister.
For Jews, one of the historic mechanisms of their oppression had the opposite dynamic. Anti-Semitism forced Jews together, isolating them into ghettoes, separating them from the rest of the world. Therefore, fighting against Jewish oppression means ending the isolation of Jews from other peoples. Political movements that have the goal of isolating Israel may fail to recognize that their approach is consistent with a primary component of historic anti-Semitism: the isolation of Jews from the rest of the world. The inherent weakness in a strategy to effect a change in Israel’s policies by punishing it through isolation fails to recognize how isolation triggers experiences of anti-Semitism, rendering Jews (and Israelis) less able to think clearly, less able to come up with fresh solutions, and ultimately less able to find ways to end the occupation.
How can we respond to Israel with compassion while at the same time requiring accountability? How do we communicate that Israel is inherently good, never deserving sole blame for the conflict, while at the same time rigorously insisting that its oppressive policies towards the Palestinians must end? Practicing tough love that steers between harshness and liberalism may allow a way forward.
Fifty years since the 1967 War and Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories, is a sobering anniversary that warrants a thoughtful reassessment. Over the years, many have tried to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Some strategies to end the occupation and resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have either treated Israel with unrelenting harshness (i.e., blaming Israel as the source of the problem) or with excessive liberalism (i.e., backing uncritically Israel’s actions). Neither harshness nor liberalism is an effective strategy to change behavior.
Cherie Brown is the founder and executive director of the National Coalition Building Institute, a nonprofit leadership organization that addresses oppression, diversity, and inclusion. Ms. Brown is also an adjunct faculty member at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. For the past 40 years, she has led over 300 weekend workshops in communities and on college campuses all over the world on anti-Semitism, internalized anti-Semitism, the intersection of anti-Semitism and racism, and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.