An Historical Shift: American Jews Rethink Israel
Continued from previous page
The growing impact of the BDS movement can be glimpsed in several recent events. Palestinian activists and Code Pink pressured the international human rights organization Oxfam to suspend the actress Kristin Davis ( Sex and the City ), who had been serving as a goodwill ambassador, over her sponsorship of Ahava, a beauty products company that uses materials from the occupied West Bank (Davis's commercial relationship with Ahava came to an end soon thereafter). Under similar pressure, a Brazilian parliamentary commission said Brazil should have no part in a proposed agreement that would bring increased trade between Israel and several South American countries until "Israel accepts the creation of the Palestinian state on the 1967 borders."
Then there was the Toronto International Film Festival in September, at which a number of prominent figures, including Jane Fonda, Viggo Mortensen, Danny Glover, Julie Christie and Eve Ensler, signed a declaration opposing the festival's association with the Israeli consulate and a city-to-city program featuring Tel Aviv as part of a campaign by the Israeli government to "rebrand" itself after the Gaza conflict. The declaration read, in part, "especially in the wake of this year's brutal assault on Gaza, we object to the use of such an important international festival in staging a propaganda campaign on behalf of what South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, and UN General Assembly President Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann have all characterized as an apartheid regime."
Not so long ago, "apartheid" was a hotly disputed term when applied to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Now even advocates for Israel, such as entertainment magnate Edgar Bronfman and former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, have warned that Israel faces an antiapartheid struggle unless it can get to a two-state solution, and fast. Nadia Hijab, a senior fellow at the Institute for Palestine Studies, says such statements are a sign that the BDS movement is gaining traction. "The Palestinian national movement does not have power," she says. "BDS is the only source of nonviolent power and is leading to an increasingly sophisticated discourse, but it's early days yet." Vilkomerson of JVP sees hope: "I think [the sanctions movement] will lead Israelis to shift. People do not want to be pariahs."
In short, the change in the liberal-left discourse has been remarkable. Illinois writer Emily Hauser says she sees it in her synagogue. People once turned their backs on her after she published op-eds assailing Israel over its actions during the second intifada. Today many thank her for voicing their concerns. "The suffering of the [Palestinian] people there is a very, very powerful thing for people to be talking about. The community as a whole is far less likely to throw you out," she says.
What does all this mean for the US political institutions that affect Middle East policy?
There are signs Washington is feeling the changes. Several members of Congress visited Gaza, and some dared to criticize Israel. After Democrats Brian Baird, Keith Ellison and Rush Holt returned, they held a press conference on Capitol Hill led by Daniel Levy, a polished British-Israeli who has played a key role in the emergence of J Street. The Congressmen called for Israel to lift the blockade. After first-term Representative Donna Edwards visited Gaza and called for a vigorous debate about the conflict here, old-line lobbyists came out against her. But J Street rallied to her side, raising $30,000 for her in a show of support.
Alas, those are the highlights. There have been few other courageous profiles. President Obama tried to change the game by speaking of Palestinian "humiliations" in his June speech in Cairo and calling for a freeze in Israeli settlement growth as a condition for progress toward a two-state solution. But the Israeli government has defied him, secure in the knowledge that Jewish leaders in Washington will back it. Dan Fleshler, an adviser to J Street and author of Transforming America's Israel Lobby , says he's frustrated by the lack of movement. "What I predicted in my book--that Obama could lay out an American policy and if Israel was recalcitrant about it, and if he took Israel to task in a serious way, he would get enough political support--well, he hasn't tried it yet." Fleshler is hopeful that the call for a settlement freeze isn't the last test. "Other tests are coming up."