Supporters of Israel oppose the movement to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel (BDS) on the basis that many of the movement’s adherents support the one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — in other words, they call for a single, democratic state in the land now under Israel’s control, which would mean the end of a distinctly Jewish state in the Middle East.
Take the Anti-Defamation League, for example. In its backgrounder on the BDS movement, ADL offers some “key points to make against BDS campaigns.” Among them: “The global BDS movement, as clearly stated on its website, does not support a two-state solution and the continued existence of Israel as a Jewish state.” (Individuals and groups that support BDS — even those who support one-state themselves — insist that the movement as an organized force takes no position on the one- or two-state solution, pointing to the participation in the BDS movement of many pro-two-state Palestinian groups.)
But if opponents of a two-state solution are the enemy, what is a group like the ADL doing palling around with Sheldon Adelson?
Adelson, The Forward reported on Monday, is hosting a secretive summit of Jewish organizations aimed at combating the BDS movement on American campuses. The ADL is one of the groups attending. But Adelson’s record on two-states is just as clear as that of BDS advocates like Ali Abunimah or Omar Barghouti — except, instead of calling for a democratic state, the single state Adelson wants would be one where millions of Palestinians live under Israeli control but are denied the right to vote.
Remember that Washington conference where, in November 2014, Adelson said, “[God] didn’t talk about Israel remaining as a democratic state… Israel isn’t going to be a democratic state — so what”? Still not convinced? Recall his constant warnings that the two-state solution would be “suicide” or “a stepping stone for the destruction of Israel and the Jewish people.”
The ADL is not alone in the apparent hypocrisy of seeking out Adelson hospitality and largesse. Other groups participating in the anti-BDS summit, too, oppose BDS because some of its leaders advocate a one-state solution. (“BDS advocates routinely oppose a two-state solution,” wrote Jerry Silverman, head of the Jewish Federations of North America, in an op-ed last year.) Some of these groups, like Hillel, are participating in the summit despite their own ban on partnerships with groups or individuals who “deny the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders.”
Yet Adelson’s rejection of a two-state solution is on its face a rejection of Israel’s democratic characteristics. What else can one call the plan of holding millions of Palestinians as stateless subjugates in perpetuity?
These groups are well within their rights to oppose the BDS movement, but if they think sidling up to Sheldon Adelson will help their cause, they’re sorely mistaken. The occupation has gone on for almost half a century, and more and more American liberals are questioning their support for Israel because of it. The hypocrisy of BDS opponents — decrying BDS for wanting a democratic single state while seeking support from donors who want an apartheid single state — will become apparent. The choices before American liberals, in that case, would be starkly clear.
What can anti-BDS groups do? For starters, they could insist that liberal Zionist groups like J Street U — the student branch of the group J Street, which figures like Adelson loathe for their support of a two-state solution — be invited to take part in organized anti-BDS efforts (J Street U was not invited to the secretive Las Vegas summit, The Forward reported). But more important would be to seize the moral high ground and, instead of seeking Adelson’s counsel and dollars, denounce the right-wing billionaire’s pernicious opposition to a two-state solution.
Or the anti-BDS groups could do what the BDS movement itself did: seek to build a grassroots movement that supports its cause, not because it has resources bestowed upon it by some unsavory billionaire, but because it believes its cause is just.
Ali Gharib is a Brooklyn-based journalist and contributor to The Nation. Find him on Twitter @Ali_Gharib.