Batya Ungar-Sargon’s unsubstantiated comments about supporters of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) — the Palestinian civil society call to hold Israel accountable to basic principles of human rights and international law — deserve a response. While rightly saying that anti-BDS legislation should be opposed, much of her article recklessly slams BDS activists and the movement as a whole.
Repeating the anti-Palestinian trope that BDS is filled with anti-Semites is slanderous. Ungar-Sargon puts forth zero shred of evidence for making such a sweeping statement. This false accusation is one that she knows all too well can and does have dire consequences for people’s lives. Also, speaking in such unsubstantiated generalities is a means and a tactic to cast doubt on anyone who supports BDS.
But that’s far from the only problem with this article. She writes, “Even worse, Palestinian activists have been hurt by the prohibition against normalization imposed by the movement, making solidarity between left-wing Israelis and Palestinians that much harder to achieve.”
Who is she referring to, and what kind of solidarity does she mean? Palestinians and left-wing Israeli Jews do in fact cooperate — but on the basis of shared principles and joint action. Opposing normalization is not about one’s identity, but about one’s politics and commitment to opposing (and resisting the normalization of) oppression.
She then continues: “And by including in its goals an impossible one — the right of return — BDS has undermined the important, achievable goals of ending the occupation and equal rights for Palestinians, as well as undermining the work being done by Palestinian activists on the ground.”
Again, Ungar-Sargon omits any mention of exactly which Palestinian activists are being undermined by the call for right of return, and she also seems to think she has the authority to determine that the right of return is impossible. 750,000 Palestinians were forced out of their homes and land during the Nakba of 1948. The right of return is just that — an internationally recognized right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and to live as part of a society that insures equal rights for all its citizens.
The author calls BDS a failure, which contradicts the facts of a growing global movement for justice that is supporting the Palestinian people. It is ironic that she is calling a movement ineffectual that has garnered such tremendous attention and attempts to destroy it from the Israeli government and its supporters.
The author uses this piece to cast aspersions on a human rights movement and its leaders in a way that is deeply inaccurate and irresponsible.
Anna Baltzer, Adam Horowitz, Richard A. Levy, Hannah Mermelstein, Marilyn Kleinberg Neimark, Donna Nevel, Mark Tseng-Putterman, Rabbi Brant Rosen, Gabriel Schivone, Rebecca Vilkomerson, Lesley Williams, Dorothy Zellner
The authors are Jews living in the US who endorse and organize within the BDS movement.
Mark Tseng-Putterman is writing, organizing, and agitating in the Asian American and Jewish left. He is an incoming American Studies Ph.D. student at Brown University, and a member of the Jews of Color and Sephardi/Mizrahi (JOCSM) Caucus organized in partnership with Jewish Voice for Peace, and the JVP Network Against Islamophobia. He has written previously about Jewish racialization and whiteness for Unruly, a blog operated by the JOCSM Caucus organized in partnership with JVP. Find him on Twitter @tsengputterman.