The Militant is a socialist periodical connected to the US SWP and based in New York. This week you can read a piece by Paul Pederson reflecting on the boycott campaigning around Israel Apartheid Week, and the sacking of Starbucks in London. Dreaming of Israel subsumed into a “democratic, secular Palestine in which both Palestinians and Jews can live without state-supported religious restrictions”, he rejects boycott and divestment outright because they empower Palestinian groups whose values are antithetical to those of socialism, and because they are welcomed by workers’ class enemies as a diversion:
“Starbucks, whose owner is Jewish, has become a target of this campaign internationally. On January 10 some 200 protesters looted a Starbucks coffee shop near the Israeli embassy in London and attacked a number of businesses in the area. One proud participant posted a video of the looting on YouTube under the header “How to really boycott Israeli products.”
Jew-hatred and anti-Semitism, a centuries old form of racism, has been used by ruling classes throughout history when their system faced a crisis. Modern anti-Semitism often comes draped in an anticapitalist and even socialist cloak. The real exploiters—the billionaire ruling families, whose great majority is non-Jewish—are replaced by a racist conspiracy that paints the Jews as the source of society’s problems.”
“Support for the anti-Israel boycott effort among radicals – like the members of the Workers World Party and the ISO – often goes along with increasingly open support for Hamas. As ISO leader D’Amelio said of Khaled Meshal, the Hamas political bureau leader in Damascus, “There is little in what he says that I disagree with.”
The Hamas covenant, written in 1988, outlines the aims of that organization.
Speaking of the Jewish people, the document states, “With their money, they took control of the world media… . [T]hey stirred revolutions in various parts of the world with the purpose of achieving their interests and reaping the fruit therein. They were behind the French Revolution, the Communist revolution… . With their money they formed secret societies… . They were behind World War I, when they were able to destroy the Islamic Caliphate, making financial gains and controlling resources.”
Fatah likewise has renounced its former revolutionary democratic demand for a democratic, secular Palestine. Its leadership reflects the wealthy layer of Palestinians increasingly seeking an accommodation with imperialism and with Tel Aviv.
In the absence of any revolutionary perspective, campaigns such as the anti-Israel boycott can appear to be a radical substitute. But, as the crisis of capitalism deepens, the “anti-Israel” character of these campaigns is simply a modern form of Jew-hatred. All who genuinely support the battle for Palestinian national rights must oppose it.”
Pederson sets out solidly socialist reasons not to boycott Israel.
But for ISO leader Lichi D’Amelio, the piece is an affront. She responds in the Socialist Worker, casting aspersion on Pederson’s socialist credentials and asking “whose side is he on”. She refers to her movement in revealingly self-centred terms as “perhaps the most exciting and positive development pro-Palestine activists have seen in a long time”. She also correctly refers to support for the boycott as a “no-brainer”, justifying it only with reference to other boycott examples, spurious authority figures and their decades-old writing. She is tolerant of Hamas’ antisemitic Charter, as charged by Pederson. There is no political vision in her self-defence – or rather it is a vision for, as an end in itself, bonding the workers of the world with Israel as the pretext:
“a movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel can play such an important role. It can help to build international working class solidarity–which we caught a glimpse of, thanks to the brave dockworkers in Durban.
How’s that for “charting a revolutionary course forward”?”
In other words, uniting against a scapegoat. Pederson was right.
For most others, it’s clear that that BDS is part of a movement to force the dismantlement of the state of Israel through total isolation and exclusion and that (unless you favour simply swapping an occupation for an all-out conflict) this is a moribund strategy. It’s significant that the pro-SWP organ has given Pederson a voice – it suggests that the antisemitism of the Palestine solidarity campaign has reached levels impossible for the SWP to ignore, and that it continues to finds antisemitism unhelpful to its movement.