Be a mensch – join the boycott of Israel!

Adrienne Weller

December 2009

I grew up in New York City knowing little of my Jewish heritage except for the star I wore around my neck and my mother’s bible stories. As I grew older, my education included the horror of German concentration camps, despite my parents’ silence about our relatives who died. I wasn’t very religious but I determined that as long as Jews were despised, I would be boldly Jewish.

I felt different from my Catholic neighbors. As an outsider, I absorbed a critical, feminist view of society that made me determined to change the way things are. I absorbed the ethic of striving to be a mensch, an honorable person.

As a radical Jew, I am intensely opposed to Zionist nationalism and critical of Israel. I became so after learning how Israel has systematically destroyed Palestinian lives, land and homes. The Zionist ideology glorifies a theocratic and therefore sexist, all-Jewish nation, and Israel is the racist, apartheid, occupying state that grew out of that ideology.

The way I see it, the historical oppression of Jews built our tradition of having courage and jumping into any fight on the side of the underdog. Yet Israel uses the Holocaust to justify oppressing Palestinians, at the same time undermining the justice-seeking values of the Jewish heritage.

But when Israel launched its juggernaut against Gaza last December, it fell prey to the law of unintended consequences. Massive war crimes created a sea change in international and Jewish opinion. The demand to hold Israel accountable for its decades of brutal repression of Palestinians entered the mainstream.

Anti-Zionist Jews came out of the closet in droves. This was manna to those of us who, over the years, have been met with silence when we criticized Israel in the social justice movements.

The surge in activism breathed new life into Palestinians’ long struggle for justice, and their campaign to boycott Israel gained new adherents. In 2005, 170 Palestinian grassroots organizations had called for “people of conscience all over the world to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era.” Today the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign is building a powerful international movement. To get involved go to

Some ask why single out Israel. This is often a hypocritical question meant to change the subject. The subject is how to stop Israel’s barbaric treatment of Palestinians. Israeli products, and companies like Motorola, that service Israel’s war mahine, are being boycotted because struggling Palestinians have asked for our support. And Israel has all the big guns.

The boycott is also an effective tactic specifically against Israel because it is heavily dependent on international trade and economic support. Israel is impacted by world opinion. As its atrocities are recognized, its world image and credibility are deservedly tarnished.

Another objection is that the boycott cuts off the “peace dialogue.” But the unequal “negotiations” are dreck. They have facilitated continued brutality toward Palestinians and destruction of their livelihoods. In contrast, the boycott has increased communication between Palestinians, sympathetic Israelis and concerned people globally.

Some say the boycott hurts working people. Did they say the same about the Montgomery bus boycott during the U.S. Civil Rights movement, or the South African boycott against apartheid? Effective tactics, of necessity, have an impact. And workers around the world who hate the racist policies being targeted are empowered by joining the fight.

Others claim that the boycott is anti-Semitic. Zionists trumpet this willful lie. The Socialist Workers Party, which is anti-Zionist and should know better, panders to this position by agreeing. The argument is cockamamie! Anti-Zionism is not the same as anti-Semitism. Israel deserves to be sanctioned because of its crimes, not because Jews live there.

However, some sincere supporters of the boycott think that Israel runs U.S. foreign policy through the American Zionist lobby, despite the fact that Israel would not last one day without the massive bankrolling it gets from the U.S. This turns reality upside down. It harms the movement to free Palestine by failing to identify the ultimate enemy, the U.S. empire. That is anti-Semitic because it implies the old slander about an all-powerful international Jewish conspiracy. It scapegoats all Jews for imperialism. Would the U.S. become a big peacenik if the Zionist lobby dissolved tomorrow? Of course not.

Let’s keep our eyes on the prize, build the boycott of Israel, but not let the U.S. off the hook.

Adrienne Weller is a former FSP Organizer in Portland and a long time stalwart in defense of Palestinians. Contact her at Adrienne.w[at]

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