Jewish Federation of New Mexico's response to my UNM lecture vindicates BDS for justice in Palestine

The New Mexico Jewish Link, the official organ of the Jewish Federation of New Mexico (JFNM) carries a lengthy article by Sam Sokolove, the organization's head, denouncing the November 7 speech I gave at the University of New Mexico (UNM) in Albuquerque (December 2010 issue, p.4 of the PDF)

Mr. Sokolove, you may recall, was at the forefront of a failed effort -- in which I was likened to a member of the KKK -- to have several UNM departments withdraw their endorsement for my lecture, which was attended by hundreds of people. Sokolove himself apparently did not bother to show up.

So naturally Sokolove addresses almost nothing of what I actually said in his ironically headlined article "Blind Hatred and Vision." My full lecture is available on video and I assume Mr. Sokolove watched it and I can note here that he does not challenge a single fact I stated in my lecture.

The one point he does address directly is my call on the JFNM to apologize for a despicable "Dry Bones" cartoon published in a previous issue of The New Mexico Jewish Link which  likens supporters of boycott, divestment and sanctions to Hitler (see video clip of me speaking about this). Sokolove writes:

The visit from Abunimah was a case in point. Abunimah -- a man who is intent on denying Jews their national identity and their covenantal relationship to the land of Israel, and who has likened the situation in Gaza as a "Holocaust" -- can still muster the chutzpadik to demand, straight faced, an apology from The New Mexico Jewish Link and the Jewish Federation of New Mexico on behalf of the "defamed" victims of the Shoah for publishing a "Dry Bones" comic comparing BDS tactics to those of Third Reich propagandists.

But BDS is all about tragic comedy, and organizing in the midst of a comedy has unusual challenges, among them unraveling their core message from smokescreen layers of platitudes on justice, peace and human rights. It can't be easy for these haters to see the Jewish State survive, let alone thrive.

Does Sokolove not spot the irony that while accusing me of comparing Gaza to the Holocaust (no citation provided of course) he is the one who hides behind hyperbolic Third Reich analogies and imagery -- apparently because he has no stronger arguments to offer in defense of Israel's atrocious and worsening behavior.

The Jewish Federation of New Mexico, like so many other Zionist organizations, is jumping on to the bandwagon of fighting "delegitimization" of Israel. This campaign is based on a fundamental misunderstanding that Israel has an "image" problem. It doesn't. Israel has a reality problem that its apologists refuse to acknowledge.

But here is what is so striking. Toward the end of his article, Sokolove is forced to acknowledge Israel's appalling and worsening human rights record, abuses that are integral to maintaining the current system of oppression and inferiority of Palestinians in their native land. Sokolove minimizes, tries to justify the abuses, and engages in victim-blaming, but he acknowledges them:

So, here's what it means to have vision: For those who love Israel, and who truly care about peace, it's important to see the plight of the Palestinian people, those who may be subjected to some bad Israeli policies, to the daily indignities of check- points, to callous IDF soldiers (a very small minority of the IDF to be sure, but a growing concern).

It is also important for all others people to become aware of a systematic and shameless perpetuation of the Palestinian dilemma by Arab states to distract attention from their own totalitarian regimes.

For those who do see Israel as a state that has lost its moral compass, it's important to see the very real security challenges that motivate policies that make for rotten public relations. These policies are not popular but they do save lives.

Now, Sokolove comes to the heart of the matter:

And for members of our community who continue to sit on the fence about these concerning matters, or who are simply burned out by all the shouting, it's all right (even part of our tradition, one might argue) to challenge "establishment" Israel advocacy groups -- yes, Federation included -- and to explore a variety of narratives, without giving in to the ink-black BDS vision of a world absent the nuisance Jewish state.

What Mr. Sokolove fears is the growth of support for BDS, especially among Jewish Americans. It is only in the context of trying to stave off this growing movement for justice and equality, that he is willing to acknowledge what he euphemistically calls "some bad Israeli policies."

BDS, we must always remember, is not an end in itself. It's a set of tactics -- like the Montgomery Bus Boycott, or the boycott of apartheid South Africa -- that is intended to bring about real change for the better. In this case, the goal is to end Israel's occupation and colonization of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, end Israel's systematic discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel and ensure full respect for the inalienable human rights of Palestinian refugees.

BDS aims not to harm any legitimate interest or right of any Israelis, but to bring about equality, justice for Palestinians, respect for international law and universal human rights. No one can deny that Israelis have exactly the same human rights as every other group of humans. What they don't have and will never have is a "right" to dispossess, discriminate against, dehumanize and oppress Palestine's indigenous people and maintain an odious system of apartheid in the name of any "covenant." How Jews worship, how they view their relationship to God, how they imagine the place of a certain piece of "holy" land in their religion is of no interest or concern to me. What does concern me, and what all who believe in human dignity and equality should resist, is the use of any such claims or beliefs to justify Israel's ongoing ethnic cleansing and oppression of Palestinians.

BDS works not only by putting pressure on Israel but by forcing those who would otherwise not examine Israel's actions or their own views to do some introspection. Sokolove -- apparently against every fibre of his being -- has been forced to do that precisely because of the looming "threat" of BDS. It's not much, but it vindicates that BDS is the right choice for those who want to see justice, equality and peace.