They Say, We Say: If the Left wants to protest settlements, it should find ways other than boycotts

They Say We Say We know that pro-Israel does not mean blindly supporting policies that are irrational, reckless, and counter-productive. Pro-Israel means supporting policies that are consistent with Israel's interests and promote its survival as a Jewish, democratic state.

You've heard the arguments of the religious and political right-wing, and so have we. They've had their say. Now, we'll have ours.

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BDS & Criticism of Israel

They Say:

If the Left wants to protest settlements, it should find ways other than boycotts.  By embracing any boycotts, the Left is contributing to the momentum behind the BDS movement and the delegitimization of Israel.

We Say:

For decades, we have been trying to get people to recognize the dangers posed to Israel by settlements.  For years, American Jewry responded mainly with a shrug of the shoulders signifying, "we don't want to know, don't ask us to do anything."  All the while, American Jews have contributed millions of dollars in donations that indirectly and directly support settlements.

Some U.S. presidents have tried to get tougher on the settlements. Back in the 1990s, President George H.W. Bush, fed up with Israel greeting every U.S. official visit with a new settlement, decided to link $10 million in loan guarantees to Israel's settlement activities.  In response, the bulk of the American Jewish community declared war on Bush.  Some still believe that this fight -- not over being tough on Israel but being a little tough on settlements -- helped cost Bush a second term in office.

Likewise, President Obama took on settlements right out of the gate.  He didn't threaten to cut aid to Israel, or deny Israel weapons and defense systems, or fail to back Israel at the United Nations (including protecting Israel from criticism over settlements), or even ask Israel to remove a single settlement.  All Obama did was push Israel to freeze settlements, consistent with Israel's long-ignored and freely undertaken commitments (most recently under the George W. Bush-era "Roadmap").  For doing so Obama was vilified by some as an enemy of Israel.

In essence, the same people who decreed that pressure from an American president over settlements is unacceptable, and that U.N. action on settlements is impermissible, are now saying that it is unacceptable to adopt a policy of "Boycott Settlements, Buy Israeli."  So what would these people suggest?  It seems the only opposition to settlements they will tolerate -- if they tolerate any opposition at all -- is opposition that is as toothless as it is ineffectual.

It's time for American Jews - and all who care about Israel - to stop making excuses.  The window is closing on the two-state solution.  All those who want to save Israel as a Jewish state and a democracy need to act.  And that means, for a start, showing at least as much courage as many Israelis show by differentiating between Israel and the territories.  Publicly declaring an intention to "buy Israel, but boycott settlements" sends a powerful message to Israelis living both in Israel and the settlements.

And make no mistake: Demanding that American Jews not do so leaves the field open for those who call for a general boycott of everything Israeli.  If American Jews refuse to differentiate between Israel and the settlements in our activism, we can't complain when others -- including those who may not share our commitment to Israel -- insist on doing the same.