Tag Archives: j street

Omar Barghouti: J Street’s Ben Ami has Jews-only policy on BDS debates

Last night I went to Columbia University to see Omar Barghouti discuss his new book, “Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions: The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights.” For those who don’t know, Barghouti is one of the BDS movement’s most effective strategists and promoters, basing his advocacy on a platform of human rights and international law while explicitly rejecting arcane ideology. His book offers the most in-depth and accessible analysis to date of the movement, its history, and why it is gaining so much momentum. Read an excerpt here.

During his talk, Barghouti mentioned that he had approached J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami about arranging a debate on BDS. The response from Ben-Ami was as follows, according to Barghouti: “We want to keep this debate inside the Jewish community. So we won’t participate in a debate with any Palestinians.”

Barghouti joked, “Why would BDS have anything to do with Palestinians?” He went on to describe Ben-Ami’s policy as racist.

Last December, I debated the issue of BDS against the director of J Street U, Daniel May. My debate partner was Rebecca Vilkomerson of Jewish Voice for Peace. Daniel May’s partner was a Jewish student from Princeton also named Daniel May. Everyone involved in the debate was an Ashkenazi Jew, yet we were debating a movement founded and controlled by Palestinian civil society. If I had known at the time that J Street had an alleged policy of refusing to debate with non-Jews, especially Palestinians, I would not have participated at all.

Another person told me about J Street’s “don’t debate Palestinians” policy, but did not authorize me to report it at the time. The source explained that the policy resulted in the Jews-only debate at J Street’s annual policy conference in February, where Rebecca Vilkomerson debated in favor of BDS against opponents Bernard Avishai and Ken Bob of Ameinu.

It is worth noting that after the debate, Bernard Avishai took to his blog to tell a certain member of JVP (he left the person unnamed) that “you remind me, forgive me, of the Tea Party.” Avishai was apparently upset that the JVP member had asked him how he could argue against divesting from multinational companies and Israeli institutions that profit from the occupation while supporting a boycott of the settlements. It is unusual for someone of Avishai’s intellectual caliber to stoop so low to rebut a simple question about tactics. His response makes me wonder if the opponents of BDS, especially those who define themselves as politically liberal, are simply overwhelmed by events in Israel and Palestine.

To J Street’s credit, it is the only major pro-Israel group I know of that will debate BDS at all. None of the other established pro-Israel groups have participated in debates and none seem likely to do so in the near future. Last week, the Columbia University chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) responded to a demand by the campus Hillel house for a “dialogue session” by requesting a debate instead. SJP’s leadership told Hillel’s director that he could choose the topic, time and place of the debate. Hillel refused the proposal. Besides international law and human rights, what do they have to be afraid of?

JVP’s Rebecca Vilkomerson debates for BDS at J Street’s annual convention

JVP executive director Rebecca Vilkomerson debated in favor of BDS yesterday at J Street's annual convention

JVP executive director Rebecca Vilkomerson debated in favor of BDS yesterday at J Street's annual convention

Today at J Street’s annual convention, my friend and one-time debate partner Rebecca Vilkomerson, who is the executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace, made the case for BDS against liberal Zionist opponents Ken Bob of Ameinu and writer Bernard Avishai. I was not at the conference, in part because I am speaking at Rutgers’ Palestine Awareness Week later today. But I have heard that the session was packed; according to Vilkomerson, a sizable portion of the room was with her.

Because it wasn’t videotaped, I have reproduced the full text of Rebecca’s opening remarks below. Note that she identified BDS as a Palestinian-led movement that forms the international backbone of the Palestinian non-violent strategy and is “part and parcel of the Arab Spring sweeping the region.” Building on these points, Vilkomerson questioned why there were no Palestinian members on the panel (the BDS movement’s mastermind, Omar Barghouti, has been mysteriously denied a visa to enter the US to promote his book about the boycott). In the end, however, she was grateful to J Street for simply hosting the discussion while the rest of the Jewish establishment — including Ameinu — demonizes BDS proponents and tries to change the subject.

Remarks to Jstreet BDS Panel

February 28, 2011

Rebecca Vilkomerson.

I just want to take a moment in appreciation of J Street for including this discussion at the conference.  It is the most important conversation, in my mind, that we can have at this moment, and I thank you for having it.

I want to take a moment to make sure we all are clear about what BDS is.  BDS stands for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. It’s a Palestinian led, globally active, non-violent movement in support of equality and freedom for the Palestinian people.

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A BDS Debate at Princeton, with J Street, JVP, and me (this Wednesday)

PanelDiscussionPosterHoriz

This Wednesday (December 15) I will debate/discuss the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign with Jewish Voices for Peace Executive Director Rebecca Vilkormerson and J Street U Director Daniel May at Princeton University. Princeton’s Students for Justice in Palestine chapter recently attempted to pressure the school into offering an alternative in the cafeteria to Sabra Hummus, an Israeli product made by the Strauss Group, which has sponsored the IDF’s Givati Brigade (see heartwarming Givati t-shirts here). They failed to get the votes they needed, (I don’t know why more students didn’t vote for an alternative solely on health grounds, since Sabra contains the carcinogenic, extremely unhealthy preservative sodium benzoate), but in my opinion the SJP kids won by forcing the community to debate the occupation and discriminatory nature of the Israeli state. The debate I will participate in on the 15th represents, in my opinion, the role BDS has played in fostering a more open discussion about the Israel-Palestine conflict. Though Daniel May disagrees with the BDS approach and will argue against it, he and J Street have also played a crucial part in creating space for open and honest debate about the conflict. Unfortunately, I learned yesterday that Whig Clio, Princeton’s debating society, could not convince any high profile “pro-Israel” figures to join the panel. The rumor is that no one they asked wanted to face me in a debate about the I-P conflict. I have no idea if this is true, and wonder why it would be, but whether it is or not, the fact that BDS opponents have resorted to empty terms like “delegitimization” in place of substantive arguments is evidence of how thin their case has become. You would think that this would be a debate they would be eager to engage in. But what can they say when Israeli quasi-governmental groups are partnering with anti-Semites to demolish villages inhabited by Israeli citizens? Not much, apparently.