As a long-time Jewish resident of Olympia, I take strong exception to the opinion piece by Allyson Brooks on The Olympian editorial page May 2. The column manages amazing twin feats: It criticizes the Boycott Divest Sanctions (BDS) movement, a nonviolent tactic aimed at supporting Palestinian rights, with zero substantive discussion of the conflict. It also repeatedly levels charges against the Olympia BDS movement without presenting evidence.
Here’s what the author ignored: As former President Jimmy Carter and South African anti-apartheid leader Archbishop Desmond Tutu point out, Israel currently is an apartheid state. In Gaza, bombing of water and sewage and an Israeli blockade preventing rebuilding ensure that less than 10 percent of available water is safe to drink, leading to hepatitis, kidney disease and cancer. In the West Bank, Palestinian homes are bulldozed while illegal settler homes are subsidized. In Israel itself, many homes are subject to racially restrictive covenants that exclude Palestinians, like the similar covenants that once excluded African Americans in the United States. Beatings, window-breakings and other types of violence against Palestinians are often tolerated. These war crimes and other human rights abuses are well-documented by such groups as Amnesty International and Jewish Voices for Peace.
In response to a universal call from Palestinian civil society, the international community seeks boycott of Israeli goods, divestment from Israeli businesses, and sanctions against the government of Israel until Palestinian rights are respected. BDS is the same tactic that helped bring down apartheid in South Africa.
The May 2 column starts with irrelevant stories of ethnic conflict in Iceland and Minnesota, and speculates on why Jews in Olympia are subject to similar intolerance, insinuating allegations before presenting them. A series of evidence-free charges follows, mostly consisting of “feelings.” The opinion piece concludes with repetition of the charges, more scolding, and hopes for the end of expressions of opinions that make anyone uncomfortable. So what are the accusations?
One charge: the Olympia Co-op refusing to sell Israeli goods until Israel grants Palestinians full human rights makes some people “uncomfortable.” It made some so uncomfortable that, with support from the Israeli government, a lawsuit was filed against co-op board members that was later dismissed as a Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation (SLAPP) – meritless harassment and an attempt to suppress First Amendment rights. Opposition to Israeli occupation is not the only cause that makes some people feel uncomfortable. Some feel uncomfortable with marriage equality, or even with interracial marriage being legal. Alleged discomfort is a bad argument against doing the right thing.
A related charge is that BDS does not affect Israel, a charge refuted by the massive Israeli involvement in campaigns against BDS.
A second charge: intimidation against a local Jewish business if they hosted LGBT Israeli speakers. The alleged “intimidation” was criticism and expression by individuals of personal opposition to what they saw as pink-washing. The right to free speech does not include freedom from criticism. And the “LGBT Israeli Speakers” claimed that LGBT Palestinians benefit from Israeli rule, contrary to the lived experience Palestinian LGBT organizations describe. If Chinese citizens in the USA spoke for Tibetan peasants, describing the benefits of Chinese rule to Tibet, they might face criticism.
The third charge: the local temple discussed a possible need to keep the doors locked and add a doorbell for security. The relation to BDS was an unsupported insinuation.
BDS targets Israeli profit from the misery of Palestinians, not Jews in Olympia or elsewhere. The contrary false claim was presented without evidence.
The bottom line: many Jews, including myself, have joined people of all faiths and beliefs in supporting BDS and Palestinian human rights.