Among liberals, it has become almost customary to believe that every dispute can be solved through a dialogue. The conventional wisdom is that if only the two conflicting parties would openly discuss their grievances, then a bridge of peace and harmony will follow. Clearly, this is not always the case.
When members of groups such as the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement or Students for Justice in Palestine implicitly or explicitly refute the State of Israel’s right to exist — therefore revoking the internationally recognized right of millions of Jews to self-determination — there’s simply nothing to discuss.
The most acute problem of BDS, SJP and the like is ignorance. Uneducated about or ignoring the historical background, circumstances and realities on the ground, these groups are producing a series of slanderous messages, conveying them as the unchallenged truth.
For example, these groups classify Israel as an “apartheid state” that institutionalizes a policy of racial superiority of one ethnic group over the other, segregation and inequality. These accusations overlook the clear civic distinction between Israel’s Arabs and the Palestinians.
While the two groups belong to the same Palestinian nation, Israel’s Arabs enjoy full civil rights in Israel, ranging from social benefits to political representation. Most of the Palestinians, however, live in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip under the authority of Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. As complicated as this situation is, these Palestinians have never been Israeli citizens. Consequently, Israel simply is not an “apartheid state.” But for the aforementioned accusers, any manipulation is legitimate if it advances their campaign, even if it is vastly remote from reality.
Worse is that their campaigns target uninformed audiences who occasionally record these false messages as the starting point for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Monitoring some of the rhetoric and visual aids that members of SJP distribute in their exhibitions or gatherings reveals the group’s embedded hypocrisy. Its maps of Palestine omit the State of Israel. Similar maps, visualizing only one political entity over the land, frequently are used by the most illiberal actors in this conflict, such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the messianic elements among the Jewish settlers.
SJP’s version of “justice” is one binational polity where both the Jewish and Palestinian nations live under one authority in the disputed land. History, however, has consistently demonstrated that such binational states are prone to apartheid, bloodshed and ethnic cleansing — the same ends that the BDS movement and SJP call to abolish. Promoting binationalism is not only inherently anarchistic, but will also signal the end of Palestinian aspirations for statehood.
Thus, behind the veneer of liberal values, justice, human rights and freedom of speech hides a catastrophic prophecy where liberalism is confused with anarchism, and where justice will be determined by the sword.
Consequently, freedom of speech becomes a means toward violent ends. These groups exploit venues of freedom of speech — for example, university campuses — to propagate their destructive ends. In this regard, containing these groups goes beyond the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and crosses into the essence of higher education in democratic societies. It is therefore the duty of anyone who cherishes freedom of speech to ensure that venues for dialogue in liberal institutions are used for eradicating ignorance and promoting constructive dialogues.
Those who really care about finding a solution to the ongoing conflict must harness the attention of the uninformed audience. Entering into a clash of narratives about who carries more responsibility over the conflict is insipid and risks losing the pragmatic voices. Reactionary responses to specific campaigns or accusations — as slanderous as they may be — are futile, too. Instead, what is necessary is a combination of short- and longer-term education that focuses on pragmatic solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and addresses the uniformed audience.
These educational activities may include exposing the dangerous outcomes that the activities of BDS and SJP promote. In abusing liberal values through campaigns that refute Israel’s legitimacy and do not advance Palestinian statehood, these groups do not offer any solution to the conflict.
Don’t be mistaken: Condemning illiberal and anti-Israel groups and accepting the current state of affairs in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are mutually exclusive categories. But to set the stage for a dialogue, a prerequisite is necessary: agreeing that the most sustainable solution for both sides is two independent states. Anything that falls short of this isn’t worth discussion.
Moran Stern is an adjunct lecturer in the Program for Jewish Civilization at Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service. Follow him on Twitter at @MoranStern.