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BDS needs to counterattack

Today's Opinion page column by Roger Cohen in the NYT attacks the BDS campaign for having a hidden agenda: the end of Israel as a Jewish state. The author makes the perfectly valid point that the BDS's stated goals (ending the Occupation, equality for non-Jews and Jews, and the right of return of the Palestinian refugees) logically imply the end of Israel as a Jewish state. He accuses "BDS" of standing for, in reality, "beguile, disguise and suffocate."

The persuasiveness of this Zionist opinion piece relies entirely on the premise that Jews need a "state of their own" to be safe. ("Trust your neighbor? Been there, tried that," writes Cohen.)

As I have written earlier here, the failure of the BDS campaign to aggressively argue why there should not be a Jewish state enables people like Cohen to accuse it (persuasively) of having a "hidden agenda." This is an unnecessary weakness that can and should be rectified.

The problem is that many BDS supporters don't know how to make a persuasive case against the "right of Israel as Jewish state to exist." To be persuasive, one must counter the specific (and secular) Zionist argument for why Jews need a "state of their own" to be safe. (The Biblical Zionist argument--"God gave the land to the Jews"--can be ignored because only a small minority of Americans are persuaded by it; but lots of Americans are sympathetic to the idea that Jews have been the victims of terrible anti-Semitism throughout history and therefore need a "state of their own" to be safe.)

So, why indeed is the Zionist argument false? It is false because it is based on the false premise that non-Jews (gentiles) are innately anti-Semitic, because of unknowable and mysterious--and therefore permanent--causes. Based on this false premise, the Zionists argue that all gentiles are, even if they don't show it today, innately if not overtly anti-Semitic. According to this reasoning, Jews cannot really be safe living as equals with gentiles anywhere--not even in Brooklyn, N.Y.-- because at any moment, for mysterious and unknowable reasons, the gentiles may erupt into violent anti-Semitism.

Lots of ordinary Jews believe this slander of gentiles because for centuries upper class Jews (the very wealthy and the elite rabbis) have done their utmost to inculcate in Jews a fear of gentiles as innately and mysteriously anti-Semitic. Jews are taught the history of the persecution of Jews but in a manner designed to prevent them from knowing the specific reasons why ordinary people have attacked Jews in the past--reasons that, if known, would make it obvious to Jews that anger at Jews was not caused by anything innate in gentiles but rather by the relationship between Jews and the terrible class inequality of the societies in which Jews lived.

The largest violent attack by ordinary people (as opposed to a government (Nazi Germany)) against Jews took place in what is now Ukraine but was then Poland, in the 17th century. I discuss this attack (the Chmielnicki Pogroms) in detail here. Jews are taught that Polish peasants attacked Jews because they hated Jews for some mysterious reason, period. They are not taught that the peasants at this time attacked not only Jews but also the Christian clergy and Polish aristocrats, and that, while the violence against ordinary Jews was atrocious and wrong, the peasants committed even greater violence and atrocities against Polish aristocrats and the Christian clergy allied with them than against the Jews.

Jews don't hear the part about the peasants attacking the upper class gentiles because Jewish leaders don't want them to know about it. If Jews knew the full story of this pogrom, they would understand that the peasants' anger was anger at class inequality, tragically misdirected, it is true, against poor Jews for reasons that are, alas, very easy to understand. Most people in Poland were peasants, treated and exploited as virtual slaves by the Polish aristocracy. The aristocrats didn't want to get their hands "dirty" with the day-to-day messiness of being a slave master, so they cut deals with the richest Jews, whereby the Jew leased a huge landed estate, enjoyed all of rights and privileges of the landowner "lord," exploited the peasants ruthlessly and shared the loot with the aristocrat. Poor Jews were not peasants; they lived in their own towns with the rich Jews and partook of the loot obtained by "their rich Jew" by performing services for him, such as tailoring etc. Poor as they were, the poorest Jews were better off than the enslaved peasants. Furthermore, the poor Jews were taught by their upper class to have nothing but contempt for the peasants, as holocaust survivor and anti-Zionist Israeli, Israel Shahak, writes about in Chapter 5 of his online book here.

Class inequality, not some mysterious innate trait of people, causes violence by some people against innocent other people. Jews aren't the only victims of this. Ruling elites, in order to maintain the class inequality that their great wealth and privilege and power depend upon, have been turning people against other races or ethnic groups or religious groups or nationalities for a very long time: divide and conquer. What Jews need, to be safe in the world, is an end to class inequality. Ordinary Jews in their supposed "Jewish state" are living not in a state of the Jewish people but in a state of the Jewish ruling class of billionaires and generals and politicians. For ordinary Jews in Israel, life is more unsafe than for Jews anywhere else in the world, precisely because Israel purports to be a "Jewish state" and, in the name of the Jewish people, commits ethnic cleansing against non-Jews and treats them like dirt. Even among just Jews in Israel, class inequality is growing enormous, which is the reason hundreds of thousands of them demonstrated against the Israeli government over issues related to economic inequality in 2011. Typically, the Zionist leaders defused this movement against them by playing the "Palestinians are your real enemy" card: Prime Minister Netanyahu arranged for a crisis to develop in Gaza and called on all Israeli Jews to line up behind him against the "real enemy"--Palestinians (i.e. gentiles.) This made the huge demonstrations fizzle out, and enabled the class inequality inside Israel to continue.

The "state of the Jews" is actually an instrument by which a Jewish elite ruling class of billionaires and generals and politicians secures its oppressive grip on ordinary Jews in Israel. Zionist leaders historically and presently have nothing but contempt for ordinary Jews and their welfare, and even desire that ordinary Jews die at the hands of apparent anti-Semites, as I give many examples of here.

This is why there should not be a Jewish state: it is bad for ALL ordinary people, gentiles and Jews alike; it is only good for the privileged ruling elites who take advantage of the anger between Jews and gentiles, that a Jewish state foments, to keep elite rulers in power over ordinary people.

Until we make this argument aggressively and proudly, Zionists such as Roger Cohen will be able to persuade good Americans to side with Israel and its ethnic cleansing projects. Let's not let them get away with it!

ENDS

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