Israel BDS Event

February 11, 2012

The recent debate on boycott, disinvestment and sanctions against Israel at SOAS was an interesting event, attended by a couple of hundred people. It was a very civilised discussion compared to a lot of Israel-Palestine debates and there were lots of good points made from the floor. For me, the debate among the panel was too extended and there ought to have been more time for discussion with the audience.

Those who couldn’t make it can see video clips of the panellists’ opening remarks here. However, this link should be treated with some caution. The description of the debate is a ridiculous misrepresentation from a blinkered, pro-Israel perspective. The captions to my video clip even try to imply that I said something about “Jewish influence” or “the Jews”, two phrases I did not actually use. This is unsurprising since most of what I had to say was focused on criticising the BDS movement for its lack of a coherent political strategy.

From my perspective there were two strongly pro-BDS speakers and three who were critical of BDS from different perspectives, including me. What was lacking was any perspective saying that Israel didn’t have to change at all and so BDS was totally illegitimate, and the conflict was all the fault of the Palestinians. This seems to have been the basis of much of the objection to the debate. For me this is hardly a position worth hearing, not least because we get it every day through Israeli government statements and sympathetic media outlets, especially in the US. Notably the sole Zionist on the panel, Hannah Weisenfeld, was critical of BDS not because it targets Israel (though she objected to the way the conflict was framed as one-sided, saying Palestinians also bore responsibility) but because it was counterproductive in encouraging the changes needed to preserve Israel and allow everyone in the region to live in peace and security.

Reading the blog linked to above, however, would create the impression that everyone on the panel wanted to destroy Israel. I don’t think any of the panellists do, or said anything to create that perception. The blog’s author has simply exposed himself as hysterical as anyone watching the embedded videos can plainly see for themselves what the panellists actually said.

UPDATE: The SOAS Israel Society has since put up full videos of the event, without silly commentary!

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