BDS and the One State Fantasy

I’ve been meaning to write about an intriguing interview with Hussein Ibish that appeared in The Atlantic Monthly a few months ago.

Now Ibish is a highly controversial character, going back to his days at U Mass where, as both a student and teacher, he was notorious for bullying his allies and baiting (including Jew-baiting) his political foes.

That said, the Arab-Israeli conflict creates partisans of all stripes and Ibish clearly represents an “old-school” Leftist critique of Israel (and the US), one that rejects the “New” Leftism that has found common cause with reactionary fundamentalist Islam within the so-called “Red-Green Alliance”.

This perspective puts Ibish in a unique position to focus a critical eye on the so-called Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions “movement” (BDS), especially as it relates to what he refers to as the “fantasy” of a One State Solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

In Ibish’s view, the One State idea (in which Israelis and Palestinians would somehow turn themselves into a jointly-managed nation, similar to Belgium) is based on two ideas so divorced from reality they could only be held by certain college students, faculty or the mentally deranged.

First, he rightly points out that a One-State solution would require both parties to agree to such a plan and Israelis (recognizing what would likely happen to them as a religious minority in the Muslim world) reject such a plan almost unanimously.

He then goes on to point out that even if Israelis could somehow be convinced that a One-State solution was somehow in their interest, those who advocate such a One-State plan have chosen not to convince Israelis about their proposal but to bully them via the mechanism of BDS.

Think about this for a minute. Putting aside everything that you or I might dislike about the One-State agenda, at the very least advocacy for such a cause would require engagement with all parties, including Israelis. But these same One-Staters have made it clear they have zero interest in such an engagement, only the willingness to issues threats of boycott and sanction which can only serve to increase the Israeli public’s disinterest in their ideas and distrust in their motives.

This is where fantasy plays such a powerful role, and I found myself appreciating Ibish’s identifying of the fantasy factor in recent anti-Israeli polemics. As I’ve been noting since this blog began over a year ago, most BDS “successes” have proven to be failures or hoaxes, sustained as successes only in the imaginations of BDS advocates gripped in the fantasy of their own political relevance and potency.

But, as Ibish points out, the fantasy goes deeper than this. For their entire endeavor is based on the premise that by hectoring Israelis of all political stripes (including boycotts of Israeli academics who have traditionally supported the Palestinian cause), by threatening economic sanction and political isolation, they will bring Israelis to their knees and force them to take action that would threaten their national and, very likely, personal survival.

Now many nations throughout history have had to withstand political, military and economic sieges for years and decades on end. The siege of Israeli by its numerous and powerful neighbors is simply an extreme example of this phenomenon. And if you’ve withstood such a siege for so long, the notion that a Danish retirement fund selling of a few thousand shares of Israeli equities represents a threat (especially at a time when international investment in the Jewish state has never been higher) seems ludicrous, or – more accurately – something only a fantasist can believe.

Ibish, whatever his other faults, is no fantasist. And even if his goal is to simply turn his political allies towards more practical and realistic ways to win out against the Jewish state, his analysis is sound and compelling, regardless of his motives.

Of course, it’s possible that Ibish is on the Road to Damascus taken by the most noteworthy Leftist iconoclast of our generation: Christopher Hitchens, a man who defies political pigeonholing (at least to those unread in Orwell). While I’ve not seen anything that demonstrates Ibish possesses Hitchens’ breadth of experience and intellectual firepower, he has certainly demonstrated a willingness to hold a mirror up to the stupid and nasty face of BDS and a readiness to give “the movement’s” dirty laundry a well-needed public airing.

2 thoughts on “BDS and the One State Fantasy”

  1. I think that you're right that if the BDS advocates were serious about the one-state solution, they would be doing their best to woo Israelis to their side to agree to do it. But I don't think that they actually think the one-state solution will come through persuasion, compromise, and negotiation (which is the only way it could work in a peaceful way). I think that at least some of them are thinking of an imposed one-state solution – imposed by that nebulous entity called the international community, or by an armed UN force, or by the combined forces of the Arab-Muslim world.

    Or, if they don't harbor those particular violent fantasies, I think that what they're hoping for is that Israel will be forced by the same international community simply to grant citizenship to all the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza so that they will then have the electoral majority.

    The next mental step that they don't take is imagining what would happen in that case – all out civil war.

    I think that if they did go that far, they would be forced to support a two-state solution, and would then start pressuring both the Israelis and the Palestinians to come to an agreement already.

  2. I would say that, in his current role at the American Task Force for Palestine, Mr. Ibish has been an unabashed force for good when it comes to promoting positive, just, and peaceful solutions to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. This isn't to say I agree with him on every issue — but that caveat applies to pretty much every other human on the planet. The Pipes article you link to which tries to label him some sort of extremist firebrand is 8 years old, and seems to refer to events that occurred well prior to that (I can't tell, unfortunately, because Pipes doesn't link to sources for any of his allegations, making it impossible to see if he represents the events accurately).

    Now, I wouldn't trust Daniel Pipes any further than I could throw him, but even assuming that his account was entirely accurate, it is clear that Mr. Ibish's views are quite positive and salutary in the present (see, e.g., Pipes' grudging 2007 update). And it's a good thing when formerly hostile, implacable foes of Israel and peace change their opinions and become forces for moderation and reconciliation. That's something we should be celebrating — not undermining by throwing radical pasts back in their face. Even if Ibish was an enemy of Israel (and I'm not conceding that he was), he clearly isn't now. And the whole point of making peace is that it turns former enemies into current friends.

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