The American Jewish community overwhelmingly supports Israel and strongly opposes efforts to demonize and delegitimize the nation-state of the Jewish people by singling it out for boycotts, divestment or sanctions (BDS). Although there are divisions within the Jewish community about Israeli policies — particularly with regard to the peace process and settlements — once a year we try to put aside these differences by marching together in the Celebrate Israel parade, marking its 50th anniversary this June and expected to attract over 40,000 marchers, representing over 200 schools, synagogues and organizations.
For years, this parade has stood as a symbol of unity over the core issues: namely, Israel’s right to exist as the democratic nation-state of the Jewish people, Israel’s right to defend itself against existential threats and terrorism, Israel’s efforts to live in peace and security with its Arab and Muslim neighbors.
The organizers of the parade have always insisted that it is a unity event rather than a political one. It has imposed several broad criteria for inclusion, including identification with Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and the requirement that exclusively celebratory messaging be displayed by groups marching up the avenue. Until recently these criteria have been widely accepted by participants in the parade and those who support it.
This year there have been efforts to exclude from the march several groups that support the targeted boycott of products from the West Bank. Though I strongly oppose any form of boycott against any Israeli products, I also oppose the exclusion from the parade of those who disagree with me and most American Jews on this issue.
First, why do I, as a strong supporter of the two-state solution, oppose targeted boycotts? I do so because any boycott that singles out Israel is bigoted in effect if not in intent. Many of those who advocate such boycotts eagerly buy products from China, Russia, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and other countries whose human rights records are far worse than anything Israel is even accused of doing. One cannot single out Israel and claim to be fair. I’m reminded of the story of President A. Laurence Lowell of Harvard University who justified imposing a tiny quota on Jewish applicants because, in his words, “Jews cheat.” When a distinguished alumnus, Judge Learned Hand, wrote him saying, “You can’t single out Jews. Christians cheat too,” Lowell responded, “You’re changing the subject. We’re talking about Jews now.”
Well, you can’t just talk about Jews, and neither can you just talk about the nation-state of the Jewish people. Nor can you talk only about West Bank settlements. For a boycott to be fair, it must be directed against the worst first and against all offenders.
Moreover, the Palestinian Authority is at least equally responsible for the continuation of settlements on the West Bank. Its leaders turned down offers to end most of these settlements in 2000-’01 and 2007. And there would have been no settlements had Jordan, with the support of many Palestinians, not attacked Israel in 1967. So I regard any effort to single out Israel for any form of boycott to be immoral, bigoted and not conducive to a negotiated peace.
Why then do I oppose excluding people who support what I regard as immoral and bigoted? Because I want unity within the pro-Israel community. When I make the case for Israel on college campuses and around the world, I make what I call the “80 percent case for Israel.” By this I mean that I focus on issues on which there is widespread agreement and consensus. I fully understand that there is considerable disagreement and divisiveness over the other 20 percent, but unity over the 80 percent is crucial. I believe that most of those who in a misguided way support targeted divestment love Israel and agree with the 80 percent — well, maybe only 70 percent.
On one day of the year we must put aside our differences, march together and show the world that we all support Israel’s right to thrive as the democratic nation-state of the Jewish people. So on June 1 I look forward to marching with those with whom I disagree. On the following day we can renew our disagreements about the 20-30 percent.
Alan Dershowitz is a lawyer, professor and author, most recently, of “Taking the Stand: My Life in the Law.”