Opinion: Does the New Orleans “BDS vote” have any significance?

New Orleans City Council meeting on Jan. 11 (photo courtesy Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans)

January 11 started out as a day of celebration for the Jewish community of New Orleans, as a delegation from the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans, now led by former City Council President Arnie Fielkow, made a presentation to the council about the Federation’s history and its work in the greater community, and was honored with a proclamation.

Six hours later, in a move that came as a complete surprise to Jewish groups and pro-Israel allies around the state, the council passed a resolution, brought by the New Orleans Palestinian Solidarity Committee, that was immediately hailed as a victory for the anti-Israel “Boycott, Divest and Sanctions” movement — though the councilmembers insisted the next day that their votes on what looked to them like a feel-good declaration had nothing to do with Israel or any other country.

The episode left everyone scratching their heads and wondering how a resolution like this could have passed, and how there could be such a disconnect between the intent of the resolution’s promoters and what the councilmembers thought they were stating through their votes.

Basically, the non-binding resolution stated that New Orleans is a nice place, tolerant of everyone, and should not invest in companies that do mean things.

In other words, a baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet resolution. Who could oppose that? Certainly not a well-intended city council in a place that is trying to demonstrate openness to all.

But that was never the agenda of NOPSC, as quickly became evident.

The boycott-Israel movement, or BDS, takes many forms. For some, it is simply protesting the Israeli settlements in the territories (itself a red herring, but that’s another editorial) by boycotting of any goods produced by Israeli companies in the territories — now considered only the West Bank, since Gaza has been emptied of Jews and is under the complete control of Hamas.

Of course, these West Bank companies provide good jobs and high wages to Palestinian workers in an area desperately in need of economic activity, and the Palestinians in those areas aren’t keen on the BDS movement, but let’s be ideologically pure here.

Other strains of BDS target Israel in general, since the view of most of these Palestinian activist groups is that all of Israel, including the pre-1967 area, is occupied territory by presumed colonist outsiders, i.e., Jews.

BDS activists pressure musicians to refuse to hold concerts in Israel, as Lorde recently announced. They also try to cut off any collaboration between Western universities and their Israeli counterparts, push for the cancellation of shows or exhibits involving Israeli groups, shut down Israeli speakers on campus — even those on the left. They also try to shut down American law enforcement efforts to learn anti-terrorism best practices from Israeli counterparts, or emergency and mass-casualty response — an initiative New Orleans has benefited from.

In a classic “for thee not for me” move, one of the godfathers of the BDS movement, Omar Barghouti, was born in Qatar, lives in Acre (which is in pre-1967 Israel), and has a degree from Tel Aviv University, where he is pursuing a doctorate while trying to get academic institutions worldwide to boycott Israeli universities.

While criticism of Israel and Israeli policy is perfectly acceptable — in a country which former Prime Minister Golda Meir described as having three million prime ministers, it’s a way of life — it veers into anti-Semitism when denies the right of self-determination to Jews; uses classic anti-Semitic imagery or canards, such as conspiratorial Jewish power or the “harvesting” of Palestinian organs by Israel; compares Israeli defensive actions to Nazi genocide and the concentration camps; denies any historical connection between the Jewish people and the land of Israel; singles out the world’s only Jewish state as uniquely evil; and denies Israeli rights to self-defense that any other country would find necessary.

Many major German cities reject BDS, saying it all too often uses language and imagery from the Nazi era.

Usually, BDS battles take place on college campuses, where it is much easier to find a receptive audience among idealist students who can be attracted to the siren song of justice for the oppressed.

There, stealth is often employed, as it was in New Orleans this week. It is not uncommon for BDS resolutions before student governments to come up unannounced, or to have a vote scheduled for a meeting that takes place on Rosh Hashanah or the first day of Passover, times when it is certain that Jewish community opposition would be limited.

The Federation and Anti-Defamation League, among others, decried the way this measure was taken up suddenly, outside the usual rules, guaranteeing NOPSC the entire floor in discussing the resolution.

The resolution itself had no mechanism for determining which companies would be on the naughty list. The council members have stated that if an oversight body is set up, it would consist of stakeholders from throughout the community. No doubt, members of the Jewish community would be involved, along with allies in the general community, and because there would be ample notice and publicity, NOPSC can’t count on sneaking things by any more.

On their Facebook page immediately after the vote, NOPSC touted “We Won!” The battle, perhaps, but now that the rest of the community has been awakened, further “victories” will be far more difficult.

Another BDS battleground has been state legislatures, where measures have been passed to combat BDS and ensure states take no part in the demonization of Israel.

Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Florida and Texas are among the 24 states that have passed anti-BDS measures. When Obama signed the Trans-Pacific Partnership in 2015, there were anti-BDS provisions in it.

An anti-BDS measure shepherded by Rep. Valarie Hodges of Denham Springs passed the Louisiana House last June but was bottled up in the Senate.

When controversy broke out the day after the New Orleans City Council vote, the Palestinian activists tried to say in the Times-Picayune that their resolution was broad-based and wasn’t necessarily targeted at Israel (and since there was no country mentioned in the resolution, one might infer, do Zionists have a guilty conscience making them think this is about them?)

Of course, that characterization is completely disingenuous, because on their social media NOPSC promoted the resolution as the first step toward New Orleans divesting from Israel, and even had the meeting as a Facebook event called “City Council BDS Vote.”

Furthermore, the vote was immediately touted on social media in the Arab world and among the extreme anti-Israel websites like Mondoweiss as a breakthrough victory for BDS.

It is also laughable to consider that the NOPSC is interested in anyone other than Israel as a target of their resolution. In their remarks at the Council meeting and at their press conference in December, there was no mention of any other country, just Israel. Nothing about the Syrian civil war and the horrific death toll among Palestinians there, slave trade of blacks in Libya, repression of Palestinians through new draconian laws in Iraq, the horrific war in Yemen, repression in Russia, continuing Chinese occupation of Tibet, let alone the highly persecuted group in the Middle East that has been patiently waiting for a state of their own, the Kurds.

At a Palestinian activist panel at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 2015, one of the speakers was asked why, if the concern is about human rights in general, is all the activist attention focused on Israel? The response is that one has to start somewhere. The problem with that answer is that the effort begins with Israel, but also ends with Israel. See the above reference about singling out the world’s only Jewish state.

Palestinian activist groups attract allies to their struggle through the intersectionalist idea that one group’s struggle is every group’s struggle (well, maybe not Jewish struggle), then bring well-meaning groups aboard through the language of universal rights and shared struggle, but their sole focus is and always will be battling Israel.

Seriously, given the social norms in places like Gaza, does anyone truly believe Palestinian activist groups care about things like LGBT rights?

The irony is that it is the Jewish community, the supporters of Israel, who are far more concerned about the ultimate well-being of the Palestinian people than these so-called justice groups. The vast majority of Israelis have no interest in ruling over the Palestinians, and would love to see them as a peaceful, flourishing neighbor — and even partner — in a thriving Middle East.

But these Palestinian advocacy groups, through their boycott efforts, send the message that anything done to improve Palestinian lives comes a distant second to hurting and destroying Israel. Any effort to “normalize” the Palestinian condition by improving their situation would make it more difficult to keep up the ultimate goal — the complete elimination of the Jewish state, “from the river to the sea,” as their most popular chant goes.

You have to keep them motivated. Palestinians who have a life they are satisfied with aren’t likely candidates for a revolution, so you have to keep them miserable. That has been the modus operandi among their Arab brethren for seven decades. Don’t resettle them, don’t grant them citizenship, don’t allow them jobs, don’t improve their living conditions. Keep them as pawns on a bigger chess board. The Palestinian people are being used and abused by their own leaders and the rest of the Arab world, and fed the quixotic dream of taking over Jaffa, Haifa and the rest of what is now Israel.

They drown out the moderate voices that would be fine with a Palestinian state in the territories, working side by side in peace with the Jewish state of Israel. That is the true Palestinian tragedy.

A top Israeli official recently stated that the Palestinian economy is completely dependent on Israel’s economy despite massive amounts of foreign aid — because the Palestinian leadership has been enriching itself on the backs of its people through their kleptocracy, and rather than building economic infrastructure and institutions to serve the people, they concentrate on building tunnels into Israel and paying the families of those who carry out terror attacks against Israeli civilians.

It isn’t about helping Palestinians today. It is about hurting Israel, as a way of supposedly benefiting the Palestinians long-term with the achievement of an impossible goal.

And hoodwinking a city council to try and take one more step toward that goal? It’s all in a day’s work.