[Marxism] Row over NYC Palestine Activists' Critical take on BDS

A.R. G amithrgupta at gmail.com
Thu Oct 8 19:42:38 MDT 2015

Haa I've had the opposite bullying-related experience. Most of the people
that have gotten quite nasty with me were closer politically to the
opposite camp, often putting Western NGO's political priorities ahead of
the demands of the BDS call itself. I was astounded to see that many of the
BDS "successes" go out of their way to recognize Israel and categorically
ignore the right of return (although recent victories, such as the
electricians' union and the statement of black leaders did not make this

I know some of the NYCSJP crowd are Maoist, but I also know that quite a
few of them take very strict stances against sectarianism. I also know a
couple of them of personally, and while I disagree with some of their
stances I think they are coming from places of principle.

I also think something might have been lost in translation. These groups in
Gaza may in fact be discussing a very different BDS movement than their
own. Because BDS is really more of a tactic than a movement, they may not
be familiar with the conditions here in the US, where basic aspects of the
BDS demand are regularly thrown aside out of "pragmatism" -- such as the
right of return. I cannot imagine that they have ever had a shouting match
about whether or not the right of return is something that can be dismissed
on pragmatism grounds in Gaza, where 80% of the population is refugees.

Likewise, in speeches that he has made here, Omar Barghouti has publicly
stated that BDS is not a left movement, that there's "no Marx and Engels
here," and that it is entirely liberal in nature. That does not mean
leftists should spurn it (on the contrary, I think leftists who do not
support it need to explain themselves), but I think that leaves
considerable room for criticism. That is how I read the NYC-SJP statement,
I do not know how anyone who read it could consider it an "attack" on the
BDS movement rather than a recognition that there are limits to political
liberalism more generally. Indeed, I know from working with (some of) them
that many of them are leading the BDS initiatives on their respective
campuses. How they can be seen as attacking something that they are helping
to build does not make any sense to me.

I am trying to find the article I was referencing that Lou wrote on the
subject (I can't find it, and he doesn't remember it...could I have dreamed
it up?) but it was basically that the thing that is most needed in the BDS
movement is structural analysis. That understanding doesn't exist at the
moment. The focus on international law not as a narrative framework but as
a goal in-and-of-itself, in addition to the excessive reliance on
IL-focused liberal groups who, for a combination of reasons, do not take
demand #3 (right of return) seriously, is, in my view, a class issue. Given
that capitalism does not just randomly pop up, but has been imposed on
various parts of the world through a myriad of class institutions (states,
lobbies, NGOs, etc.) that maintain a number of different managerial
regimes, including international law, there will always be limits and
conflicting priorities when it comes to ensuring the protection of
particular rights. So while some of the liberal groups may be willing to
condemn the most egregious aspects of Zionism (the occupation) they will
not take the kind of stances that are necessary to isolate Israel as a
regime in its entirety. Moreover, even if they manage to do so (I suspect
they will continue obtaining plenty of help in doing so from Mr.
Netanyahu), there is no guarantee that all of the demands being put forward
by the BDS groups in Palestine will be met if the international
infrastructure of the movement is overly accommodating to Israel as a
regime -- particularly the right of Palestinian refugees to return, which
is seen (falsely) as a sort of existential threat to Israel as a regime. In
short, liberal internationalists do not adopt anti-Zionist or anti-colonial
views, and as a result, the centrality of BDS to organizing in American
spaces has brought in people with political priorities that foreclose on
some of the very demands in the BDS call. It is a blatant contradiction and
in my experience, that is what the NYC-SJP organizers are trying to

- Amith

On Thu, Oct 8, 2015 at 9:19 PM, Andrew Pollack <acpollack2 at gmail.com> wrote:

> I know the players all too well, and the BDS groups in Palestine were
> entirely correct in their criticism of the "NYC SJP" statement, which is a
> sectarian, ultraleft attack on the movement.
> Are any or all of the former groups class struggle revolutionaries? That's
> worth exploring.
> But the Maoist sect behind the denunciation of BDS and the
> mischaracterization of the movement's goals and leaders are narrow-minded
> bullies. (I know, having faced their wrath myself.)
> On Thu, Oct 8, 2015 at 8:10 PM, A.R. G via Marxism <
> marxism at lists.csbs.utah.edu> wrote:
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>> NYC Students for Justice in Palestine, a coalition of radical
>> anti-colonial
>> Palestine solidarity organizers, just released this statement calling for
>> a
>> more critical understanding of the growing BDS movement, seeing it as a
>> tool rather than an end in itself, and criticizing the increasing
>> dependence of the movement to defer to bourgeois elements of so-called
>> Palestinian Civil Society.
>> https://nycsjp.wordpress.com/2015/10/04/the-bds-ceiling/
>> Surprisingly there was an almost immediate response from a handful of
>> initiatives in Gaza, in turn megaphoned by the Ramallah-based BDS National
>> Committee, accusing the students of attacking and mischaracterizing BDS.
>> http://www.bdsmovement.net/2015/palestinian-student-groups-in-gaza-respond-to-attacks-on-bds-by-nyc-sjp-13309
>> The latter statement is, in my view, highly contradictory for reasons I am
>> willing to elaborate on personally, but as I am not privy to the details
>> of
>> this row I'd rather just post it here for discussion. I know Louis and
>> others on the left have been critical of BDS for lacking class analysis
>> and
>> being overly deferential to "international law". I think those are
>> legitimate areas of criticism for a movement that has an increasingly
>> liberal and bourgeois character and is largely represented by Western NGOs
>> rather than the Palestinian civil society.
>> As tensions continue to rise in occupied Palestine and others speak of a
>> third intifada, I think it is time we begin to have a more critical
>> discussion of exactly whom in Palestine peace activists, Marxists, and
>> leftists should align themselves with and whether or not many of the
>> international efforts for Palestine are being appropriately accountable.
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