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

A.R. G amithrgupta at gmail.com
Fri Oct 9 12:24:27 MDT 2015

PFLP-affiliated Palestinian Student Labor Front withdraws its endorsement
of the BNC statement attacking NYC-SJP:


- Amith

On Thu, Oct 8, 2015 at 9:42 PM, A.R. G <amithrgupta at gmail.com> wrote:

> 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
> concession).
> 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
> emphasize.
> - 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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