Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, June-July 2013, Pages 64-65

Waging Peace

Rabbi Brant Rosen of JVP Speaks on BDS in Des Moines

RABBI BRANT Rosen spoke at Drake University in Des Moines, IA on April 29, about his personal journey to support Palestinian human rights. “I have come to believe that Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) is an enormously important movement,” he told a near-capacity audience gathered in Sussman Theater. “I believe that it is a call from Palestinians for support. The real question we need to be asking is not, ‘What about this country or that country?’ but ‘Are we going to answer their call, or not?’”

Rabbi of the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston, IL; co-founder of Ta’anit Tzedek, Jewish Fast for Gaza; and chair of the Rabbinical Council of Jewish Voice for Peace, Rosen is the author of the recently published Wrestling in the Daylight: A Rabbi’s Path to Palestinian Solidarity (available from the AET Book Club).

“If we believe their call is valid, that their oppression is real, then calling for popular support for a nonviolent resistance, which is a time-honored way that oppressed peoples have resisted far more powerful parties, as in the Montgomery Bus Boycott during the civil rights movement, I think it’s important to take this seriously,” explained Rosen. 

“Even if there are those in my community who are not ready to sign on, at the very least [we ought] not to condemn [BDS] irrationally as ‘Jew-hatred,’ which I firmly believe it is not,” he declared. “Can we argue about its effectiveness? Absolutely. But to shun all public consideration of it is, I think, narrow-minded and short-sighted.”

Rosen told his audience that for many years he had dealt with questions about Israel and Palestine by avoiding them with the thought that “it’s complicated.” After Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009, with Israel’s display of overwhelming military force against a captive civilian population, it no longer was complicated, he explained. 

Several times during his presentation, titled “Jews in Solidarity with Palestinians: BDS and Beyond,” Rosen’s comments drew general applause from an audience of activists and interested observers. During the question-and-answer period, Dr. David Drake, chair of the Des Moines Human Rights Commission, asked, “Is a two-state solution still possible?”

“I don’t believe it is, in the way that it has been defined in the past 20 years by the ‘peace process,’” said Rosen. 

“If you go to the West Bank and you see the reality on the ground, and I have done this numerous times, you understand that Israel is engaged in a very concerted policy.…Israel has been systematically demolishing Palestinian homes, revoking property rights and citizenship rights.…They’ve been Judaizing [much of the West Bank] and de facto annexing it. There’s no way you could imagine a contiguous, viable Palestinian state given what Israel has done. They’re doing this because they can, because no one is stopping them. Our government certainly isn’t,” said Rosen.

Another questioner accused Rosen of “glossing over the violence targeting Israeli civilians while focusing on Israeli operations that target militants” and ignoring thousands of civilian casualties in Syria.

“Our country, my country, doesn’t have a special relationship with the government of Syria that arms it, enables it, and looks the other way when [violence] happens,” replied Rosen, who noted that as an American and as a Jew he is doubly implicated in what goes on in Israel.

“The reason I spend so much time on this particular issue is because our community has been egregiously silent, and we hide behind arguments of ‘What about here? What about there?’ To me, that’s misdirection. That’s not the question to be asking,” said Rosen, adding that he is not sure the Israeli assertion, “they target civilians and we don’t,” is an honest one.

“Israel was founded through a dislocation and a disenfranchisement of the people who lived in that land, and Israel’s security since that time has been predicated on keeping a Jewish majority in that land and keeping the people who were sent out, out of that land, but also keeping down the people who remain, oppressing them,” he continued. “One of the things you find is that when people are oppressed, they tend to resist, sometimes violently...I don’t condone violent resistance, but I understand it. I understand that people who are put down long enough will fight back.”

Israel has always counted on more violence and greater firepower in the hope that finally the Palestinians will understand who is boss, said Rosen. 

“That will not break their resolve. It won’t end the misery. It will only end up in greater destruction,” Rosen concluded.

           —Michael Gillespie

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