Are progressive Zionists like us “murderers” for opposing settlements and calling for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? In the eyes of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) and their allies on the right, we are. And with a spirited demonstration on May 11 at UJA-Federation of New York protesting the Israel philanthropy of the Federation’s president and the annual participation of progressive Jewish groups in the Salute to Israel parade, a “murder” charge against our community’s central organizational body may soon come as well.
Part of the reality of life in Israel is that Israelis are threatened and murdered by terrorists, so the charge of murder is not one to treat lightly. But for ZOA, the decision by the Zionist Supreme Court to throw out the ZOA’s frivolous legal attempt to ban the Hatikvah Progressive Zionist Slate for the World Zionist Congress is cause for extreme and divisive rhetoric dishonoring the sacrifices of victims of terror in Israel and threatening the unity of the American Jewish community.
ZOA declared, “This disgraceful decision is like a court concluding that murder charges are baseless because the murderer presented a one-page document saying “I’m opposed to murder” — while ignoring the facts that 10 videotapes show the murderer committing the crime…”
The comparison of the Hatikvah Slate and a murderer continues with several further references.
The Hatikvah Slate – Ameinu, Partners for Progressive Israel (PPI), and the Zionist youth movements Habonim Dror and Hashomer Hatzair – have and will continue to actively oppose the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. But we were forced to waste over four months and significant financial and human resources defending ourselves from distortions by ZOA and others aimed to expel progressive Zionists from the Zionist movement and to limit use of the eternal symbols of Zionism, like the name Hatikvah, solely to the Zionist right.
The global BDS movement seeks to delegitimize Israel, and we as Zionists stand together with Zionists of all stripes in fighting this campaign. But progressive Zionists also know that the occupation of the West Bank and the suppression of Palestinian national rights is an existential threat to Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state.
The “murder” reference — and the months of legal harassment of the Hatikvah Slate by ZOA — stem from the reality that some progressive Zionists, like PPI and the Israeli Peace Now movement, see limited boycotts of goods produced in the settlements, not in Israel proper, as a legitimate way to help end the occupation. Other progressive Zionists, like Ameinu, do not share this policy for reasons of substance and strategy. But efforts to end the disaster of the occupation are fundamentally compatible with — and we would argue crucial to — the struggle to defeat BDS and defend the legitimacy of a democratic and Jewish Israel.
The Zionist right, with ZOA as a leader, is also at the center of the campaign against UJA-Federation of NY and its president, mostly associated with the work of the New Israel Fund (NIF). While an opponent of BDS, NIF recognizes the tactical debate within the progressive Zionist world and funds organizations that fight the settlements and the occupation, including by supporting settlement boycotts. The UJAF president’s personal donations to the NIF, like the individual participation of leaders of NIF as candidates on the Hatikvah Slate, are twisted by ZOA to support claims that UJA-Federation, Ameinu and other members of the Hatikvah Slate, support the BDS movement. While they may fairly and passionately advocate against settlement boycotts, facts matter and actions have consequences.
Instead of fair competition for the hearts, minds and votes of Zionists, ZOA acts to defame committed supporters of Israel, and progressive Israelis who are working to defend their country’s future. Ultimately, the ZOA’s hostile and distorted rhetoric and attacks on progressive Zionists, threaten the unity of the Jewish community and its collective effort to support for the State of Israel. During dangerous and challenging times like today, this is a cost that the Jewish community and Israel simply cannot afford.
Kenneth Bob is the President of Ameinu, North America’s largest grassroots progressive Zionist Organization. Gideon Aronoff is Ameinu’s CEO.
Originally published on 5/22/2015 in The Jewish Week