The BDS movement and the opportunistic exploitation of self-denying Jews…writes Philip Mendes

November 11, 2013 by Philip Mendes
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Australian and other western Jews are just as divided as the Israelis themselves on potential solutions to the Middle East conflict.

Philip Mendes

Philip Mendes

I would estimate that about 40-45% of Jews support Israel without qualification, about 50-55% support a two state solution upholding both Israeli and Palestinian national rights and favour open debate on Israeli policies, and less than 1% hold anti-Zionist views.

It needs to be emphasized that most of the Jews who support two states are strongly committed to the well-being of Israel and Jews generally. They are no different to citizens in other liberal democratic societies who critique the policies of their own government – for example, Australians who repudiate the Coalition Government’s policies on Indigenous issues or refugees, or Americans who oppose their government’s involvement in Afghanistan or Iraq – without demonizing their entire state or nation as evil and oppressive.

In contrast, the anti-Zionist Jews mostly believe in the so-called “one state” solution whereby the existing Jewish State of Israel should be eliminated, and replaced by an exclusivist Arab State of Greater Palestine in which Jews would be at best tolerated as a religious minority. Their viewpoint is not only tiny in Jewish communities worldwide, but also marginal even among left-wing Jews.

As I have argued elsewhere, there is little doubt that a Greater Palestine is the ultimate political objective of the international Campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel (BDS). Not surprisingly within the BDS movement, the opinions of the small minority of anti-Zionist Jews loom larger than life. For example, Federal Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon has claimed that “many Jewish communities support this work.” In fact, noJewish communities support the BDS. Similarly, the Mayor of Marrickville, Fiona Byrne, proudly cited support from the NSW Jews against the Occupation group which has about 10 members, and also claimed support from “a growing number of Jews from all over the world.” In fact, the only organized Jewish community group in Marrickville, the Inner West Jewish Community and Friends Peace Alliance which is left-oriented and strongly supportive of a two-state solution, devoted considerable time and resources to opposing the Marrickville BDS proposal during the 2011 NSW State election campaign.

Similarly, BDS campaigner Professor Jake Lynch, head of Sydney University’s Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, has responded to accusations of discrimination against Israeli Jews by citing talks at the Centre by anti-Zionist Jews such as Ilan Pappe and Noam Chomsky as evidence of a non-racist policy. But Lynch is disingenuous in not acknowledging that virtually all the Jews hosted by the Centre have been fanatical anti-Zionists, and that the Centre has specifically excluded any pro-Israel Jews.

Some conservative Jewish commentators label anti-Zionist Jews as “self-hating” Jews in an attempt politically to discredit their arguments. Self-hatred is an alleged psychological condition which involves members of despised low-status racial, religious or sexual minority groups identifying with the values and prejudices of the majority group and internalizing their stereotypes.

But quantifying these views in such psychological terms is arguably problematic. For example, one can hypothesize that there might be a link between childhood experiences of rejection or exclusion by the Jewish community and later adoption of an anti-Zionist position. But to date no empirical studies verifying such an association exist. However, there is evidence that many anti-Zionist Jews have no interest in or knowledge of Jewish history, values and culture. They really don’t care what most Jews say or do. Those whose sole identity is a political one rather than a Jewish one can hardly be accused of self-hatred when they reject something to which they had no attachment in the first place. I personally prefer the term self-denying Jews, since anti-Zionist Jews mostly reject ethnic or cultural connections with the Jewish community, and eschew feelings of solidarity with other Jews who are oppressed or attacked.

So why does the BDS movement highlight the views of this small group of anti-Zionist Jews who are so unrepresentative of collective Jewish opinion? There are two reasons.

The first is a continuation of malevolent historical practice. There has been a long history of antisemitism in parts of the radical Left whereby a small number of unrepresentative token Jews are opportunistically encouraged to exploit their own religious and cultural origins in order to vilify their own people. This happened in 1929 when American Jewish Communists were obliged to defend the anti-Jewish pogroms in Palestine. It happened again in 1952/53 when Jewish Communists were rolled out to endorse Stalin’s antisemitic Slansky show trial in Czechoslovakia, and the so-called Doctors’ Plot. It has happened many times since 1967 when left-wing Jews have been pressured to publicly conform to the anti-Zionist fundamentalism of the far Left.

Radical Left groups would never employ such techniques against other historically oppressed nations. They would not publish the views of Indigenous Australians who completely oppose land rights, or demand that a feminist journal publish the views of women who totally oppose abortion. They would certainly not publicize the views of Palestinians or Arabs who support Zionism.

The second factor is that the BDS movement attempts to use Jewish anti-Zionists as an alibi against serious accusations of antisemitism by arguing that Jews also share their views. But this transparent strategy is easily exposed by anti-racists. David Hirsh has noted in relation to the participation of a small number of anti-Zionist Jews in the British campaign for an academic boycott of Israel: “Jews too can make antisemitic claims, use antisemitic images, support antisemitic exclusions and play an important, if unwitting, part in preparing the ground for the future emergence of antisemitic movement.” For example, Jewish anti-Zionist groups have defended racist arguments such as the allegation that Jews collaborated with the Nazis to perpetrate the Holocaust, or that Israel is perpetrating similar crimes to the Nazis, or that a Jewish lobby controls the international media.

Finally, our discussion needs to return to the question of which group gets to define the meaning and content of racism. The 1999 Macpherson Reportinto the murder of Stephen Lawrence in the UK is generally acknowledged as establishing that oppressed victims of racism should have that right. As an historically oppressed nation, Jews reasonably claim the right to identify when criticism of Israeli policies is reasonable and contextualized (as expressed by the large numbers of two state Israelis and Jews we discussed above), and equally when it falls into the realm of ethno-national vilification.

The fact that a small number of self-denying Jews join a movement that engages in ethnic stereotyping of all Israeli Jews and Jewish supporters of Israel worldwide irrespective of their political views does not provide any excuse for that movement’s prejudicial behaviour.

Philip Mendes is an Associate Professor in the Department of Social Work, Faculty of Medicine at Monash University, and is the Director of the Social Inclusion and Social Policy Research Unit. He is the author of the forthcoming book, “Jews and the Left: The Rise and Fall of a Political Alliance.”

This article was first published on ABC Religion & Ethics:




20 Responses to “The BDS movement and the opportunistic exploitation of self-denying Jews…writes Philip Mendes”
  1. Larry Stillman says:

    Phillip Mendes

    1) it is a pity that the Ed of Jwire just published your piece without acknowledgement,but you do enjoy self promotion.

    2) I’ve published lots as you know on such matters, including in Jwire

    3) I am not a stalker. It is just that you are engaged in gross political distortion and over-simplification. Many people on the left just can’t be bothered anymore with your weak form of analysis and McCarthyist labelling which is based on weak or no data and an even weaker causation chain. I still have a bit of energy to respond so when things go too far. But at least Peter Slezak found the time and energy to do so as part of an article on BDS as you well know, I differ with him on many fronts. See

    • admin says:

      It was acknowledged

      • Otto Waldmann says:

        Larry S.
        Irrespective of Philips Mendes’ opinions published here, your complaint that you and your group are persecuted in some McCarthyst fashion is simply ridiculous, to say the least. You have been stronlgy objecting to the mainstream Jewish communal attitudes in almost all manners of its manifestations. In fact, I cannot name one issue on which you would be in sync with the Jewish community, yet you have the audacity to complain of being persecuted !!!??? For decades “your” people ( yes, the Jews) have been showing you anything but agreement with your ideological stances on Zionism in the most open and sincere way. The recent reluctant acceptance of the group you belong to by the Victorian formal Jewish fold was done not because there are demonstrable points of kinship, but IN SPITE of the opposite and only to deminstrate some idiotic notion of an “inclusive tent”. That did not mean that you “belong” and that is consistent with everything we know about your specific efforts to demonstrate that you do NOT belong. You cannot have it both ways in a clear contradiction.
        Otherwise Peter Slzak is incredibly erratic in the piece you refer to, so much so that one needs quite a few pages to analyse and describe his outstanding fallacies. And the bloke is a philosopher………………

    • Larry, you might say that you differ with Slezak on many fronts but the way you present makes it almost impossible most of the time to tell the difference.
      I await your comments to Slezak’s article on BDS at the ABC’s Religion and Ethics program website with some bemusement.
      Slezak has recooked an article that he had published on New Matilda two weeks before (refer with no acknowledgement.
      Maybe you might take your time to refer to the comments there that expose Slezak and his ilk for being “false” Jews, who are in the habit of using lies and deceit to forge an argument.

  2. In what category does Philip Mendes place the 110,000 + and fast growing Satmar chassidic community, more than all the Jewish population of Australia. They mostly live in New York but there are many in Israel and in other countries. They also refuse to recognise the State of Israel for reasons similar to those of Neturei Karta.

    • Otto Waldmann says:

      you are making it look as if Philip Mendes is protecting Neturei Karta and Szatmar. Otherwise , you are right about them.

      • Thank You Otto. No I don’t think PM is “protecting” them. He is ignoring them, because they don’t fit his theories about self denying Jews.The diversity of belief among world Jewry makes PM’s attempt to categorize, laughable. He lacks historic perspective. Only 65 years ago, there were many respectable Jewish groups in Melbourne who were actively anti Zionist, for a variety of reasons. From the very respectable ultra anglophile St. Kilda Hebrew Congregation to the Bundists, and from the ultra orthodox to the communists. Today many younger people, particularly in the USA are rethinking their allegiance to Israel, but very keen to establish a jewish identity, wherever they may live. On the other hand many Israeli wish to be free themselves of a specifically jewish identity and prefer to identify as simply Israeli.

  3. Hilary says:

    I’m sure I can’t be the only person appalled by the ad hominem attacks on Philip Mendes that have been flying thick and fast over the past few days. And as far as I’m convinced Philip deserves great praise for hitting the nail on the head where the repugnant BDS movement is concerned.
    Keep up the good work, Philip!

    • Otto Waldmann says:

      you realise that you make a laughable tandem of non sequitur by strictly relying on Philip’s and you own opinions.
      The ad hominem fallacy ain’t workin’ here. Philip and anyobody esle for that matter right here and everywhere posts HIS OWN opinions as in the HOMINUS Philipus and doing it with pride and accellerated indiference to what others, but mainly bare reality, have to say.AS such your dreaded “ad hominem” is nullus !!!
      Philip’s “good work” is to extract the BDS from some “repugnant” quarters and assume it all under his own ideological tutelage; isn’t right, Philip ?!
      More clearly: Philip Mendes is NOT against the BDS as he is quite clearly, even for you,as he is in favour of boycotting the Jewish “settlements”. This is a “sub-section” of the BDS, but STILL BDS !!

      Are you EVER going to get anything straight !!!

      • Otto Waldmann says:

        I owe further clarification of my objections to Hilary’s unfounded claim that Philip Mendes is being attacked here ad hominem.
        All opinions expressed, including the ones I do not agree with, in regards to P.Mendes’ positions do not contain any irrelevant facts about the author, i.e. P.Mendes. They all address substantive matters of the argument. They all would necessarily associate the criticism of the opinon with the author of the opinion. THIS IS NOT AD HOMINEM and I am surprised that, of all people , Hilary pegs her objections on such arguments.

  4. Ben Elijah, you don’t be so pessimistic about the economic future of Palestine. I was at a function for Save A Child’s Heart (SACH) last night at British Ambassador’s residence in Tel Aviv. At least a third of those present were Palestinian doctors and nurses working and training in Israel. All those I spoke with, work in Palestine as well. About 8 separate individuals . There is an enormous amount of interaction going on at ground level. Not only in the medical field, which Israel very much values, to the extent that Silvan Shalom once again publicly pledged ongoing Israeli financial support for SACH as did the EU commissioner who co hosted the evening with USAID, but also in hi tech, where many Palestinian programmers are increasingly employed. There are more than 40,000 highly skilled hi tech Palestinians. And leading industrialists such as Steffie Wertheimer are other business leaders are very keen to “exploit” this resource, while at the same time being very conscious of the need to do it in a way which enhances the Palestinian Economy as well. On the other side, there are amazing entrepeneurs such as Mohammed Al Masri from Nablus who taking the Israeli settlement blocks as a model, has created a completely new town for 40000 inhabitants, Rawabi, only 45 kilometers from Tel Aviv,looking down on to the coastal plain. 1st new town in Palestine for hundreds of years. He is unashamed and unapologetic, despite local critics, in his use of Israeli contractors and expertise. Yes it facilitated the granting of permits. And no doubt Mr 11percent, got his share. But there were no charitable funds involved. Al Masri is a big time contractor whose main business interests are in Morocco. What he did, was get Qatar to help fund the project, but as an investment. The project is well on its way. 18 months after construction began, 7-8 years getting permits, there at many buildings now ready fo occupation. Al Masri is also very open about entwining the 2 economies. The more dependent (as equals) they are the better it is for all.

    Another point Ben, here in Israel where the Arab population had always been excluded from defence industry related hi tech, skilled physicists and mathameticians have had to take jobs teaching high school. Now with the Russian emigration generation retiring, there are more well qualified maths and physics teachers in the Arab sector than in the Jewish secular. You don’t even have to consider the religious streams.
    Many highly skilled Palestinians have been forced to work abroad. With the upheavals in the Middle East
    Some are returning with money to invest. Of course we need an agreement for development to take off. But as both Steffie Wertheimer, Shimon Peres, Mohamed al Masri and others agree,Palestine has the potential to take off just as well as Israel has. There is no need whatsoever to think it will always be a dependent state. Just let it be….

  5. Apart from all the other furfies, misinformation and distortions, Philip Mendes article incorporates, I am puzzled by the omission of the largest single group, tens of thousands, who are outspokenly in support of a one state (Arab) solution. There is a very large and rapidly growing extremist Haredim population mainly located in New York, but also present here in Israel. They have opposesd the State of Israel from it’s inception and continue to do so to this day. In the past, they have send delegates to Iran and Hizbollah. The other large one state solution group, is that on the right in Israeli politics. Of course they advocate a single Jewish state. Now that we have Avigdor Lieberman back at the helm, we will hear even more about this option.

  6. Larry Stillman says:

    Since P Mendes has copied and pasted from his article on the ABC website and put it on J-wire in pursuit of publicity, I feel compelled to do the same with my comments to his very sloppy piece, though I have devoted more time to his demonization of Jews on the left than differences in approaches to BDS (which range from nutty to boycott settlement products).

    It is a great pity that Philip Mendes continues to peddle suppositions as fact about the supposed political-only identity of what he regards as ‘anti-Zionist Jews’ and their supposed total identification with hard line BDS and what he has been calling for some years ” an exclusivist Arab State of Greater Palestine in which Jews would be at best tolerated as a religious minority”.

    For starters, his supposition is drawn from an insubstantial depiction of a huge range of groups which exist internationally, ranging from the fringe Neturei Karta anti-Zionist anti-Orthodox, who much to my regret are happy to be used as ‘authentic’ Jewish by various causes, to religious Jews who consider themselves Zionist but are strongly anti-Occupation (the Israeli Rabbis for Human Rights), to a range of religious and secular Jews in the US found in such groups as Voices for Peace, to socialist Zionists–non-Zionists in Israel and other countries , and it goes on. He has also regularly engaged in denunciations of (unnamed) members of the Australian Jewish Democratic Society for acting as willing stooges for various anti-Israel causes. To lump Chomsky’s critique of Israel in with ultraleftists is erronenous as Chomsky still thinks Israel as a state should exist and in any case, he opposes BDS!!! The fact is, that there is a huge range of views on the state of Israel as a Jewish state, as a secular state with a Jewish majority, or as a state of all its people and this is also reflected in debate within Israel itself within left circles, small as they may be. But they are influential.

    He avoids this complexity entirely but instead goes for his scary but simplistic Arab State of Greater Palestine, though it is clear that within the Palestinian movement itself, there are many who are committed to secularism and equality (i.e. one person, one vote) as human rights principles, no matter what the state formation. He forgets that many middle class Palestinians would be as much challeged by any fundamentalist Palestine as Jews (Hamas being case in point — many do not like it one bit).

    Futher, to use the Monash survey of the Jewish community as a measure of Zionist identity is deeply problematic in my opinion, because the question was woolly, drawing upon degrees of agreement with the statement ‘I care about Israel’ if my memory serves me correctly. To care about Israel does not mean that one is a Zionist, given that Zionism has many,many definitions (despite the claims of some on the ultra left).

    In addition to take the extreme case (which he does), to construct a house of cards around what is alleged to be the ultimate goal of the BDS movement is dishonest, because as far as I can see, there is a split in the BDS movement, though I agree with him, how the movement expresses itself is often through he loudest and most extreme voices. But despite this problem (and I have strong differences with BDS essentialism and its strategies), Mendes is unable to address and does not address, the fundamental reasons why the movement has taken the path it has –the control regime instituted by Israel has led to a very hard opposition line and the application of a messy doctrine that creates an inverse reaction in the Jewish community. The BDS movement at times appears to have removed itself from political relatity of conflict resolution (as Norman Finkelstein has made very clear).

    Finally, while he appears to deny a form of psychological analysis of Jews who have a political, rather than what he regards as an acceptable ethno-cultural identity, he still launches into a form of negative assessment of such people, without any real data. Yet we have at least since the late 19th century seen the emergence of strong, non-religious identities in the Jewish community, often linked to political and particularly progressive causes and this has been transferred generationally. Yet Mendes appears to dismiss such people lock stock and barrel (though he has admitted his own atheism in the past and in that part, I am in the same sinking boat as he in this era). In fact, as numbers of commentators have written, there is a very different kind of Jewish identity emerging, particularly in the US, but it certainly also has its connections in countries like Australia: people who are have ‘intercultural’ relationships, an ambivalent, hostile, or sometime strong relationship to aspects of Israel culture, an appreciation of alternative religious practice and so on. It also questions the idea of Jewish ‘nation’ or ‘nationhood’ as a political rather than cultural formation (i.e. Zionist identity). But this subtlety has gone missing in his account.

    Thus, his picture of the Jewish left in particular (from which he has divorced himself for over a decade now except through assiduous Casaubon-like reading of minutes and newsletters), and the complexities of the BDS movement is divorced from realities, particularly the reality of a new generation of under 30s for whom a whole new set of identity hooks and tropes are at play.

    • Otto Waldmann says:

      Larry, mate, you are simply adorable !! Your lengthy piece is kinda” you wanna piece o’ me “, offer yourself on he enjoyable altar of ridicule, aren’tya !
      Your notion of “Good BDS” and “Bad BDS” akin to the same with our cholesterol had me rolling. The other one with the “left” being influential, whether Israel ( furious laughter ) or out here, reminds me of their meeting place, in that famous RED telephone booth, yeah, influencing big time !!
      The other one you HAD to serve up on us, suspecting readers of anything you put down or elevate, is the “democratic” character of the Palestinian ethos/society, the daring monstruosity of “one person, one vote”, in their case, a leaf from Goebels’ “How to Vote” pocket manual.
      But what took the cake, the back-lava, was your palestinian protejays, champions of “human rights”……………….Don’t read me to realise how amusing you are, READ YOURSELF instead once again and then have a good laugh. Honestly, you deserve it, it is the beast treatement for the way you are being received by 99.99% of , still, your people.

      Yes, a bitter divorce scene right here between Philip ( who, incidentally is a cripto lefty anyways ) and the honest, out of cupboard RREAL nutty (yr words)meshugene in what is the left(over) side of our great and varied mishpucha.

      Gees, and I could have written a funny piece instead of this sober crtique of an “ideological” lovers’ tiff.

    • Philip says:

      Larry Stillman – you seriously embarass yourself by your constant stalking of my opinions and views on the internet. At last count, this is about 65 times over the past 5 years. You could make a far more functional contribution to the Jewish political debate by putting your own views out there, and then accepting that not everyone will agree with you. Why don’t you consider doing that, and forget about attacking me? And FOR THE RECORD, Henry Benjamin, the J Wire editor, requested permission to reprint my piece from the ABC Religion and Ethics site.

  7. ben eleijah says:

    The BDS campaigners are primarily demanding withdrawal from the West Bank and lifting the siege of Gaza. Israel is making a two state solution impossible by contuining to expand stattlements and the barrier. Even if the Zionist state is replaced by a bi-national state, the economic position of the Palestinians will not change dramatically. The Jewish population has the advantage of centuries of western education, training and ownership businesses and connections with Europe and the US. None of that will change. The Palestininas will remain a numerically bigger but economically, educationally much weaker part.

    • Otto Waldmann says:

      “ben eleijah” is so anxious that the whole world should know how deficient his thoughts are. You are telling us that your people are in fact incapable to make anything worthwhile of their lives. Not quite so, ir seems. They are quite capable to produce hatred and desires for the destruction of what the “other” people next door, yes the bloody Zionists, have built with their brains and sweat while keeping vigil over the bloody minded neighbours bent on destroying the Zionist dream come true.
      Yes, the palestinians are badly behind in everything but only because their priorities are guided and lead by people with YOUR type of “intelligence”.
      As long as hatred, violence and evil thoughts toward the Jews will dominate their existence, they shall wallow in deserved misery.
      You know what, “ben”, just go and tell your problems somewhere else, because we don’t give a stuff about your self-created afflictions.

  8. Otto Waldmann says:

    “Temeo Mendesi et dona ferente ” is my version of “Careful of Phil Mendes bearing any resemblance to a fair comentator of the BDS “.
    So, what’s behind “Lucky Phil’s ” ( see “Hey, hey it’s Saturday !!!) sardonic smile in the attached pixy portrait !!??
    We look carefully at some of the figures Phil Mendes is trading above.
    His “estimates” would not be even that much as “estimates” simply because the reader is not edified to what sociometric methods we could afford the esteem of ” 40-45% of the Jews (who) support Israel without qualifications” alongside the “50-55% who support the two state solution”.
    Why is that 40-45% importnat. We find out in Phil Medes’ next paragraph which is very, very crafty. What Phil asemebled there is an analogy which will amaze. Those 40-45% are suddenly analogue to the Australians who “repudiate the Coalition Government’s policies on Indigenous issues or refugees…”
    Really !? Aren’t we , actually talking here about some 11-15% Australians identified generally as Greens, comfy. lefties, anti “Israeli occupation , Jewish settlements and in favour of boycitting their products !?, exactly the same as THE Philip Mendes we find amply performant under that red lettered “argued elsewhere” ??!!!

    It is all well criticising the repudiable 1% so called “Jews”, in fact ideological apostates, virulently anti Zionists, but we, the “55-60%” “estimated” Jews who would not be amiable to the palestinian image and IT’S own duplicitous nature, have serious issues with the same Philip Mendes arguing ELSEWHERE that the BDS is justified when it critiques OUR Jews living and producing export quality goods hapily in Judea and Samaria.
    Nice , but unlucky try Philip !!!

  9. Gil Solomon says:


    Your comment: “It needs to be emphasized that most of the Jews who support two states are strongly committed to the well-being of Israel and Jews generally. THEY ARE NO DIFFERENT to citizens in other liberal democratic societies who critique the policies of their own government.”

    They are certainly different.
    Those citizens of the other democratic societies you refer to do not, in any way shape or form, face an existential threat day in day out from regimes who want them eliminated from the face of the earth and who are trying to achieve the capability to do just that.

    Americans or Australians are free to demonstrate against any initiative taken by their respective Government knowing full well that the decision taken will in no way affect the survivability of their country.

    Israel is a different case and I am surprised that you missed this point and went on to write in generalities. A wrong decision by Israel could prove fatal and we have the appalling situation of a divided world Jewry babbling on with many having no idea of the consequences of what they are uttering.

    • ben eleijah says:

      Existential threat is a bogey dragged out every time there is the question of Israeli colonization. Israel is the biggest military power in the region, the sole possessor of WMDs and is the regional representative of the sole superpower USA.

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