Palestinian Speaks Against BDS — Or Not

Bassem Eid

Bassem Eid.

Bassem Eid, billed as the former director of the Jerusalem-based Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, was born in Jerusalem but spent most of his life in a refugee camp.

Eid addressed an audience of close to 100 people on November 4, 2015 at Congregation Beth Hillel Beth El in Wynnewood. Continuing with a speaking tour that has taken him across the nation, Eid explained his claim that the boycott, divestment and sanctions program targeted at Israel (BDS) is harmful to Palestinians.

Eid’s talk was sponsored by Gratz College and the organization Scholars for Peace in the Middle East. David Weinstein, chairman of the Gratz Board of Governors, Yaron Seideman, Israeli consul in Philadelphia, and Jon Cohen, vice president of the Scholars for Peace organization, each gave introductions of the speaker and attacks on BDS.

Consul Seideman described BDS as anti-Semitic and an effort to “deprive Israel of a voice.” According to Cohen, Eid is a critic of the security forces of both Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

As Eid describes the problem of the Middle East, the issues are Hamas on the one hand, the Palestinian Authority under Abbas, and finally Israel. He blames Hamas for destroying economic recovery in Gaza that began in the period of Israeli control beginning in 1967. The PA, Abbas and Israel are blamed for entering agreements and then not moving forward to carry them out.

The disengagement of Israel from Gaza, according to Eid, was Prime Minister Sharon’s biggest mistake. By withdrawing and leaving a vacuum, Sharon allowed Hamas to take over and to claim credit for forcing Israel to withdraw. The Oslo Accords also have damaged the Palestinians, substituting a dictatorship of Abbas for the dictatorship of Arafat.

Today, according to Eid, all three parties are relatively satisfied. Hamas has Gaza, Israel transfers funds to the PA but maintains security, and Abbas has lost popularity and could not win an election but remains in full control.

BDS, says Eid, is just another organization sapping money that could otherwise be used to advance the welfare of Palestinians. He complains that the organization lacks transparency, but suspects that it is the “precursor of a genocide against Palestinians.” Its goal is to destroy both the Israeli and Palestinian economies. Boycott, he says, is not real but just “stickers” and posters playing on Arab cultural susceptibility and the force of nationalism.

Responding to questions from the audience, Eid reiterated his view that improving the Palestinian economy would relieve the conflict. Economics, not ideologies or religion, is the controlling force in his view.

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  1. says

    The title of the talk that Gratz advertised, a knowledgeable Palestinian speaking on “How BDS is Harmful to Palestinians,” drew a large crowd but was a misrepresentation.  Eid said little about BDS and they were mostly generalities (not so his several introducers, who laid into the BDS movement with vigor).  Eid spoke primarily about the failings of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.

    But simply because Eid is an “Uncle Tom” to Palestinians is not a reason to ignore him or his remarks.  Supplying a few points that he implied but never stated, a serious message emerges from his talk

    The BDS movement is unlikely to do much damage to Israelis or Palestinians. When large nations boycott, over time the effect can be substantial (think Iran nuclear agreement), sometimes requiring fairly vigorous armed insurrection to succeed (think South Africa). When ordinary people, consumers, educators, even manufacturers boycott, the results are usually little or nothing (think California grape growers or, indeed, past programs directed at Israel).  Eid said nothing to disagree.

    Eid recognizes that the Palestinians cannot, by terror or otherwise, overcome the Israeli occupation.  If his people or the BDS movement increase the pressure, Israel will respond only by tightening the screws, and hence his suggestion that BDS is a step toward a Palestinian genocide.

    Eid is a realist and holds no hope for an early solution to the problem, but he is striving for a longer-term way to reach a better place. Eid’s hero is Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian economist who built community and economy in the West Bank after Oslo.  His argument is that the hundreds of millions of dollars that Western nations donate monthly to the Palestinian Authority could make a difference if they were instead invested in creating infrastructure and industry.  Simply put, happy well fed Palestinians should be no threat to Israelis, and so someday should be able to reach a sensible accommodation that respects human rights.

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