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You might measure one’s political-moral character by that same one’s capacity for compromise. More specifically, if one will freely yield on basic principles, then that person ought to be respected not at all. I maintain a hard, inflexible line on every moral proposition, which is why I’ve supported only two politicians in my life hitherto. Yes, I have a lot of deal-breakers, and the deals are proving to be particularly brittle in the Trumpish Age. If you support Mike Pence’s scheme to engineer a coup in Venezuela, then you won’t receive my vote—that means you, Joe Biden. If you refuse to stand in defense of Julian Assange, or if you stand with the Pentagon in prosecuting him, then you won’t receive my vote—that means you, Andrew Yang, and that definitely means you, Elizabeth Warren. And if you see Gaza through an exclusively Israeli lens, if you think that the government of Israel is entirely in the right and the government of Palestine is entirely in the wrong, then you won’t receive my vote—that means you, Cory Booker.
For the record, I do not maintain a reciprocal stance on the Gaza question. If you wholeheartedly embrace the Palestinian government and believe that it has never taken a misstep in its interactions with Israel, then I won’t say that I agree, but I won’t condemn you, and I won’t refuse to vote for you, either. I’m not suggesting that Palestine and Israel deserve equal blame; on the contrary, it is incredibly obvious to me that the Palestinians are the victims here, and therefore, any wrongdoing on their part would have to be considered in the context of Israel’s anteceding aggression. All I’m saying is that I don’t know if I would take the aforementioned unilateral approach, at least for the moment. And I would still be willing to vote for you, whereas I would not be willing to vote for a person who says that Israel has never done anything wrong.
In any case, it is unfathomable that we would ever see a mainstream politician express unapologetic enthusiasm for Palestine, even though gushing Israeli jingoism is essentially the official language of Washington, D.C. There is, however, a Palestinian movement that is tantalizingly close to going mainstream in America; I’m referring, of course, to the BDS movement, which encourages people and their governments to boycott the Israeli government, divest themselves of financial ties to the Israeli government, and sanction the Israeli state until it abandons its imperialist campaign and finally leaves the Palestinians in peace.
All of that sounds pretty good to me . . . well, not all of it. I do have one issue with BDS, and that is its last recommended action: sanctioning. I am not a fan of sanctioning governments. In the first place, sanctions seldom directly affect the people in government, the people in power; all too often, the sanctions are felt only by the unempowered people, by the people hanging at the bottom of the economic ladder, the people who are too poor to buy their way out of the sanctioned market. This is certainly the case in Venezuela, where access to food, medicine, and basic utilities is thwarted by the United States. The Venezuelan wealthy can overcome this monetary hurdle, but what about people in poverty? They’re the real victims of the sanctions, while the people in government never miss a meal.
The only way those people in government are ever affected is if the suffering among those beneath them becomes so ubiquitously lethal that the administration loses control. That is what Mike Pence and our government are doing right now, in Venezuela: seeking to inflict so much suffering on the disempowered and defenseless that Maduro is run out of office. It’s repulsive, and it would be no less repulsive if it were to happen in Israel. I am perfectly aware that, unlike Maduro, Netanyahu is a psychopath who would be all too deserving of whatever fate he were to suffer at the hands of a desperate people, but our schadenfreude wouldn’t justify the suffering of the Israeli people, such suffering being necessary to engender revolution—but only if we choose to sanction Israel.
Fortunately, there are other ways to bring about this change, two of which are mentioned by BDS: boycotting and divesting. Both of these forms of economic protest are conceptually voluntary, and both of them lack the compulsive element that is the cornerstone of sanctioning. Now, it stands to reason that economic hardship would visit the Israeli people through either of these methods, and I am not so naïve as to suggest that we can effect systemic change without making waves, without making some kind of disturbance. But once again, these methods lack the exercise of force: neither of them threatens another government with penalties and complications if that government chooses to work with Israel. Through these methods, no one is threatened except for Netanyahu and those in his regime. I agree with Ron Paul, who says that sanctions are invariably a precursor to war, and I don’t like the aggression at their core.
You might take a very different view. You might cite the successful sanctioning of South Africa, the result of which was, of course, the end of apartheid. If you agree with every principle of BDS and support the movement, then you have plenty of reasons to do so, and I’m okay with that. Truly, I am: your support for BDS is not a deal-breaker to me. It’s not a deal-breaker because I know you approach the issue thoughtfully, with honorable intentions, and with sufficient evidence to defend your claim. Maybe you’re right. Maybe we have to get tough with Netanyahu, and perhaps this is one of those occasions where you have to fight for the spirit of our philosophy, rather than defend its every particular. But I respectfully disagree, and at the very least, I am confident that our focus should be on boycotts and divestments, rather than sanctions.
Unfortunately, the United States government has no respect at all for any Palestinian perspective, least of all an advocative view, and therefore, our government is obsessed with stomping out BDS. So fanatical are the leaders of this country that the Senate has already passed a bill to prohibit, by law, several of the most significant forms of support for the BDS movement. It should be obvious to everyone that this law would violate the 1st Amendment, but then again, so is the prosecution of Julian Assange, the public response to which has been all but muted. Fortunately, there is at least one person in Congress who opposes both the repressive Senate bill and the aggressive prosecution of Assange, and that person is Tulsi Gabbard. Of course, the only reason anybody knows that she does not support the Senate bill is because she mentioned it in a recent video, a video that she made only because she was drawing controversy for supporting a different bill, House Resolution 246.
House Resolution 246 is less than eight hundred words long, so you really ought to read it yourself. If, however, laziness becomes you, then allow me to summarize: the bill unambiguously condemns the BDS movement because the movement does not advocate for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Now, we have to be careful when we’re talking about the two-state solution: although it is presented in mainstream circles as an objective solution, as an ideal compromise, it does nothing to address the Palestinians’ obvious complaints that hundreds of thousands of Israelis occupy their territory. Clearly, there is no “ideal” outcome to this crisis, a crisis that America has exacerbated through its militaristic meddling. But, with that being said, it is understandable for a neutral observer—which is the only thing that the United States should be—to endorse a two-state solution, if only through a desire for “compromise”, used as a synonym for “equality”.
One relevant difference between House Resolution 246 and Senate Bill 1 is that the former doesn’t restrict anybody’s right to support BDS. On the contrary, the bill states that “boycotts and similar tools aimed at promoting racial justice and social change have been used effectively in the United States, South Africa, and other parts of the world”, which reinforces much of what I said earlier in this piece. In other words, the bill encourages people to protest the Israeli government howsoever they desire, but it criticizes a particular movement as a misdirection of energies that could be spent more effectively. You may disagree with the substance of this bill, but to equate it to SB1 is over the top and, frankly, incorrect.
I completely understand your skepticism: the overwhelming majority of our government’s support for Israel is rooted in immorality and dishonesty. There is no question that Marco Rubio had awful ambitions when he introduced SB1. Fortunately, this is not the case with House Resolution 246. It cannot be disputed that it is substantively different from SB1, but even if its prescriptions were to fail to bring about a satisfactory solution to the Gaza crisis, they would have been undertaken with the right intentions.
And that is why I’m so disappointed to see so many of my allies on Twitter castigating Gabbard for her support of this bill. To hear them tell it, you would think that Gabbard had abandoned her pacifistic principles and become a shameless cheerleader for Israel. Has she expressed support for Netanyahu? Has she described Palestine as the aggressor? Has she ever been even momentarily inconsistent in her condemnation of American imperialism? No? Then why should we bury her on this day, after all that she has done to support our cause, simply because she honestly disagrees with some of us on this single bill? Are we really that procrustean? Are we really so haughty? Are we really so convinced of our own omniscience that we cannot permit a single disagreement, least of all a disagreement that, once again, is reached only through thoughtful analysis on both sides?
I’m prepared to make a shocking claim: on the issue of gun rights, I disagree with Gabbard’s call for universal background checks. Should that disagreement halt me from voting for her? Of course not! The only reason I even know about her stance on that issue is because I heard her say it during a campaign stop in Milford, less than an hour before her interview with me. Yeah, Tulsi Gabbard and I have a couple of disagreements, but not on any basic moral principle. Her support for universal background checks is not a deal-breaker to me, and it shouldn’t be to you, either. Concordantly, her support for House Resolution 246 is not a deal-breaker to me, and it absolutely shouldn’t be to you, either.
Before we go, can I just say how refreshing it is to have a massive group of people gather to debate policy and substance, rather than personality, triviality, or rumor? I mean, think about it: we describe this as a “massive” controversy, yet the people reading CNN don’t even have the slightest idea that anything is going on. They’re too busy debating how “polite” Joe Biden should be when he debates Kamala Harris; we’re discussing Tulsi Gabbard’s support of a little-known bill, and yet, she is receptive enough to post a video to address the controversy. It’s a good problem to have, folks.