'It's counter-productive, circular firing squad purism'

Israeli peace group Standing Together says calls to boycott its work are ‘infuriating’

The Jewish-Arab organization has been among the loudest pro-ceasefire voices, while Palestinian members view outside pressure toward radicalism as benefiting Israel’s government

Left wing activists protest against the Israel-Hamas war, calling for ceasefire, in Tel Aviv, on January 27, 2024. (Itai Ron/Flash90)
Left wing activists protest against the Israel-Hamas war, calling for ceasefire, in Tel Aviv, on January 27, 2024. (Itai Ron/Flash90)

JTA — Palestinian activists within Israel and outside of it are arguing over whether to boycott a leading Israeli peace organization, and are accusing each other of playing into the Israeli government’s hands.

The public debate concerns Standing Together, a joint Jewish-Arab Israeli activist group with more than 5,000 members. The group has drawn international attention in recent months for being one of the loudest voices in Israel pushing for an end to the Israel-Hamas war and for renewed efforts toward Israeli-Palestinian peace.

But last week, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, or PACBI, issued a call for “conscientious people” to boycott Standing Together, charging it with seeking “to distract from and whitewash Israel’s ongoing genocide in Gaza.”

PACBI is a founding member of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, known as BDS. Its statement came on the eve of the International Court of Justice’s preliminary ruling that South Africa’s claims that Palestinians are at risk of genocide are “plausible.”

“By trying to paint Israel as a tolerant, diverse, and normal state, and focusing on ‘hatred’ rather than oppression as the problem, this organization is intellectually dishonest and outright complicit,” the statement said. “It is serving a key role in Israel’s international propaganda strategy at this time.”

Prior to the boycott call, Standing Together was already facing marginalization in Israel, where calls for a ceasefire have been rare and the vast majority of Jewish Israelis support the conduct of Israeli soldiers. On Tuesday, the group’s Arab Israeli membership, identifying as Palestinian citizens of Israel, issued a statement denouncing PACBI’s boycott call and saying that it only contributed to what it called the Israeli government’s crackdown on antiwar voices.

Left-wing activists protest against the Israel-Hamas war, calling for ceasefire, in Tel Aviv, on December 28, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

“Our ability to speak, act, or effect change under a fascist government is already severely limited and seems to be diminishing further,” the statement said. “Efforts to silence and isolate Standing Together do not serve the Palestinian cause, they serve the interests of Israel’s political establishment, which is also attempting to silence us.”

The statement, which was unsigned and issued through a Standing Together social media account, said the group “has provided us and tens of thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel a safe political refuge during these challenging times, a place to demand a ceasefire, grieve safely, and organize for a future where we are free and equal in our homeland.”

Standing Together activists protest against the Israel-Hamas war, calling for a ceasefire, in Tel Aviv, on December 28, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The group’s leadership includes both Palestinian and Jewish Israelis. It is preparing for its upcoming leadership elections as well as a major “peace gathering” in Haifa this week.

Standing Together has found a new audience for its vision of “peace, equality, and social and climate justice” since Hamas’s October 7 massacre of 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapping of 253 more to the Gaza Strip, sparked the ongoing war.

Inside the country, the group has seen attendance at its rallies grow, although it lacks supporters in Israel’s parliament as well as a plan to implement its ideas on a wide scale. Abroad, the group has found new fans on social media, particularly after two of its leaders, Alon-Lee Green and Sally Abed, embarked on a US tour.

Alon-Lee Green, co-director of the Standing Together movement, speaks at an event in November 2023. (Eliyahu Freedman/ JTA)

Its prominence has made it a target of Palestinians who oppose any initiatives that engage with Israel as a legitimate country. Founded in Ramallah in 2004 by a group of Palestinian academics, PACBI has long opposed efforts for Jewish Israelis and Palestinians to work together on those grounds. In 2009, the group’s opposition to a joint Israeli-Palestinian musical tour by Leonard Cohen led to the cancellation of his planned concert in Ramallah after several shows in Israel.

The group’s criticism of Standing Together elicited an array of responses last week, both on social media and on an internal WhatsApp group for Standing Together members in the Tel Aviv area.

On the WhatsApp group, some said they saw the statement as an opportunity for self-reflection and growth, while others dismissed the BDS movement and its member groups as out of touch with reality on the ground in Israel.

Standing Together’s fourth National Assembly, Haifa, February 2, 2024. (Courtesy Standing Together)

On X, formerly Twitter, Monica Marks, a professor of Middle East politics at NYU Abu Dhabi who supports Standing Together, described PACBI’s statement as “counter-productive, circular firing squad purism.”

Ahmed Fouad Alkhatib, who describes himself as a “Proud American from Gaza City” who is “pro-Palestine, anti-Hamas & violence,” harshly criticized the statement in a lengthy post on X.

“The movement is doing tremendous harm to the pro-Palestine movement by attacking Jewish and Israeli allies and is an increasingly fringe, radical effort that is going nowhere. Engaging with diverse Jewish/Israeli audiences, and yes, that includes pro-Israel Zionists, should be normalized, not criminalized,” he wrote.

“They’re trying to operate within the mainstream landscape to be effective and become a political home for diverse Israeli audiences disillusioned with the Netanyahu/rightwing regime,” Alkhatib added, referring to Standing Together. “That’s how you build effective power, not by appealing to fringe elements within the BDS/pro-Palestine movement.”

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