The year 2017 marks 50 years of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. This June, the month the occupation began in 1967, there will be an outpouring of concern. Predictably, apologists for Israel will try to discredit the protests by labeling them as anti-Semitic. This tactic has paid off in the past, in part because some critics of Israel really are anti-Semitic.

For instance, there is a resident of Ashland who is widely perceived that way. He denies the reality of the Holocaust and defends Hitler. Still, he claims only to be anti-Zionist, not anti-Semitic. Yet, his insulting posts on his Facebook page often refer to Jews, not to Zionists, so if his claim is not disingenuous, he is deceiving himself. His practice, however, makes it more difficult for critics of Israeli behavior, like me, to maintain the distinction, and this allows Israeli apologists to avoid the substantive issues by resorting to ad hominem attacks.

The Rogue Valley Chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) will observe the 50th anniversary with an art display and tabling on the Ashland Plaza on Saturday, June 3. JVP, a national organization with a rapidly growing membership, is a vehicle through which Jews like me can distance myself from Israeli oppression of the Palestinians and bear witness to justice as a core value of Judaism.

I am heartsick that, not very long after European Jews fell victim to the monstrosity of Nazism, so many of us were (and remain) willing to consign to misery a people who bore no responsibility whatsoever for the Holocaust. The State of Israel was born in an act of terrible injustice. But since many nations, including our own, established themselves by dispossessing others of their land, I accept Israel’s existence. But just as I must protest any further ill treatment of Native Americans by the U.S. government, so must I speak out against ongoing Israeli violations of Palestinian rights and dignity.

In addition, I urge all who share my distress to join the international boycott of Israeli products and divest from any corporations that profit from the occupation (go to https://bdsmovement.net/ for specifics), just as we did in the 1980s to help end apartheid. Because our government provides military, economic and diplomatic support to Israel no matter what its government does, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is the only way we can apply pressure for change.

Increasingly, BDS is having an economic impact. That is why pro-Israel forces have worked hard to suppress it. The Israeli Knesset passed a law that forbids granting visit, visas or residency rights to foreign nationals who support a boycott of Israel and its settlement policies. And with varying success, there have been legislative efforts in other nations to curtail the movement.

BDS suppression bills also have been filed in U.S. state legislatures, including California and New York. The pending New York bill would require the state government to “develop, using credible information available to the public, a list of persons it determines boycotts [sic] Israel.” Individuals or entities included on the state’s blacklist would be barred from partnering with state agencies unless they can demonstrate in a written statement that they are “not engaged in boycotting Israel.”

Imagine the outrage if supporters of the white South African government had used such tactics to suppress that BDS movement. I think most U.S. Jews would have been outraged, for on the whole we had a proud record of championing rights for black people. But when it comes to Israel, for many of us it’s as if moral consistency is irrelevant.

In that regard and as part of the observance of the 50th anniversary, I issue a challenge to those who resent what I have here written: Defend the occupation publicly, preferably in a dialogic forum. Explain how Israeli security justifies the on-going theft of Palestinian land and water, the destruction of their orchards and olive groves, the home demolitions, the stoning of Palestinian children as they walk to school. Stay on the topic, because for 50 years the occupation has been the topic, and it can no longer be ignored.

— Herb Rothschild lives in Talent.