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Israel and the Apartheid Slander

Published November 1, 2011

By Richard J. Goldstone

The Palestinian Authority’s request for full United Nations membership has put hope for any two-state solution under increasing pressure. The need for reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians has never been greater. So it is important to separate legitimate criticism of Israel from assaults that aim to isolate, demonize and delegitimize it.

One particularly pernicious and enduring canard that is surfacing again is that Israel pursues “apartheid” policies. In Cape Town starting on Saturday, a London-based nongovernmental organization called the Russell Tribunal on Palestine will hold a “hearing” on whether Israel is guilty of the crime of apartheid. It is not a “tribunal.” The “evidence” is going to be one-sided and the members of the “jury” are critics whose harsh views of Israel are well known.

While “apartheid” can have broader meaning, its use is meant to evoke the situation in pre-1994 South Africa. It is an unfair and inaccurate slander against Israel, calculated to retard rather than advance peace negotiations.

I know all too well the cruelty of South Africa’s abhorrent apartheid system, under which human beings characterized as black had no rights to vote, hold political office, use “white” toilets or beaches, marry whites, live in whites-only areas or even be there without a “pass.” Blacks critically injured in car accidents were left to bleed to death if there was no “black” ambulance to rush them to a “black” hospital. “White” hospitals were prohibited from saving their lives.

In assessing the accusation that Israel pursues apartheid policies, which are by definition primarily about race or ethnicity, it is important first to distinguish between the situations in Israel, where Arabs are citizens, and in West Bank areas that remain under Israeli control in the absence of a peace agreement.

In Israel, there is no apartheid. Nothing there comes close to the definition of apartheid under the 1998 Rome Statute: “Inhumane acts … committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.” Israeli Arabs — 20 percent of Israel’s population — vote, have political parties and representatives in the Knesset and occupy positions of acclaim, including on its Supreme Court. Arab patients lie alongside Jewish patients in Israeli hospitals, receiving identical treatment.

To be sure, there is more de facto separation between Jewish and Arab populations than Israelis should accept. Much of it is chosen by the communities themselves. Some results from discrimination. But it is not apartheid, which consciously enshrines separation as an ideal. In Israel, equal rights are the law, the aspiration and the ideal; inequities are often successfully challenged in court.

The situation in the West Bank is more complex. But here too there is no intent to maintain “an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group.” This is a critical distinction, even if Israel acts oppressively toward Palestinians there. South Africa’s enforced racial separation was intended to permanently benefit the white minority, to the detriment of other races. By contrast, Israel has agreed in concept to the existence of a Palestinian state in Gaza and almost all of the West Bank, and is calling for the Palestinians to negotiate the parameters.

But until there is a two-state peace, or at least as long as Israel’s citizens remain under threat of attacks from the West Bank and Gaza, Israel will see roadblocks and similar measures as necessary for self-defense, even as Palestinians feel oppressed. As things stand, attacks from one side are met by counterattacks from the other. And the deep disputes, claims and counterclaims are only hardened when the offensive analogy of “apartheid” is invoked.

Those seeking to promote the myth of Israeli apartheid often point to clashes between heavily armed Israeli soldiers and stone-throwing Palestinians in the West Bank, or the building of what they call an “apartheid wall” and disparate treatment on West Bank roads. While such images may appear to invite a superficial comparison, it is disingenuous to use them to distort the reality. The security barrier was built to stop unrelenting terrorist attacks; while it has inflicted great hardship in places, the Israeli Supreme Court has ordered the state in many cases to reroute it to minimize unreasonable hardship. Road restrictions get more intrusive after violent attacks and are ameliorated when the threat is reduced.

Of course, the Palestinian people have national aspirations and human rights that all must respect. But those who conflate the situations in Israel and the West Bank and liken both to the old South Africa do a disservice to all who hope for justice and peace.

Jewish-Arab relations in Israel and the West Bank cannot be simplified to a narrative of Jewish discrimination. There is hostility and suspicion on both sides. Israel, unique among democracies, has been in a state of war with many of its neighbors who refuse to accept its existence. Even some Israeli Arabs, because they are citizens of Israel, have at times come under suspicion from other Arabs as a result of that longstanding enmity.

The mutual recognition and protection of the human dignity of all people is indispensable to bringing an end to hatred and anger. The charge that Israel is an apartheid state is a false and malicious one that precludes, rather than promotes, peace and harmony.

Richard J. Goldstone, a former justice of the South African Constitutional Court, led the United Nations fact-finding mission on the Gaza conflict of 2008-9.

Peaceful Resolution Requires Compassion

Published January 31, 2011

Muli Peleg

There are three major obstacles on the road to conflict resolution and reconciliation, and ultimately to a better future for all parties involved: The desire to win, the need to be vindicated and the quest for retribution. While being rooted in intrinsic human urges and needs, they are irrevocably futile and counter-productive. All three impediments are flagrantly exposed in the mounting tensions around BAKA: Students United for Middle Eastern Justice group’s activities on campus and the reactions they invoke. Unfortunately, instead of dialogue and understanding, animosity and misconstruction rule while ineffective means and bad counsel defeat good intentions.

When I saw the invitation of BAKA to their event this weekend, I was both enraged and saddened. The invitation boasted two pictures side by side: One of Palestinian refugees from 1948 and the other of Jews in a concentration camp. My outrage was emotional — as a second-generation survivor, I was appalled by the memory of the Holocaust deliberately exploited in the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. My sadness however, was rational: I knew that once again what seems to be a good objective will backfire due to ignorance, fretfulness and bad judgment. If the goal of the BAKA group was to call attention to the anguish of Gaza and to alleviate the suffering of its people, they certainly chose the worst approach to do that. Comparing the Gaza affliction with the Holocaust is strategically misjudged, historically unfounded and morally wrong. Could the systematic, methodical and meticulous annihilation machine of the Nazis seriously be compared with anything? Is there any Jewish, Israeli or Zionist equivalence to the devilish plan of “Mein Kampf?” Is there any racist, all-encumbering ideology to eradicate Muslims, Arabs or Palestinians? Selective analogies never serve their purposes. Juxtaposing a picture of Palestinian refugees with Holocaust victims is like matching elephants with snails: They both eat grass. Other than that it is a ludicrous association. The urge to increase awareness and raise consideration to a genuine crisis should not be based upon revolting comparisons and alienating depictions. It is self-defeating and harmful to the noblest of causes. If the purpose is relief for Gaza, detestable correlations should not have been the way to do it.

Context is essential to comprehend complex political issues, and it is certainly a necessity in understanding the heartbreaking situation in Gaza. However, simplistic and biased accounts will do a disservice to the advocates of change. The closure on Gaza is presented as sheer Israeli cruelty and preventing vessels from arriving to the impoverished strip is portrayed as vicious and inhumane. But why is Israel so unwavering and so wary about supplies for Gaza? Perhaps because there were numerous attempts to smuggle in weapons and ammunitions there to continue the armed struggle against it. The two most outrageous were the ship Karine A seized in 2002 full of rockets and missiles on board, and in 2009 the Cypriot vessel Monchegorsk was captured carrying a whole tank, artillery and mortar shells as well as materials to be used for producing rockets. Telling the entire story is not only an ethical obligation but also indispensable to expedite relief for the Gaza people. Had it not been for the Israeli apprehension of arms to extremists, the blockade would have been lifted a long time ago, as it has been before. In the same vein, the occupation itself is an abomination and a moral burden to Israelis and most of them would have given it up had they been reassured that violence and terrorism would not torment them anymore. If the purpose is relief for Gaza, contextualization should have been the way to do it.

Here are some facts that must be reckoned with: First, an independent Palestinian state could only be achieved by cooperation of Palestinians and Israelis. Such an undertaking is arduous and sensitive but it is the only guarantee for Palestinian nationhood. Confrontation, defiance and violence were habitually malicious inhibitors on the road to both Palestinian and Israeli escape from their miseries because, and this is the second fact, there is interdependence between these two belligerents. They are entangled in despair and in hope. Hence for Palestinians, independence stems from interdependence. A third fact is that most Israelis and most Palestinians yearn for peace. They are tired of this hopeless and tragic conflict. Their protracted dispute is fed by reciprocal negative images, miscommunication, fear and despair. These factors stimulate suicide bombers to Israeli streets and rocket attacks on the Negev on the one hand, and humiliations at checkpoints and Jewish settlers’ harassment on the other. There are extremists on both sides who benefit from the continuation of this strife and they should be marginalized by sanity and the willingness to survive and prosper. Palestinians and Israelis have similar and shared goals: A viable independent Palestinian state and a genuine collaboration to promote peace and stability between them in light of the regional volatility and madness that are brewing all over. These common goals are feasible but they must be preceded by several bold and intertwined decisions — ending the occupation, getting rid of extremists on both sides and the treatment of each other with dignity and respect. If the purpose is relief for Gaza, building trust in order to dissipate fear should have been the way to do it.

If the purpose is to win the conflict, establish vindication and to get even, it is doomed to failure. But if indeed the purpose is to alleviate the anguish of Gaza, as well as the hardships of all Palestinians and Israelis bogged down in this century old folly of rancor, compassion must replace antagonism and practical moderates must take over from delusional and deceiving extremists. I write these lines with all my heart. I write these lines as a professor of political science whose expertise is conflict resolution and dialogue. I write these lines as a teacher whose classes are co-attended by Arabs, Muslims, Jews and Israelis. I write these lines as an Israeli who served in the army and witnessed at close-hand how violence and hatred smell, feel and look. I write these lines as a peace activist who still believes in the possibility — or better yet, the inevitability — of a better future for all in the Middle East.

Dr. Muli Peleg is the Schusterman Visiting Scholar for Israeli affairs at the Allen and Joan Bildner Center for the Study of Jewish Life.

Is There Still A Jewish Question? Why I’m An Anti-Anti-Zionist

Published March 1, 2007

Ellen Willis

Early ’90s, post-Bosnia conversation with a longtime political friend I’ve met by chance on the street: “I’ve come to see nationalism as regressive, period. I can’t use phrases like ‘national liberation’ and ‘national self-determination’ with a straight face anymore.”
“You know, Ellen, there’s one inconsistency in your politics.”
“What’s that?”

I’m not a Zionist—rather I’m a quintessential Diaspora Jew, a child of Freud, Marx and Spinoza. I hold with rootless cosmopolitanism: from my perspective the nation- state is a profoundly problematic institution, a nation-state defined by ethnic or other particularist criteria all the more so. And yet I count myself an anti-anti- Zionist. This is partly because the logic of anti-Zionism in the present political context entails an unprecedented demand for an existing state–one, moreover, with popular legitimacy and a democratically elected government-not simply to change its policies but to disappear. It’s partly because I can’t figure out what large numbers of dis- placed Jews could have or should have done after 1945, other than parlay their relationship with Palestine and the (ambivalent) support of the West for a Jewish homeland into a place to be. (Go “home” to Germany or Poland? Knock, en masse, on the doors of unreceptive European countries and a reluctant United States?) And finally it’s because I believe that anti-Jewish genocide cannot be laid to rest as a discrete historical episode, but remains a possibility implicit in the deep structure of Christian and Islamic cultures, East and West.

This last point is particularly difficult to argue on the left, where the conventional wisdom is that raising the issue of anti-Semitism in relation to Israel and Palestine is nothing but a way of stifling criticism of Israel and demonizing the critics. In the context of left politics, the dynamic is actually reversed: accusations of blind loyalty to Israel, intolerance of debate, and exaggeration of Jewish vulnerability at the expense of the real, Palestinian victims are routinely used to stifle discussion of how anti-Semitism influences the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or the world’s reaction to it or the public conversation about it. Yet that discussion is crucial, for there is no way to disentangle the politics surrounding Israel from the politics of the Jewish condition. Anti-Semitism remains the wild card of world politics and the lightning rod of political crisis, however constantly it is downplayed or denied. My anti-anti-Zionism does not imply support for Ariel Sharon’s efforts to destroy the Palestinians’ physical, political, and social infrastructure while expanding Jewish settlements in occupied territory; or the disastrous policy of permitting such settlements in the first place; or the right-wing nationalism cum religious irredentism that has come to dominate Israeli politics; or, indeed, any and all acts of successive Israeli governments that have in one way or another impeded negotiations for an end to the occupation and an equitable peace. Nor do I condone the American government’s neutrality on the side of Sharon. But I reject the idea that Israel is a colonial state that should not exist. I reject the villainization of Israel as the sole or main source of the mess in the Middle East. And I contend that Israel needs to maintain its “right of return” for Jews around the world.

My inconsistency, if that’s what it is, comes from struggling to make sense of a situation that has multiple and at times contradictory dimensions. Israel is the product of a nationalist movement, but it owes its existence to a world- historical catastrophe. The bloody standoff between Israelis and Palestinians is on its face a clash of two nationalisms run amok, yet it can’t be understood apart from the larger political forces of the post-1945 world—anti-colonialism, oilpolitik, the Cold War, the American and neoliberal triumph, democracy versus authoritarianism, secularism versus fundamentalism.

Indeed, the mainstream of contemporary political anti-Zionism does not oppose nationalism as such, but rather defines the conflict as bad imperialist nationalism versus the good liberationist kind. Or to put it another way, anti-Zionism is a conspicuous feature of that brand of left politics that reduces all global con- flict to Western imperialism versus Third World anti-imperialism, ignoring a !considerably more complicated reality. But even those who are anti-Zionist out of a principled opposition to nationalism (including Jews who see the original Jewish embrace of nationalism as a tragic wrong turn) must surely recognize that at present, an end to nationalism in Israel/Palestine is not on either side’s agenda. The question is what course of action, all things considered, will help in some way to further the possibilities for democracy and human rights as opposed to making things worse. I support a two-state solution that in effect ratifies the concept of the original 1948 partition—bracketing fundamental questions about Jewish and Palestinian nationalism—out of the non-utopian yet no less urgent hope that it would end the lunacy of mutual destructIon and allow some space , for a new Middle Eastern order to develop.

It looked for a while as if this might actually happen, and during that period, not coincidentally, there was a surge of discussion among Jews inside and outside Israel on the limits of nationalism and its possible “post-Zionist” transcendence. Now it’s almost as if those years were a hallucination. Until recently, when a few fragile tendrils of sanity have surfaced in the form of the “road map” talks, the irredentists on both sides have been firmly in control, engaged in a deadly Kabuki dance whose fundamental purpose is to make a peace agreement impossible. Whatever the shortcomings of Ehud Barak’s ill-fated Camp David proposal, it did move Israel onto previously non-negotiable territory, especially in its offer to share Jerusalem. In my view, the negotiations collapsed not because they had reached an impasse but, on the contrary, because they had finally become serious in a way that threatened Yasir Arafat’s ability to walk the line between peacemaking and appeasing his rejectionist flank. Sharon set out to provoke violence by visiting the Temple Mount; the Palestinians gave him exactly what he wanted. The intifada, the suicide bombings and Arafat’s complicity in them basically destroyed the Israeli left, while aside from a few intellectuals there seemed to be no serious Palestinian peace party. Meanwhile Sharon has used the need to defend against terror as an excuse to brutalize the Palestinian population. Any peace initiative must withstand this formidable collusion of enemies.

Nonetheless, leftists tend to single out Israel as The Problem that must be solved. That tropism is most pronounced among those for whom the project of a Jewish state is inherently imperialist, or an offense to universalist humanism, or both. (A young professor of brilliant intellect and anarchist inclinations, whose development I’ve followed since graduate school: “Why don’t the Israelis just leave? Walk away from the state?” and in the same conversation, “Israel is the biggest problem I have as a Jew.”) But it is also widespread, if often unconscious, among people who have no ideological objection to the Jewish state as such, including Jews who care deeply about the fate of Israel and are appalled by government policies they deem not only inhumane but suicidal. I’ve received countless impassioned e-mails emphasizing how imperative it is to show there are Jews who disagree with the Jewish establishment, who oppose Sharon. There is no comparable urgency to show that Jews on the left as well as the right condemn suicide bombing as a war crime, a horrifying product of totalitarian religious brainwashing, and a way to ensure there is no peace. At most I hear, “Suicide bombing is a terrible thing, but…” But: if Israel would just shape up and do the right thing, there would be peace. Would that it were so.

Along with this one-sided view of the conflict, the left has focused on Israeli acts of domination and human rights violations with an intense and consistent outrage that it fails to direct toward comparable or worse abuses elsewhere, certainly toward the unvarnished tyrannies in the Middle East (where, for in- stance, is the divestment campaign against Saudi Arabia?). No, I’m not saying it’s reasonable to demand that critics of Israel simultaneously oppose all the violence, misery, and despotism in the world, or that complaints against Israel are invalid because Arab regimes are worse. Inevitably, at any given time some countries, some conflicts will capture people’s imagination and indignation more than others-not because they are worse but because they somehow hit a nerve, become larger than themselves, take on a symbolic dimension. But that is exactly my point: left animus toward Israel is not a simple, self-evident product of I the facts. What is the nerve that Israel hits?

Underlining this question are the hyperbolic comparisons that animate the anti-Israel brief, beginning with the now standard South Africa comparison—the accusation that Israel is a “settler state” and an “apartheid state”—which has inspired the calls for divestment and for a boycott against Israeli academics. The South African regime, of course, was one whose essence was a proudly white racist ideology, a draconian system of legal segregation, and the denial of all political rights to the huge majority of people. To see Israel through this grid is to ignore a great many things: that Israel was settled primarily by refugees from genocide in Europe and oppression in Arab countries; that while Palestinian Israelis suffer from discrimination they are nevertheless citizens who vote, organize political parties, and participate in the government; that the occupation, while egregious, came about as a result not of aggressive settlement but of defensive war; that it continues because of rejectionism on both sides; that there is a difference between the nationalist and ultra-Orthodox militants who dream of a greater Israel and the majority of Israelis who once supported peace but turned to Sharon out of fear and cynicism. As for Israeli academics, they are independent and disproportionately active in opposing government policy, which leaves the boycott movement with no plausible rationale.

Even more fantastic is the Nazi comparison, often expressed in metaphors (Israeli soldiers as SS men, and so on). I imagine that most perpetrators of this equation, if pressed, would concede that Israel is not a totalitarian dictatorship with a program of world domination, nor has it engaged in the systematic murder of millions of people on the grounds that they are a subhuman race. But why do these tropes have such appeal? Where does it come from, the impulse to go beyond taking Israel to task for its concrete misdeeds, to lump it with the worst, most criminal states in history? That Israel is seen as a Western graft in the Arab Middle East (a view Israelis themselves would contest, given that most of the population comes from the Middle East and North Africa) and a surrogate for American power contributes to its symbolic importance as a target, as does an unconscious condescension toward Arabs that leads to a double standard of moral expectations for Israel and its neighbors. But it’s impossible not to notice how the runaway inflation of Israel’s villainy aligns with ingrained cultural fantasies about the iniquity and power of Jews; or how the traditional pariah status of Jews has been replicated by a Jewish pariah state. And the special fury and vitriol that greet any attempt to bring up this subject in left circles further suggests that more is at stake here than an ordinary political dispute—just as more is at stake in the Israel-Palestine clash than an ordinary border dispute.

At present, the Middle East is the flashpoint of a world ironically destabilized by the end of the Cold War, a world in a more volatile and dangerous state than at any time since the 1930s. And Jews are once again in the middle of the equation—in a vastly different position, to be sure, from the Jews of 1930s Europe; in a vastly different position because of what happened to those Jews; and yet the discourse about this set of Jews echoes certain familiar themes. The anti- Jewish temperature is rising, and has been for some time, in Arab and Islamic countries and in the Islamist European diaspora. I am speaking now not of the intemperate tone of left anti-Zionist rhetoric but of overt Jew-hatred as expressed in continual public denunciation of Jews and Zionists (who are assumed to be one and the same), ubiquitous propaganda tracts inspired by or imported di- rectly from Nazi and medieval Christian sources, mob violence and vandalism directed against Jews, the execution of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, conspiracy theories like the widely believed tale that Jewish workers at the World Trade Center stayed home on September 11 because they had been warned.

Many on the left view this wave of anti-Semitism as just another expression, however unfortunately couched, of justified rage at Israel—whether at the occupation and the escalating destruction of the West Bank or at the state’s exis- tence per se. In either case, the conflation of “Zionists” and “Jews” is regarded as a misunderstanding of the politically uneducated. Which is to say, again, that Israel is The Problem—not only for Palestinians but for Jews as well. This is a serious failure of imagination, for in fact Israel’s conflict with the Arab world owes more to the peculiar role played by the Jews in history, culture, and the Judeo-Christian-Islamic psyche than vice versa.

Half a century ago, Israel was supposed to have put a period to the long sordid history of Christian, European anti-Semitism, with its genocidal climax. Instead it turned out that the Europeans had in effect displaced their “Jewish problem,” which Hitler had failed to “solve,” onto new territory. This was true literally, in that Jewish refugees were now the problem of the Arabs, who didn’t want them any more than the Europeans had, and worse, would be pressed, as Europe had never been, to deal with Jews not as a minority but as a sovereign nation in their midst. It was true geopolitically, in that Israel was slated to be a Western ally in a region struggling to overcome the legacy of colonialism—an alliance that would put Israel in the classic position of the Jew with a ruling-class patron, who functions as surrogate and scapegoat for the anger of the ruled. And it was true ideologically, in that the new state would become, for its neighbors, what the Jews had been to Europe—an unassimilable foreign body; a powerful,
evil, subversive force; a carrier of contaminating modernity.

These developments exposed the core Zionist belief, that an end to the Jews’ stateless condition would “normalize” Jewish life, as tragically naive. For those on the Zionist left who believed that Jewish nationalism was a necessary but temporary expedient on the way to an international proletarian revolution, the post-World War II landscape offered little support: in Western Europe, the revolution did not happen; the Third World revolutions were nationalist ones; and the Soviet Union proved to be, among other things, virulently anti- Semitic. For right-wing Zionists of the Jabotinsky stripe, the embattlement of the Jews in Palestine justified a ruthless terrorism that in turn validated Arab violence, in adumbration of the present vicious cycle. Of course, the Israeli right has had no monopoly on regressive anti-Palestinian policies, but it has expressed most clearly and consistently that strain of bitter pessimism about the intractability of Jew-hatred to which few Jews, I suspect, are entirely immune. All right-wing nationalism (perhaps all nationalism) is rooted in paranoia, but in the case of the Jews, the paranoids indeed have real enemies; and the Zionist right’s glorification of the Jewish warrior must be seen at least in part as a reaction to the stereotype of the soft, bookish Jew who went passively to the Nazi slaughter.

If Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians and the Arabs generally cannot be understood without reference to the larger question of relations between Jews and the rest of the world, what of its audience—that is, the international com- munity, including the American left? I’d argue that no one, Jewish or not, brought up in a Christian or Islamic-dominated culture can come to this issue without baggage, since the patriarchal monotheism that governs our sexually repressive structure of morality, and all the ambivalence that goes with it, was invented by Jews. The concept of one transcendent God has a double meaning: it proclaims the subordination of all human authority to a higher reality at the same time that, codified as “God the Father,” it affirms the patriarchal hierarchy. The Jews, in their mythic role as the “chosen people” destined to achieve the redemption of the world through their adherence to God’s law, embody a simi- lar duality: they are avatars of spiritual freedom on the one hand, patriarchal authority and the control of desire on the other. In relation to Christianity and Islam, the Jews are the authors of morality but also the stubborn nay-sayers, setting themselves apart, refusing to embrace Jesus or Mohammed as the fulfillment of their quest.

In the patriarchal unconscious Jews represent the vindictive castrating fa ther and the wicked, subversive tempter, the moral ideal we cannot attain and the revolution we dare not join. As such, Jews are an object of our unconscious rage at repressive authority as well as at those who tease us with visions of (evil) freedom; a subterranean rage that is readily tapped by demagogues in times of crisis. The ambiguous role of Jews also has a social shape: for complex reasons having to do with their outsider status and efforts to overcome or embrace it, Jews have been overrepresented in the ranks of the privileged as well as among political and social rebels. As a result, Jews are a free-floating political target, equally available to the right or the left, sometimes to both at once. This is why Jews are likely to surface as an issue in some way whenever the political climate heats up (American examples range from the anti-Communist crusades of the ’50s, to the energy crisis and consequent debates over Middle East policy in the ’70s, to the racial conflicts of the past several decades). Typically, attacks on Jews invest them with far more power than they possess—a tribute to their power as emotional symbols, but a distortion of social reality. In the end, the anger that collects around Jews is anger deflected from its real sources.

My point here is not that Israel should be exempt from anger. Israel is a nation-state. As such it has military, political, and social power. In the exercise of its power, it must be held accountable for its actions. Its misuses of power must be censured and opposed. The victims of its power can hardly be expected to be other than enraged. Yet as a Jewish state, Israel is also subject to layers of irrational anger, whether from antagonists who will not settle for a negotiated peace but demand that the foreign body be expelled, or from political critics who conjure up a monster that rivals Hitler. Israel’s power, too, has been exaggerated, contingent as it is on the support of the United States: in the period of economic troubles, foreign adventurism, and revived protest we have entered, who knows what America will look like a few years from now, what our aims in the Middle East will be, what trade-offs we will make?
In the debates over Zionism and anti-Zionism, the situation of Jews is by no means the only question. But it is a question. Is it possible that Jews could once again be massacred? Given the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, the ubiquity of anti-Semitism in the Arab world, the anti-Jewish subtext in much anti-Zionist polemic along with the denial that any such sentiment exists—and given that in an increasingly murderous world the unthinkable takes place on a daily basis—I have to argue that the possibility cannot be dismissed. If there should be a mass outbreak of anti-Jewish violence it will no doubt focus on Israel, but it will not, in the end, be caused by Israel, and the hatred will not disappear if Israel does. Nor will it disappear with an Israeli-Palestinian settlement. Still, from this point of view as from so many others, an internationally brokered peace agreement is the first line of defense. And that agreement must allow Israel to retain its character as a haven for Jews, not as a validation of nationalism but as a gesture of international recognition that the need for such a haven has not yet been surpassed. It’s not inconsistent to hope that this will not always be true.

Banning Israel Anti-Apartheid Week at Universities

Published October, 2010

David Matas

(Revised remarks prepared for the delivery at the Faculty of Law, University of Manitoba, Manitoba Association of Rights and Liberties Forum 21 October 2010)

Universities should ban Israel anti-apartheid weeks.  Why they should do so takes some explanation.

There is no apartheid in Israel.  That much is obvious even from a cursory glance.

Basic to apartheid in South Africa was the denationalization of blacks because they were black and allocation of nationality in state created bantustans or homelands.  Blacks assigned to bantustans were subject to influx controls and pass laws.  The objective of apartheid was to denationalize all blacks, to assign every black to one of ten bantustans.  Blacks were forcibly removed from where they lived to their designated bantustans[1].

Israel has not since its inception taken away vested Israeli citizenship of even one Palestinian for the sole reason that the person is ethnic Palestinian.  Israel has not created designated territories within its borders to which it has forcibly removed its own citizens who are ethnic Palestinian[2].

Freedom of speech encompasses the right to be wrong.  The mere fact that Israel is not an apartheid state, not even close, in itself, does not justify banning Israel anti-apartheid weeks from universities.

Calling Israel an apartheid state is a form of incitement to hatred against the Jewish people.  Understanding hate speech requires an understanding of the context in which the speech is uttered.  Hate speech often involves veiled or coded references.  Understanding is a work of decoding.

The charge of apartheid against Israel is one of a barrage of anti-Zionist accusations levied against Israel.  Anti-Zionism by definition is rejection of the existence of the Jewish state.  That rejection is the denial of the right to self determination of the Jewish people.

Anti-Zionism attempts to destroy Israel through arms and words.  Words are used as hate and war propaganda.

Because Israel is a sovereign, legal entity, anti-Zionists attempt destruction through demonization and delegitimization.  Anti-Zionists assert that Israel has no right to exist claiming that it is, by its very nature, a rights violating state.

The position of anti-Zionists that Israel violates rights is not a conclusion based on facts but a strategy adopted to combat the existence of the state of Israel.  This strategy leads anti-Zionists to accuse Israel of every grave crime known to humanity – war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, colonialism, imperialism, and, not least, apartheid.

The charge that Israel is an apartheid state is connected to antisemitism both in substance and in form.   The accusations of criminality against the Jewish state lead to accusations of criminality against the Jewish community world wide as actual or presumed supporters of this allegedly criminal state.  If Israel is an apartheid state, then the Jewish community world wide supports apartheid.

Antisemitism linguistically means being against semitism.  It has come to mean discrimination and bigotry against Jews. Today, there in no semitism, only antisemitism.

No one today claims to be against semitism.  Antisemitism is rather a characteristic that others attribute to antisemites.  Those who objectively we have to acknowledge manifest antisemitic attitudes or behaviour claim not to be antisemites.

However, that was not always the case.  Historically, the term antisemitism was coined by a German national Wilhelm Marr to encapsulate an ideology which he advocated, opposition to semitism.  He formed an organization which he labelled “League of antisemites”.  Semitism was, to Marr and his fellow antisemites, the Jewish conspiracy to usurp and control the world.

Jews were to the Marr League a race and not just adherents of the Jewish religion.  Analysts of propaganda techniques often refer to the big lie technique of Adolf Hitler.  The theory he expounded is that a big lie, repeated often enough, is more easily accepted than a small lie because people “they [the broad masses] would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously”[3].  Hitler, as one can well imagine, was not touting his success in spreading his own lies.  Rather he attributed the lies to others, the Jewish race.  The big lie which he believed showed the workings of the big lie technique was that “they [the Jews] are a religious community, where as in reality they are a race”.

Antisemitism was opposition to what the Marr League and later the Nazis saw as a plan and encroaching reality of control of the world by the Jewish race.  The Marr League and later the Nazis opposed semitism to Germandom, opposed Jewish control of Germany to Aryan control of Germany.

There is, of course, no Jewish race and no Jewish conspiracy to control the world.  Marr and other antisemites strung together accomplishments of Jewish individuals in a wide variety of sectors and attributed those successes to a Jewish control conspiracy.

Antisemites took some basic, real world facts and inserted them into a fantasy context.  The very achievements of the Jewish community in integrating, in contributing to the advance of German society, became proof to Marr and his fellow antisemites of the conspiracy.

When we look back on what was lost in the Holocaust, we can decry the loss of a community which had made such a contribution to the world around them.  Between 1905 and 1936, when Jews were one percent of the German general population, they were almost 40% of the German Nobel prize population.  Fourteen out of thirty eight Germans who won Nobel prizes during that period were Jewish.

The Holocaust killed the people of Albert Einstein, Felix Mendelsohn, Alberto Modigliani, Ludwig Wittengstein, Marcel Proust, and Sigmund Freud.  One of the reasons Europe mourns the Holocaust is the many talented voices that were silenced. Yet, the Holocaust happened in part because of the wealth of talent the Jewish community produced.

If one looks at the old Nazi propaganda sheets like Julius Streicher’s Der Sturmer, they were oddly similar, in one way, to Jewish ethnic papers.  Both publicised attainments of Jewish individuals, the Jewish community papers out of pride, the Nazi propaganda sheets as proof of the spreading implementation of the Jewish control conspiracy.

The very success of a wide variety of Jewish individuals contributed to the undoing of the Jewish community, reinforcing the claim of antisemites that semitism was alive, well and thriving.  Having achieved advantage through accomplishment became, for the Jewish community, a disadvantage, a factor which led to their extermination.  Jewish accomplishment became a death warrant.

There are different ways to look at the horror of this experience. One of them is surely to be wary of any claim to be against something which does not exist, particularly when what you are asked to oppose is attributed to a group identified as somehow different from your own and that difference is put in terms of race, an advantaged target and a disadvantaged opposing group.

One can see from hindsight that the problem with antisemitism was not just that antisemites got the facts wrong, that there was no Jewish race, no semitism.  A Jewish race-based conspiracy to control the world, if it had existed, would have been objectionable, reprehensible.  The danger the Wilhelm Marr League of Antisemites posed was that they opposed something which, if it had existed, would have been wrong, but did not exist, and that they located this fantasy wrongdoing in a distinct and supposedly advantaged community.

There are striking similarities between the original antisemitism of Wilhelm Marr and his colleagues and Israel anti-apartheid.  Here too we have opposition to something which does not exist, but which, if it did exist, would be reprehensible.  Here, too, we have a few simple facts – in this case, border controls, a security barrier and check points –  placed into a fantasy context.  Here, too, the wrongdoing is attributed to the other, indeed the same other, the Jew, this time Jews as a people, the Jewish state, instead of Jews as individuals.

The true apartheid of South Africa was not just separateness.  It was separation imposed by the advantaged on the disadvantaged.   The charge of Israeli apartheid, like the old specific antisemitism of Wilhelm Marr which pointed to the success of Jews in Germany, includes in the indictment the achievements of the Jewish state.

Israel as a state has become as accomplished in the Middle East context as the Jewish community had become in German context before the rise of Hitler.  Here too we see its accomplishments turned against the Jewish community.

A recontextualized fact in the charge of Israeli apartheid is that Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are disadvantaged, worse off than Israelis.  Like Wilhelm Marr’s antisemites who turned a simple fact of the relative accomplishment of Jewish individuals into something nefarious –  a conspiracy of Jewish control of Germany and the rest of the world –  today’s anti-Zionists turn the relative accomplishment of the Jewish state into their own targeted fantasy evils –  colonialism, imperialism and apartheid.

Apartheid, like the fantasy semitism of the Marr League, is race based.  The Marr League was not just itself racist.  It projected that racism on to the Jewish community, falsely accusing the Jewish community of racism, a race based conspiracy to control the world.  The charge of Israeli apartheid shares this characteristic as well, falsely accusing the Jewish community of racism.

Indeed, the similarity between Wilhelm Marr’s old specific antisemitism and today’s charge of Israeli apartheid is so striking, one has to wonder what possesses universities to stand by and do nothing.  University professors are, after all, intellectually accomplished.  What do academics not understand about the nature of Israel anti-apartheid weeks?

Academics give three basic arguments in defense of their inaction.  One is freedom of speech. A second is the absence of harm.  The third is that Jewish individuals or organizations support their position.

Freedom of speech academics take two stances.  One is free speech absolutism, that free speech is the foundation of all other human rights.

I have written a whole book disagreeing with that point of view[4];  so I hesitate to encapsulate that book into a couple of sentences.  But if it is a couple of sentences to which I am constrained, I would say this.

Free expression is important to other rights, but other rights are equally important to respect for freedom of expression.  Take any thread out of the quilt of rights and the quilt unravels.  To choose only one thread and proclaim that this is the thread that counts is arbitrary.  The right to be free from incitement to hatred and discrimination is as essential to overall respect for human rights as the right to freedom of expression.

The other freedom of speech stance of academics is that the law which must govern.  Without quarrelling about speech laws, although sometimes they do this too, free speech academics argue that anything which is legal outside the university should be permissible inside the university.

This logic ignores the reality that the university is a community, not a public space.  Just because someone is free to say something on a street corner does not mean that they should be free to say it at a university.

The university is more akin to a work place than a park.  Indeed, for many, it is formally a work place.  Even students who are not employees of the university are working at their studies.

A work place, unlike a park, is a self contained environment.  In a work place, slurs and harassment can create a poisoned atmosphere.  Some of what can be said in public can not be said in a work place because the speech makes continued work for the targets untenable.

The Manitoba Human Rights Code, for instance, prohibits harassment in the workplace[5].  It also prohibits failing to take reasonable steps to end harassment.  Harassment is defined as a course of abusive or unwelcome comment made on the basis of listed characteristics.

Harassment constitutes discrimination[6].  Failure to take reasonable steps to end abusive or unwelcome comments is failure to combat discrimination.

Abusive or unwelcome comments shouted on a street corner are quite a different matter from those same comments made at work.  The first may well be protected by freedom of speech principles.  The second is not.

I am not arguing here that the Manitoba Human Rights Code applies to Manitoba universities, though it does, but rather that there is an important distinction between freedom of speech writ large and freedom of speech in a university context which academic free speech advocates ignore.  Saying something hostile to a park visitor does not infringe the visitor’s human rights.  Driving a student out of a university because the university does nothing to prevent a poisoned environment violates the student’s human rights.

The second typical academic argument in favour of allowing Israel anti-apartheid week is that there is no harm done.  Yet, insisting on genocide in order to be convinced that the harm of incitement to genocide is real is perverse and cruel.  When it comes to incitement to hatred, waiting for the harm to be done means waiting too long.  The harm must be anticipated and prevented.

Free speech absolutists make exceptions to an insistence on actual harm.  The classic example is falsely shouting fire in a crowded room.  The reason for the exception is that shouting fire in a crowding room can lead to a stampede and trampling of those trying to flee; the danger is immediate.

The harm of incitement to hatred is not as immediate as that.  Incitement to hatred will not normally lead to a riot in the room.  Its harm is insidious, long term, pervasive.   It is more akin to the abusive or unwelcome comments which create a poisoned work atmosphere.

The harm of Israel anti-apartheid weeks at universities is that the toxic environment it generates drives Jewish students out.  We can already see this harm with Jewish students’ avoiding the most virulent anti-Zionist universities in Canada, and, in some countries where anti-Zionism has become part of popular university culture, a drop off in Jewish university student participation overall.

Standing by while Israel anti-apartheid weeks take place may enhance the freedom of speech of hate promoters.  But it shuts out and shuts down the targets of their hatred.

We should not have to wait until Jewish students are driven out of universities in large numbers to stop Israel anti-apartheid weeks any more than we should have to wait for genocide to stop incitement to genocide.  Ideally we should stop Israel anti-apartheid weeks before they inflict their harm on even one Jewish student just as we should stop incitement to genocide before it leads to even one killing.

The third primary argument academics use to justify the existence of Israel anti-apartheid weeks at campuses is that some Jewish individuals or organizations oppose their banning.  This is an ad hominemargument, not relying on the logical force of the argument, but rather on who utters it.

Discrimination can exist by impact as well as intent.  One can assume that Jewish individuals and organizations do not intend to foment discrimination against Jews.  However, the absence of intent does not remove the possibility of discrimination.  If the end result is discrimination, the fact that those who foment the discrimination are tolerated by some of the targets of discrimination does not excuse the incitement.

People may be oblivious, or may not want to see.  Their ignorance or wilful blindness does not change what is in fact there.

No one Jewish individual or organization speaks for the whole Jewish community. A Jewish individual is free to excuse incitement against himself or herself.  But he or she has no authority to excuse incitement against others who are Jewish.

When I say that universities should ban Israel anti-apartheid weeks, I am not suggesting that discussion of the charge that Israel is an apartheid state is off limits.   I am, after all, talking about it here.  I was willing to participate in a debate on the subject at the University of Manitoba in March of this year.  I withdrew from the debate only after I found out that it was to be ensconced in an Israel anti-apartheid week.

The problem then is not the issue but the assumption that Israel is an apartheid state.  One can tell from the very labelling of Israel anti-apartheid weeks that they are propaganda exercises, not discussions.

I would be opposed to a panel discussion no matter how described on, say, whether Jews kill Christian babies to use their blood to bake matzohs, because the very hosting of the discussion takes seriously a fantastical racial slur. Thankfully, there is no need for an informed discussion today to dispel the Jewish blood libel.  Informed people already today know better than to give any credence to the slur.

Sadly, that is not true of the Israel apartheid libel.  This is a libel we do have to take seriously.  An informed discussion on the topic would dispel myths and dissipate the smoke of anti-Zionist propaganda.

We have had plenty of bad examples at universities, universities which do not see the problem with Israel anti-apartheid weeks.  But we have had at least one good example, the University of Winnipeg under the leadership of its president Lloyd Axworthy[7].

The anti-Zionist movement attempted an Israel anti-apartheid panel at the University of Winnipeg in 2009, putting up some posters to advertise the panel.  The president called together the senior administrators and engaged the student leadership.  Administrators met directly as well with the organizers of the event.

The event took place, but its description and content changed.  The foregone conclusion that Israel was an apartheid state disappeared.  The university made every effort to ensure that all points of view were represented.  The event became a discussion of the issue rather than a propaganda exercise.

The University went one further and hosted later its own open public event on the larger issues around Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.  The University encouraged as many representatives as possible from different communities to participate in the event.

This sort of initiative is much truer to university values than simply sitting back and abdicating the institution to hate promoters.  Abdication to propagandists who have the goal of destruction of the State of Israel and the impact of creating a hostile environment for Jewish students violates not just broader societal values; it violates university values.  A university true to its own values will make every effort to turn away from hate propaganda and towards fair, open, public, balanced discussion.

Where’s the international outcry against Arab apartheid?

Published March, 2011

Khaled Abu Toameh

Mohammed Nabil Taha, an 11-year-old Palestinian boy, died this week at the entrance to a Lebanese hospital after doctors refused to help him because his family could not afford to pay for medical treatment.

Taha’s tragic case highlights the plight of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who live in squalid refugee camps in Lebanon and who are the victims of an apartheid system that denies them access to work, education and medical care.

Ironically, the boy’s death at the entrance to the hospital coincided with Israeli Apartheid Week, a festival of hatred and incitement organized by anti-Israel activists on university campuses in the US, Canada and other countries.

It is highly unlikely that the folks behind the festival have heard about Taha. Judging from past experiences, it is also highly unlikely that they would publicize the case even if they would hear about it.

Why should anyone care about a Palestinian boy who is denied medical treatment by an Arab hospital? The story has no anti-Israel angle to it.

Can anyone imagine what would have happened if an Israeli hospital had abandoned a boy to die in its parking lot because his father did not have $1,500 to pay for his treatment? The UN Security Council would hold an emergency session and Israel would be strongly condemned and held responsible for the boy’s death.

All this is happening at a time when tens of thousands of Palestinian patients continue to benefit from treatment in Israeli hospitals.

Last year alone, some 180,000 Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip entered Israel to receive medical treatment. Many were treated despite the fact that they did not have enough money to cover the bill.

In Israel, even a suicide bomber who is only wounded while trying to kill Jews is entitled to the finest medical treatment. And there have been many instances where Palestinians who were wounded in attacks on Israel later ended up in some of Israel’s best hospitals.

Lebanon, by the way, is not the only Arab country that officially applies apartheid laws against Palestinians, denying them proper medical treatment and the right to own property.

Just last week it was announced that a medical center in Jordan has decided to stop treating Palestinian cancer patients because the Palestinian Authority has failed to pay its debts to the center.

Other Arab countries have also been giving the Palestinians a very hard time when it comes to receiving medical treatment.

It is disgraceful that while Israel admits Palestinian patients to its hospitals, Arab hospitals are denying them medical treatment for various reasons, including money. But then one is reminded that Arab dictators do not care about their own people, so why should they pay attention to an 11-year-old boy who is dying at the entrance to a hospital because his father didn’t have $1,500 handy? But as the death took place in an Arab country – and as the victim is an Arab – why should anyone care about him? Where is the outcry against Arab apartheid?

Dictating the Narrative: Israel fans countering Apartheid Week should not just respond to accusations

Published March 2011

Natalie Menaged

Passing through many North American campuses this month – from New York and Boston to Chicago and Los Angeles – students are likely to draw the conclusion that Israel is a brutally oppressive regime, worthy of global boycotts and sanctions.

This month, dozens of Israel Apartheid Week (IAW) demonstrations and events have flooded North American campuses. Just last week, makeshift ‘apartheid walls’ dotted UCLA and Brooklyn College, while at Columbia University students impersonated Israeli soldiers stopping Palestinians at checkpoints.

Elsewhere, an academic panel at Harvard University called for divestment from Israel, and at Florida International University and UC Irvine, Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein equated Israelis with Nazis. Protestors nearly rioted against the student government at Carleton University in Ottawa after they denied a motion recommending divestment from Israel.

Polls show that the substantial majority of Americans support Israel, but the intensity and pervasiveness of anti-Israel propaganda on campus does not bode well for the perception of Israel among America’s future leaders.

Most IAW events are being organized by chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a misnomer since the group rarely actually focuses on life under the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. In fact, these groups focus on demonizing Israel.

These IAW organizers prey upon the liberal, progressive sensibilities of many university groups, forming coalitions with antiwar movements and labor unions, and aligning their movement with causes like LGBT rights and gender equality (despite the persecution of homosexuals and mistreatment of women in most of Israel’s neighboring Arab states.)

Jewish students misguided enough to join the Israel detractors are quickly elevated to high-profile positions. Sadly, many Jewish students with little connection to or knowledge about Israel wind up feeling antipathy towards their historic homeland.

Ironically, the solutions these critics of Israel suggest are distinctly out of step with the actual population of the Palestinian territories, who by and large accept the two-state solution and seek prosperous relations with Israel. All of these factors combine for a dangerous trend against Israel among the next generation of Americans – unless we do something about it.

No partner for peace

It is tempting to get bogged down in reactive conversations about the true definition of apartheid, yet this can often impede the bigger goal of positively impacting people’s perception of Israel. Pro-Israel students must be educated and confident enough to respond to criticisms of Israel, but the focus should be on messages that dictate the narrative, rather than respond to accusations.

Here are a few simple, yet powerful messages that will resonate on campus.

1. Israel wants peace and has demonstrated its willingness to make painful sacrifices for peace.

Most students are simply not aware of the efforts Israel has made for peace. Israel supporters often assume that the average university student knows more about the history of the conflict than actually do, while IAW organizers exploit the lack of knowledge.

It is crucial to convey the simple message that Israel wants peace, and to support this point with examples of Israel’s historic efforts. While being fully cognizant of its ancient and permanent connection to the land of Israel, the Jewish people have and are still willing to compromise to achieve peace.

2. Israel does not currently have a partner for peace in the Palestinian and Arab leadership, which generally oppress their citizens and inhibit democratic progress.

Once someone is educated about Israel’s efforts for peace, an obvious questions arises – so why isn’t there peace in the Middle East today?

As revolutions against oppression and corruption engulf states across the Middle East, it should not be difficult to explain that the Palestinian leadership, like its regional counterparts, has not served its people well. Despite the PA’s theoretical acceptance of the two-state solution, PA leadership reiterates that it will not recognize Israel as a Jewish State.

Even more problematic, Hamas came to power in a violent coup, and rules the Gaza Strip by force. Hamas has refused to recognize Israel, renounce the use of terror against Israeli civilians, or abide by past Israeli-Palestinian peace treaties. Under both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, violence against Israel continues to be glorified in textbooks and on television.

Furthermore, Hamas and Hezbollah in Lebanon are funded by Iran, whose quest for nuclear capability threatens to undermine regional stability, not to mention global security. Factor in the other Middle East countries that do not recognize Israel’s existence, and it’s clear that Israel lacks legitimate peace partners.

3. Israel is a model of democracy, human rights, and innovation, despite its neighborhood.

Unlike apartheid South Africa, where blacks were segregated and deprived of legal rights, Israel’s Arab minority enjoy full voting rights and civil freedoms. While inequalities exist, as they unfortunately do in every democracy in the world, Israel is dedicated to providing equal opportunities to all its citizens.

UN’s attitude towards Israel is hypocrisy run wild

Published February, 2011

Moshe Arens

“This mad dog of the Middle East,” as U.S. President Ronald Reagan called Muammar Gadhafi in 1986, after Libyan terrorists had bombed a Berlin discotheque frequented by American servicemen, is now shooting at his own people. This has finally aroused the concern of the UN Security Council.

That discotheque bombing was followed by the blowing up by Libyan terrorists of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie in 1988, and thereafter by the blowing up of a French airliner, UTA Flight 772, over the Sahara desert in 1989. Nevertheless, in 2008 Libya was almost unanimously elected to the UN Security Council, its representative assuming the rotating presidency. In 2010 Libya was elected a member of the UN Human Rights Council, receiving 155 votes out of a total of 192.

Throughout these years Gadhafi has regularly launched outrageous attacks against Israel, accusing it among other things of having plotted the assassination of John F. Kennedy and of being responsible for violence in Sudan. U.S. President Barack Obama’s support for Israel, he insisted, stemmed from an inferiority complex over Obama’s African origins.

For years, Gadhafi’s Libya has been accepted as a respected member of the community of nations. He was visited in Tripoli by world leaders and feted in world capitals. The Libyan intelligence agent responsible for the Lockerbie bombing, who was convicted of murder in Britain in 2001 and sentenced to a 27-year prison sentence, was released eight years later on “compassionate grounds” and allowed to return to a royal reception in Libya.

The hypocrisy displayed by democratic countries, large and small, toward Gadhafi’s Libya, now revealed in all its crudeness, is probably unequalled in the annals of modern history. It has made a laughing stock of the United Nations and the Security Council. By damaging the credibility of the United Nations and its institutions, it has seriously damaged the ability of the world’s powers to utilize the UN in the management of international affairs.

The attitude toward Israel by the United Nations and many of the world’s governments, the constant criticism of Israel’s policies, and the threats of condemnation and sanctions represent another example of hypocrisy running wild. Rubbing shoulders with the worst of dictators while castigating democratic Israel has become the fashion. The latest motion in the Security Council to condemn Israeli settlement activity in Judea and Samaria, a motion that was vetoed by the United States, was supported by none other than the Lebanese representative, a council member in good standing, even though that country is today run by Hezbollah, a terrorist organization responsible for the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, who threatens Israel with tens of thousands of rockets that he amassed with Iranian and Syrian help, deserves a place of honor next to Gadhafi. It is, in effect, his representative who now occupies a seat in the UN Security Council. It is high time to end the hypocrisy that pervades the corridors of the UN building in New York. That is the responsibility of the democratic members of the United Nations.

The hypocritically benevolent attitude taken by the world’s leaders toward Gadhafi and other Arab dictators over the years has evidently not convinced the people of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Bahrain to continue to suffer under their dictatorial rule. They have had enough of these leaders, enough of oppression, corruption, poverty and squalor. That realization did not penetrate the minds of Israel’s Arab Knesset members, who recently traveled to Libya to pay homage to the crazed Libyan leader. It is not possible that that visit represents the feeling of the majority of Israel’s Arab citizens.

The good news is that in the demonstrations in Arab capitals there is only the occasional anti-Israel placard. The rage of the demonstrators in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, and Libya seems to be directed against their oppressors and the injustices they have suffered at their hands, and this time not against Israel. We in Israel can only hope that this Arab revolution won’t be hijacked by Islamic fanatics, and that in time Israel will find itself living in a democratic neighborhood.

The Franco-Moroccan actress Rachida Khalil recently declared on a radio program in Morocco that she “dreams of seeing a democratic secular Arab country.” If that is also the dream of the majority of the demonstrators, this is not only good news for the Arab world, but also for Israel.

Red lines and blue-and-white lines

Published September 2010

Gil Troy

Many Israel bashers are hypocrites. They declare open season on Israel, repudiating Israel’s existence – not just particular policies. Yet, when criticized for delegitimizing and demonizing, the critics suddenly resent vigorous debate. They deem any criticism of them attempts to insulate Israel from any criticism. We can combat the delegitimizers without squelching the healthy criticism essential to democratic growth.

This document represents the collective judgment of a group of people – ranging from left to right, religious to secular – who met informally in Jerusalem, and decided to propose self-imposed guidelines in discussing Israel for those who care about Israel’s future. Remarkably, we reached consensus quickly. We disagree about particular policies, but we share a vision of a vital, democratic Israel which can learn from criticism, but which should not be the only country whose right to exist is constantly questioned.

Last week, the New Israel Fund promised not to fund groups that work to “deny the right of the Jewish people to sovereign self-determination within Israel.” We offer a more detailed series of dos and don’ts – red lines not to cross and blue-and-white lines affirming core principles – inviting people who support Israel from left to right to embrace them.

We can restore sanity to the debate around Israel by refuting the claim that because some demonize Israel, you can never criticize the country and the claim that criticizing delegtimizers  is an attempt to silence all critics. Unlike other petitions which seek to lead with names – we want to lead with ideas – but invite people who agree with us to click on our website and sign their names.

Red Lines against Delegitimization; Blue-&-White Lines for Fair Play

We denounce the growing attempts to delegitimize Israel. We share a commitment to a two-state solution with a Jewish, democratic Israel living peacefully besides a democratic Palestine. We do not see how anyone who claims to support the two-state solution to bring peace can delegitimize one nationalist movement or another.

Averse to censorship, coercion or any limitation on the freedom of speech or expression, we urge supporters and critics of Israeli policy to keep their discussions within the following “blue and white lines”:

*Zionism, meaning Jewish nationalism, is the Jewish people’s national liberation movement, the collective force that has helped Jews achieve self-determination as a people in their homeland.

* The State of Israel fulfills the Jewish people’s national aspirations in their ancestral homeland. This affirmation acknowledges the Jews as a people, united by a common past, culture and language, rooted in their homeland, the land of Israel. The modern state of Israel is a natural outgrowth of Jews’ three-thousand-year-old relationship with the land of Israel.

* Israel is a democratic state striving to offer all its citizens, including Palestinian Israelis, “full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions,” as Israel’s Declaration of Independence guarantees.

* Affirming Israel’s and Zionism’s legitimacy and acknowledging Jews’ historic claim to their land does not negate Palestinian claims to that same geographical space. History is complex. A peaceful solution requires compromise from both sides regarding what they consider their legitimate national and territorial rights.

Keeping passionate, critical, even hard-hitting discussion within these “blue and white” lines requires not crossing these “red lines” in discussing Israel, Zionism, and the Middle East:

* Denying Israel’s Right to Exist as well as Delegitimizing the Zionist movement and Jewish State: Assaulting Jews’ legitimacy as a people, Jews’ valid claims to the land, or Jews’ right to national self-determination in Israel, crosses the line from legitimate criticism to an aggressive a-historical negationism. Labeling the founding of Israel a “colonial enterprise” distorts the meaning of colonialism, negating the Jewish people’s ongoing relationship with the land of Israel.

* Demonization: Equating Israel and Zionism with the twentieth century’s worst racist ideologies such as Nazism and South African Apartheid, or treating Israel as uniquely cruel in order to deny it moral legitimacy, is not only demonstrably untrue but inflammatory, and incompatible with aspirations for peace and mutual respect.

* Double Standards: Calling Zionism – but no other nationalism – racism, holding Israel and its army to artificially high standards by which no other nation or military is judged, or subjecting Israel to the kind of disproportionate criticism it endures in the United Nations, are all acts of bad faith.

* Essentialism: Jumping from vigorously denouncing particular policies to repudiating Israel or Zionism raises the stakes destructively, and has a long infamous pedigree rooted in anti-Semitism.

* Promoting the One State Solution – Trying to resolve the Mideast conflict by advocating one bi-national state in former Mandatory Palestine entails dissolving Israel as the expression of the Jewish people’s right for self-determination and is an unrealistic and destructive solution, likely to cause more bloodshed.

* Trying to Undo the Establishment of Israel, Implicitly or Explicitly – Emphasizing the “right of return,” or displaying maps of Mandatory Palestine without Israel, shifts the conversation from debating borders to attacking Israel’s right to exist. Those still seeking a victory in the 1948 war seek to keep Israel’s very existence a matter of international debate, no matter how destructive and distracting that might be.

We regret to note that, among others, activists in the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement repeatedly cross these red lines. Their tactics are rooted in the “Durban Strategy” to ostracize and delegitimize Israel adopted by the NGO Forum at the 2001 UN Conference Against Racism. We condemn those who reject Israel entirely rather than debating one policy or even a group of policies, instead suggesting that Israel is fundamentally illegitimate. We urge honest critics of Israeli policy to distance themselves from the stains of the past and the poisons of the present, keeping the debate focused on the actions and policies of all the participants in the conflict, rather than Israel’s essence, or Israel’s existential right to exist.

Against Boycott and Divestment

Published June 2010
Bernard Avishai

Insanity, they say, is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. Actually, that is just scientific irrationality. In human affairs, alas, insanity is doing the same thing and expecting the same result. A case in point is the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, which—considering what happened at the University of California, Berkeley, in late April, and off the Gaza coast in late May—will be coming soon to a campus near you.

If you missed it, Berkeley’s student senate passed a BDS resolution against Israel, targeting General Electric and United Technologies, which presumably support Israel’s occupation force. The student president vetoed the resolution. The senate then failed to override it, but the vote was thirteen to five in favor, with one abstention. The reports I’ve read of the debate suggest people falling into a familiar pattern: professors, students, union activists, etc. torturing logic to depict Israel’s faults—which are serious enough to be unique—as “apartheid,” while rehearsing the principles of action that arguably worked against South Africa a generation ago.

I say “arguably” because some of apartheid’s most courageous critics, who helped to bring about an end to white rule, were opposed to B and D, even when they cautiously favored S. In 1987, when I was an editor of the Harvard Business Review, I interviewed Tony Bloom, CEO of the South African food processing giant Premier Group. Early on, Bloom rejected apartheid’s foundations, and his company hired political detainees after they were released from prison. He had been among the small group of white business leaders who risked all in 1985 to meet with ANC leaders in Zambia—a great turning point. He befriended future South African President Thabo Mbeki and worked to support the transition to democracy. Though he eventually moved to London, he continued to transform his conglomerate into a model postapartheid firm.

What Bloom told me in 1987 was that, yes, foreign government sanctions on South African trade made sense in certain cases. But the boycott of South African universities and business people, and especially divestment campaigns against international companies doing business in the country, were seriously counterproductive. Why? Because those actions generally undermined the very people who advanced cosmopolitan values in the country. To get social change, you need social champions, in management as in universities.

Corporations like GM, Daimler and IBM did profit from the apartheid era, in the sense that they made the cars, trucks and computers South Africa needed and made enough profit to stay in business. But by this standard, tenured professors of democratic philosophy at Witwatersrand profited, too. The point is, great corporations, like great universities, are teaching institutions. Bloom thought foreign, technology-heavy corporations were especially important breakers of apartheid taboos, bringing what might be called scientific doubt—not to mention international management protocols opposed to racism and bigotry, like the Sullivan Principles. Their managers were Bloom’s elite allies; had they been forced to pull out by their shareholders, it would have been a disaster for him and others devoted to reform.

This, I hasten to add, was a regime whose original wealth was almost entirely extractive, built on the labor of black Africans in mining and farming, and an economy whose trade was still largely in diamonds, minerals and produce. Sanctioning South African trade meant distressing, mostly, mine and plantation owners who profited directly from the old exploitation. There was a common political language, English, and despite strong local ethnicities and tongues (Afrikaans, Zulu, Xhosa, etc.) a perversely unified culture divided by class and race. Yet people like Bloom personified a growing urban industrial sector (mainly with British roots) that needed global technological culture, financial services and commercial know-how. The entrenched security state seemed to him a throwback to naked colonialism, defending a more retrograde capitalism and a huge (largely Afrikaner) public sector. Even under apartheid, that is, you had enlightened people who needed the world’s backing, and B and D cut the ground out from under them. In contrast, Bloom thought, state officials might be shunned. Segregated sports teams might be shunned. South Africa might be kept out of regional free-trade agreements, so the economy as a whole might be seen by the public as promising and yet held back by racism.

Which brings us to Israel today. Some Israeli democrats and peace activists welcome the BDS trend, if reluctantly. They argue what seems plausible, that the only way to influence the Israeli government (and the Israeli right more generally) to end the occupation is through mounting outside pressure. And, true enough, the Israeli state apparatus persists in according semiofficial status to various institutions—the Jewish Agency and Jewish National Fund, the Orthodox rabbinate—that privilege J-positive blood. The warped legal frame accommodating these institutions, from the administration of national lands to the “status quo” agreement banning interfaith marriages, valorize a settlement mystique, a tribal conception of Jewish identity and a cult of Jerusalem; the groups resisting democratic reform of the state are, unsurprisingly, the same that support Greater Israel. (I argued all these points in my book The Tragedy of Zionism in 1985—hence, my interest in Bloom.)

Nevertheless, is Israel really like apartheid South Africa? No. The Israeli economy does not depend on Arab labor—and never did. (From 1967 to the 1990s, it is true, Israelis did employ tens of thousands of Palestinians in construction and agriculture; but these proved marginal industries, and foreign workers eventually replaced them with little dislocation.) What, if not residual colonialism, accounts for residual discrimination? Tragically, the very institutions that make Israel discriminatory today consolidated their power during the 1920s and ’30s, under the British Mandate, and were meant to cultivate autonomous “Hebrew labor” and economic self-sufficiency separate from the Arab feudal culture. The idea, then, was a revolutionary, secular Hebrew culture (which is why most Diaspora rabbis thought Zionists to be apostates). This separatism led to the globalized Hebrew republic in greater Tel Aviv, a civil society that’s become a greenhouse for technology start-ups as independent of labor-intensive industry as Silicon Valley. Economically, the ideal solution for Israeli entrepreneurs would be to saw Tel Aviv and the coastal plain off Eurasia and float it out toward Cyprus. The internal rival to Greater Israel is Global Israel.

And, not coincidentally, Israelis and Palestinians can hardly be thought of as antagonistic classes in a common political economy. Rather, they both cherish linguistic and other cultural distinctions they want to protect—distinctions that morph into inflamed nationalisms and “religious war” when people on either side of the Green Line feel backed against the wall. Finally—despite institutionalized discrimination and the disquieting excesses of its security apparatus—the Israeli state still accords its citizens, including about 1.5 million Arabs, a functioning democracy, the right to vote, a free press and an independent judiciary. Democratic Israel is under threat from growing numbers of rightists for whom settling “Eretz Yisrael” is of a piece with containing, if not disenfranchising, Israeli Arabs and Jewish dissenters skeptical of their version of the Jewish state. But, then, how to strengthen dissent? By isolating dissenters?

People who advocate for boycott and divestment often slide over these matters. They may say they are modestly trying to pressure Israeli elites into ending the occupation. But take the Berkeley initiative to scale and add in the boycott of Israeli universities, recently proposed in England’s academic union. How would cutting off the most progressive forces in Israel from global corporations and international scholarly events accomplish this? Even generalized trade sanctions, like keeping Israel out of the OECD (which, in fact, it recently joined), would have mainly impaired Israel’s estimated $25 billion in high-tech exports, not extractive, postcolonial industries, as in South Africa. Polls show that about 40 percent of Israeli Jews have abidingly secular and globalist (if not liberal) attitudes. Who gains from economic decline and the inevitable consequence of most educated Israelis fleeing to, well, the Bay Area? Wouldn’t the rightists, also about 40 percent, be most satisfied to see Israel become a little Jewish Pakistan?

Besides, divestment on the Berkeley model assumes the capacity to identify companies specifically supporting occupation activities. But Israel’s networked economy makes this virtually impossible. Is United Technologies bad because one division, Sikorsky, makes Israeli attack helicopters—or is it good because another division, Carrier, makes Palestinian air conditioners? And what about GE CAT scans? For that matter, what about the Samsung cellphone the attack helicopter pilot may be carrying, or the Android software on the cellphone? OK, some will respond, just make the boycott more general. But the idea that precipitating Israeli economic collapse will somehow hasten a democratic outcome is like smacking a TV to fix the picture. Come to think of it, it is like blockading Gaza to sink Hamas.

My impression from various encounters with advocates for B and D is that they are simply unable to imagine that the post-1967 Israel, an Israel of occupation, is not the only possible one. They take for granted that all Israelis are colluding in an immoral, outdated structure—that, QED, a “Jewish state” must mean racist privileges for Jews. They imply, but will not just say, that the two-state solution is an illusion and that Palestine is bound to become a bantustan; that we are on the path to a binational state, one person, one vote, in the whole of historic Palestine—and that punishing Israeli globalization will hasten its arrival. (Presumably, as in South Africa, the citizens of this new state will all speak an exotically accented English.)

But what seems far more likely than a binational state, given the irredentist instincts of the Israeli right and the precedent of violent “steadfastness” of Palestinians (reinforced by the Islamist trend gripping many Palestinian young people), is a kind of Bosnian war. It could start tomorrow with, say, a riot among increasingly impoverished Jerusalem Arabs and spread like wildfire across the West Bank and Israeli Arab towns of the Triangle region. How will B and D do anything but make all Israelis feel demonized and prone to apocalyptic thinking and ethnic cleansing? Already, polls suggest that the Israeli center, which is skeptical of the settlers, feels “the West” does not appreciate what it is like to live with suicide bombers and missile attacks.

Targeted sanctions against the occupation are another matter, however. Foreign governments might well ban consumer products like fruit, flowers and Dead Sea mineral creams and shampoos produced by Israelis in occupied territory, much as Palestinian retail stores do. The EU already requires Israel to distinguish products this way. If Israel continues building in East Jerusalem, and the UN Security Council majority sanctions Israeli tourism, the US government might well choose not to veto the resolution. The Pentagon might sanction, say, Israel Aerospace Industries if, owing to continued settlement, Israeli-Palestinian negotiations break down. Any US sanctions would dominate Israeli headlines for weeks. These would not much hurt the economy directly but would gesture toward the larger truth Israeli managers understand in their bones, namely, that an advanced, networked economy is built as much on expanding relationships with global companies as algorithms, and political isolation will naturally lead to economic isolation.

Israelis, indeed, must be made to choose between Global Israel and Greater Israel, but you do not automatically hurt the latter by wrecking the former. Sanction the Israeli government for activities that obstruct peacemaking. Hurt the settlements. But boycott and divest from the private sector, and you may
create an economic implosion. Israel’s ratio of debt to GDP looks eerily like that of the weakest EU economies. Unlike Greece, Israel has a rising class of cosmopolitan entrepreneurs who have been politically complacent, especially during the second intifada and Bush administration. But only they can lead the country out of political crisis—and only if they can hold on to their prestige, which is itself rooted in international commerce. This prestige, after all, is what diplomatic “engagement” aims to achieve—does it not? We want the soft power of global markets to encourage the formation of more worldly business and professional classes everywhere, from Russia to Syria. Isn’t that why we invest such hope in Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad? We said Bush, Cheney and Rice were wrong to boycott whole countries. They were.

An Open Letter to Edinburgh University Student Association on Boycotting Israel

Published March 2011

Dr. Denis MacEoin

Around 270 students at Edinburgh University voted in favour of a motion which described Israel as an apartheid state and called for a boycott of goods. However, the Jewish Chronicle reports that the Edinburgh University Students’ Association has confirmed a proposed boycott of Israeli products will not be enforced.

Here is a strong argument against the boycott, written by an Edinburgh University alumnus:

The Committee
Edinburgh University Student Association

May I be permitted to say a few words to members of the EUSA? I am an Edinburgh graduate (MA 1975) who studied Persian, Arabic and Islamic History in Buccleuch Place under William Montgomery Watt and Laurence Elwell Sutton, two of Britain’s great Middle East experts in their day. I later went on to do a PhD at Cambridge and to teach Arabic and Islamic Studies at Newcastle University. Naturally, I am the author of several books and hundreds of articles in this field.

I say all that to show that I am well informed in Middle Eastern affairs and that, for that reason, I am shocked and disheartened by the EUSA motion and vote. I am shocked for a simple reason: there is not and has never been a system of apartheid in Israel. That is not my opinion, that is fact that can be tested against reality by any Edinburgh student, should he or she choose to visit Israel to see for themselves.

Let me spell this out, since I have the impression that those member of EUSA who voted for this motion are absolutely clueless in matters concerning Israel, and that they are, in all likelihood, the victims of extremely biased propaganda coming from the anti-Israel lobby. Being anti-Israel is not in itself objectionable. But I’m not talking about ordinary criticism of Israel. I’m speaking of a hatred that permits itself no boundaries in the lies and myths it pours out. Thus, Israel is repeatedly referred to as a ‘Nazi’ state. In what sense is this true, even as a metaphor? Where are the Israeli concentration camps? The einzatsgruppen? The SS? The Nüremberg Laws? The Final Solution? None of these things nor anything remotely resembling them exists in Israel, precisely because the Jews, more than anyone on earth, understand what Nazism stood for. It is claimed that there has been an Israeli Holocaust in Gaza (or elsewhere). Where? When? No honest historian would treat that claim with anything but the contempt it deserves. But calling Jews Nazis and saying they have committed a Holocaust is as basic a way to subvert historical fact as anything I can think of.

Likewise apartheid. For apartheid to exist, there would have to be a situation that closely resembled things in South Africa under the apartheid regime. Unfortunately for those who believe this, a weekend in any part of Israel would be enough to show how ridiculous the claim is. That a body of university students actually fell for this and voted on it is a sad comment on the state of modern education. The most obvious focus for apartheid would be the country’s 20% Arab population. Under Israeli law, Arab Israelis have exactly the same rights as Jews or anyone else; Muslims have the same rights as Jews or Christians; Baha’is, severely persecuted in Iran, flourish in Israel, where they have their world centre; Ahmadi Muslims, severely persecuted in Pakistan and elsewhere, are kept safe by Israel; the holy places of all religions are protected under a specific Israeli law. Arabs form 20% of the university population (an exact echo of their percentage in the general population). In Iran, the Baha’is (the largest religious minority) are forbidden to study in any university or to run their own universities: why aren’t your members boycotting Iran?

Arabs in Israel can go anywhere they want, unlike blacks in apartheid South Africa. They use public transport, they eat in restaurants, they go to swimming pools, they use libraries, they go to cinemas alongside Jews – something no blacks could do in South Africa. Israeli hospitals not only treat Jews and Arabs, they also treat Palestinians from Gaza or the West Bank. On the same wards, in the same operating theatres.

In Israel, women have the same rights as men: there is no gender apartheid. Gay men and women face no restrictions, and Palestinian gays often escape into Israel, knowing they may be killed at home. It seems bizarre to me that LGBT groups call for a boycott of Israel and say nothing about countries like Iran, where gay men are hanged or stoned to death. That illustrates a mindset that beggars belief. Intelligent students thinking it’s better to be silent about regimes that kill gay people, but good to condemn the only country in the Middle East that rescues and protects gay people. Is that supposed to be a sick joke?

University is supposed to be about learning to use your brain, to think rationally, to examine evidence, to reach conclusions based on solid evidence, to compare sources, to weigh up one view against one or more others. If the best Edinburgh can now produce are students who have no idea how to do any of these things, then the future is bleak. I do not object to well documented criticism of Israel. I do object when supposedly intelligent people single the Jewish state out above states that are horrific in their treatment of their populations. We are going through the biggest upheaval in the Middle East since the 7th and 8th centuries, and it’s clear that Arabs and Iranians are rebelling against terrifying regimes that fight back by killing their own citizens. Israeli citizens, Jews and Arabs alike, do not rebel (though they are free to protest). Yet Edinburgh students mount no demonstrations and call for no boycotts against Libya, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Iran. They prefer to make false accusations against one of the world’s freest countries, the only country in the Middle East that has taken in Darfur refugees, the only country in the Middle East that gives refuge to gay men and women, the only country in the Middle East that protects the Baha’is…. Need I go on? The imbalance is perceptible, and it sheds no credit on anyone who voted for this boycott.

I ask you to show some common sense. Get information from the Israeli embassy. As for some speakers. Listen to more than one side. Do not make your minds up until you have given a fair hearing to both parties. You have a duty to your students, and that is to protect them from one-sided argument. They are not at university to be propagandized. And they are certainly not there to be tricked into anti-Semitism by punishing one country among all the countries of the world, which happens to be the only Jewish state. If there had been a single Jewish state in the 1930s (which, sadly, there was not), don’t you think Adolf Hitler would have decided to boycott it? Of course he would, and he would not have stopped there. Your generation has a duty to ensure that the perennial racism of anti-Semitism never sets down roots among you. Today, however, there are clear signs that it has done so and is putting down more. You have a chance to avert a very great evil, simply by using reason and a sense of fair play. Please tell me that this makes sense to you. I have given you some of the evidence. It’s up to you to find out more.

Yours sincerely,

Dr. Denis MacEoin

BDS and limited boycotts: a distinction without a difference?

Courtesy of
July 21, 2011

Prof Gerald M. Steinberg
NGO Monitor and
Bar Ilan University

Since independence in 1948, Israel has been confronted by boycott campaigns, beginning with the Arab League’s extensive embargo that continues in many countries. The objective of this form of warfare was and remains the rejection of the sovereign Jewish nation-state, regardless of boundaries.

In 2001, the Non-Governmental Organizations Forum of the United Nation’s Durban “World Conference against Racism” expanded this campaign in the form of the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement. The NGOs at Durban, including global powers such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, adopted a final declaration, sponsored by Palestinians and written during a preparatory conference in Tehran, calling for “the imposition of mandatory and comprehensive sanctions and embargoes, the full cessation of all links (diplomatic, economic, social, aid, military cooperation, and training) between all states and Israel”.

After Durban, the BDS movement’s first action in 2002 focused on a boycott of Israeli academic institutions, led by British trade union activists and NGOs. Additional campaigns target large Israeli firms (including banks), export products, and tourism. The NGO boycott movement has become a major form of “soft power” warfare, reinforcing the ongoing security threats faced by Israel.

The language of the BDS campaign reflects its objectives: referring to all of Israel as “occupied territory” and exploiting the “apartheid” label, accompanied by crude allegations of “genocide”, “ethnic cleansing”, and war crimes. Boycott campaigns, including the widespread embargo on academic ties, were closely associated with the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, and thus the use of this tactic is designed to reinforce the image. The Durban process also revived the 1975 UN “Zionism is racism” resolution that was repealed in 1991. BDS leaders, such as Sue Blackwell, refer to their campaign as a means of combating the “illegitimate state of Israel” and preventing Israelis from being treated as “normal citizens from a normal state”.

NGOs involved in BDS also promote the Palestinian narrative, such as on refugee claims (the so-called “right of return”) that are inconsistent with the two-state framework necessary for a stable peace. Similarly, the militant advocacy of a one-state formula, meaning the replacement of Israel by a Palestinian-Arab state, is part of the BDS agenda.

In this context, recent moves by influential NGOs on the Israeli Left, such as Peace Now and the New Israel Fund, to promote economic and cultural boycotts of communities beyond the green line (the 1949-1967 ceasefire line) are inseparable from the BDS movement. While NGO officials refer to “targeted boycotts”, the use of this divisive tactic and symbol blurs the core distinction between the objectives of the two boycott campaigns. While the Zionist Israeli Left claims to oppose BDS, its use of selective boycotts adds more weight and recognition to the established BDS “brand-name” and suggests that Israeli peace groups are silent partners.

This wedge tactic and the blurring of opposition to settlements with the wider rejection of Israel’s legitimacy, regardless of policies and borders, is a central BDS strategy. In many cases, anti-occupation language is used as a ruse to gain legitimacy. Boycott campaigns targeting Israeli banks, the export cooperative Agrexco, and other major economic enterprises, are explained by the claim that all Israeli firms contribute to the occupation. And disruptive demonstrators who invade stores in London and other European cities that sell Israeli creams and lotions from the Dead Sea claim that these are “products of the occupation” when in fact most of the western shore of the Dead Sea was part of Israel prior to the 1967 war and the occupation claim is part of the obfuscation.

As a result, in the framework of Israeli politics, the Left’s use of boycott tactics has created a major backlash. This angry response is reflected in the Knesset’s adoption of a law enabling Israeli victims of boycotts, regardless of where they are located, to bring suit against the promoters of these campaigns, claiming economic discrimination. (Many of the ideological attacks on this legislation as “anti-democratic” erroneously refer to “criminalization” of support for boycotts, but the mechanisms are strictly civil and will be challenged in the courts.)

The large-scale and often secret European government funding for boycott promoters–both BDS, such as the Coalition of Women for Peace, and settlement-linked including Peace Now–adds to the resentment among Israelis. This is reflected in opinion polls by the Tami Steinmetz Center at Tel-Aviv University and by support for politicians on the Right who promote legislation against foreign manipulation of Israeli democracy.

Thus, in the Israeli political arena, “limited boycotts” will not revive the Left, but rather increase the friction between the ideological poles and further alienate the Center. For groups claiming to promote peace, boycott campaigns in any form are counterproductive.

Gerald M. Steinberg is the founder and president of NGO Monitor and professor of political science at Bar Ilan University.

Making the progressive case for Israel

March 26, 2011
Courtesy of Progress Online

A speech by David Cairns MP,
delivered by John Woodcock MP on behalf of Labour Friends of Israel

I want to begin by saying what this speech is not.

It’s not an attempt to deflect attention from the pressing urgency of achieving an agreement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It’s not an argument which posits that Israel is always right and should be allowed to act with impunity.
And it’s not intended to diminish the need to resolve the complex issues of borders and settlements; of refugees; and of Jerusalem.

So let me begin by re-iterating the need for both sides to return to the negotiating table to make the painful and necessary compromises that will be required to end this conflict for good.

In all of the forums I have been involved with LFI, and in every meeting in which I have participated, this has been the consistent message. It has been conveyed to Israeli politicians of all parties, and every Palestinian leader of recent years.

And, if needs be, in months and years ahead, LFI will continue to focus on the need to resolve this tragic conflict, which has already claimed too many lives and caused too much grief.

But tonight I want to offer another message – not in contradiction to the first, but complementary. And the message is this: in a time of upheaval and unrest we will never find a just and lasting agreement if we forget or overlook the fact that that Israel is the only regional exemplar, not just of democracy but of social democracy. Its values are rooted in left-of-centre principles. It is a place where

• women enjoy equality;
• the LGBT community flourishes;
• the media is unfettered and critical;
• an independent judiciary protects the powerless from the powerful;
• where trade unions are well-organised and strong;
• educational excellence and scientific innovation are pursued;
• religious minorities are free to practise their creeds;
• a welfare state supports the poor and marginalised;
• and, yes, it is a fully functioning, vibrant, participatory democracy.

And the reason I feel the need to deliver this message tonight is that the failure to make progress in securing an agreement to end the conflict, bolstered by opposition to the very concept of Israel, has resulted in not just reasonable criticism of Israel’s conduct and behaviour, but in increasing attempts to de-legitimise the Israeli state; and the advocacy of a policy which would could see its demise as a social democratic beacon.

Years ago, when I first became involved with LFI the two-state solution was accepted by mainstream Israelis and Palestinians alike. It was rejected by the Israeli right and by Islamist extremists.

Today much of the Israeli right now accepts the principle of a two-state solution, which is obviously welcome, and it is still the goal of the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank. But Hamas in Gaza remains committed to the destruction of Israel by force, and the so-called One-State solution is becoming much more mainstream. For some, this popularity is born from frustration but, let’s be absolutely clear: the one state model means the demise of the Jewish state. It is the end of the dream of national self-determination for the Jewish people. And that is why Hamas wants it.

And why does this matter? It matters for two reasons: the first is the fact of the state of Israel, how and why it came to be. And the second is the nature of the state of Israel and the values that it has come, through time, to embody.

As recently as 2001 the Guardian, not always Israel’s most staunch supporter, called the establishment of the state of Israel a “moral necessity”.

This was the long held belief of the British left; and not just the left, but the left of the left: writing in 1968 Eric Heffer said: “When Israel was established by resolution of the United Nations, like most Socialists, I was delighted.”

Why the delight among Socialists? It was their belief in the right of self-determination for the Jewish people, the searing experience of World War II, and the overthrow of colonial rule that galvanised left-wing support for David Ben Gurion’s declaration.

It was precisely these reasons that gave some on the Labour right, most notably the formidable figure of Foreign Secretary Ernie Bevin, cause for concern.

The right of self-determination for the Jewish people was a matter of progressive principle and conscience in 1948 and it should remain so today. And it is because I believe in the right of Jewish self-determination that I support Palestinian self-determination too.

On both sides, we should see the other’s goal as an essential part of our success, not a fundamental barrier to it.

But it was not just the fact of the Jewish state that won it support from the left; it was the type of state it was to be: a socialist, egalitarian society, one where Labour would be the natural party of Government.

The Declaration of Independence speaks of an Israel which “will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture”. Or as we might put it today – this would be a progressive country.

And so it remains.

But failure to secure agreement to the conflict with the Palestinians has obscured this progressive reality: it has pushed Israel’s positive story from the headlines; and it has allowed Israel’s longstanding enemies to build support for false analogies with some of the ugliest right-wing regimes imaginable – apartheid South Africa and even Nazi Germany itself.

Israeli speakers are shouted down in university campuses; otherwise left-wing union leaders demand wholesale boycotts of all Israeli produce; Israeli opposition politicians are afraid to come here for fear of arrest; leftish pop stars won’t play concerts in Tel Aviv; and, bizarrely, an Israeli diplomat, Ishmael Khaldi, had to abandon an address at Edinburgh University after he was surrounded by protestors chanting “Nazi” and “boycott Israel”. Khaldi is a Bedouin, Muslim Israeli citizen.

As of 2010, Israel had been condemned in 32 resolutions of the UN Human Rights Council, almost half of all resolutions passed since its creation.

In the decade of genocide in Darfur, unspeakable war crimes in Sri Lanka, and state-sponsored oppression of gay men and lesbians in a dozen African states, Israel remains the only country that the UN Human Rights Council has specifically condemned.

I mention all of this not to elicit sympathy or to play the victim card. But it is undeniable that today, if you are on the left it is presumed to be axiomatic to be anti-Israel.

How has this come to be? It’s partly because there are two progressive principles that Israel is accused of denying the Palestinian people: one is their right to self-determination; the other is the general principle of “fairness”, the sense that the Palestinians are not treated fairly by a powerful majority.

This belief is exacerbated by events. International sympathy for Israel rose when it was attacked by its neighbours in a series of attempted wars of annihilation. When bus bombs were exploding on a regular basis in Jerusalem, and gay bars were being targeted by suicide bombers in Tel Aviv, even hostile commentators were forced to admit that Israel was facing real problems.

And in response to this terror, to protect its people, Israel built a security barrier, which many didn’t like, but has drastically limited the ability of suicide bombers to enter Israel, at least for now. And, facing security threats on the majority of its borders, Israel has been to war with Hezbollah in Lebanon, and has targeted Hamas in Gaza, who have been sending rockets into southern Israel on a daily basis since Israel unilaterally withdrew from the territory and Hamas took control of Gaza in a violent coup.

It was, I know, hard for people to watch what was happening in Lebanon and Gaza on their TV screens because innocent civilians were killed – as sadly happens in all wars.

Whereas Israel viewed these as wars of survival, support for Israel plummeted as a result. And just a few days ago we saw the terrible and gruesome murder of an Israeli family, and the pendulum swings back a little – until the next time.

And the fact is that because of Israel’s understandably tough approach to security, including myriad check-points on the West Bank, as well as the Security Barrier, life for Palestinians can be really hard and restrictive, and that offends our sense of fairness.

But today I want to propose a new approach for progressives. Currently the dividing line is wrong. People are either categorised as pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian. This creates a pressure to support “your” side in a sectarian, loyalist sense.

As I have set out, it’s because Israel embodies progressive values that I am a proud friend of Israel.
And yet I have observed a curious phenomenon: whenever I say something supportive of Israel I am almost always challenged to say something critical too. It’s as if I have to buy permission to say something positive.

I’m regularly encouraged to be a “critical friend” by which is usually meant more criticism, less friendship.

My point is this: I want to work with all progressives – here, in Israel and the Palestinian territories – to build the confidence and trust that will be required to bring about a lasting agreement.

I will be critical of Israel when I need to be. But I call on my friends and colleagues who support the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people to cease the language of de-legitimisation; to end the comparisons with South Africa and Nazi Germany; to halt the demands for boycotts of Israeli produce and people; to put an end to the movement to sever academic ties; and to recognise Israel’s strong and continuing adherence to the self-same progressive values that we fight for here at home.

It is not left wing or progressive to ally ones-self with those that seek Israel’s destruction, or those who don’t value one iota the type of society we strive for in this country. So I am appealing for all those who value peace and justice to support our values where we see them lived out, and to assist – not obstruct – those people working on the ground to resolve their conflict and build their progressive society.

David Cairns MP is the chair of Labour Friends of Israel

Letter to the ASA Opposing the Proposed Academic Boycott of Israel

By Claire Potter

To: John Stephens, Executive Director of the American Studies Association

Subject: Opposition to proposed resolution before the National Council of the ASA for an academic boycott of Israel.

Dear John,

Please count me as an ASA member who opposes the proposed sanctions of Israel’s academic institutions and, by logical extension, the scholars associated with those institutions, that has been put before the Council by the Academic and Community Activism Caucus. Scholars of any nation ought to be free to travel, publish and collaborate across borders: I consider this to be a fundamental human right, and so does the United Nations. We in the American Studies Association cannot defend some of those human rights and disregard others.

Although it grieves me to oppose a number of distinguished colleagues and friends in this matter, I cannot agree that such sanctions are any more than an empty gesture toward those people who are suffering under, and threatened by, the exclusions, violence and expulsions that are characteristic of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands. At the same time, this gesture — which would cost the vast majority of ASA members nothing, as few of us have the occasion to directly do business with Israel’s academic institutions, creates a precedent that the ASA is willing to not just tolerate, but promote, restrictions on academic freedom.

Putting the question of why Israel’s human rights violations are being singled out as especially gruesome, given US complicity in the repression of many peoples across the globe, the ASA also runs the risk of isolating progressive colleagues in Israel by passing this resolution. BDS and PACBI claims, echoed by the ASA colleagues promoting this resolution, that this boycott would be “the same” as similar boycotts enacted against South Africa are simply incorrect, in my view. Full scholarly and historical attention, I am quite certain, would reveal that this is a facile comparison and that the boycott of South Africa was not the engine of that country’s transformation that BDS supporters wish to believe. What would be similar, in my view, is that anti-Occupation academics, including Palestinian scholars employed by Israeli institutions, would be likely to have even fewer resources for their own struggle under a right wing state that has far greater internal and international legitimacy than did South Africa’s apartheid government.

The Academic and Community Activism Caucus — currently populated with longtime BDS activists — insists that their own allies within Israel support this boycott. I believe those claims — many of us who oppose this resolution have friends on the left who have asked us to act on their behalf as well. But I might add that since 2010 the right to free speech in Israel has narrowed dramatically, and providing some context for pro-Palestinian activists’ view that international boycotts would not make their situation dramatically worse.

I disagree. Despite the growth of the US national security state in the past decade, some of us think that freedom of speech is not something you give away — for yourself, or on behalf of another nation’s scholars. Please register my views with the Council.

A Slap in the Face for Anti-Israel BDS Movement

by Khaled Abu Toameh

Abbas’s stance against the BDS campaign should serve as a wake up call to all its supporters, especially those who are not Palestinians, that negative campaigns only serve to promote hatred and extremism in the region.

Many Palestinians seem to share Abbas’s view. That is why many Palestinians continue to do business with Israelis on a daily basis and continue to hold joint conferences in Israel and different parts of the world.

The international campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions [BDS] against Israel received a slap in the face last week from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

As BDS supporters continue to campaign against Israel around the world, Abbas, asked about his position regarding the BDS campaign at a press conference in Johannesburg, where he was attending Nelson Mandela’s funeral, stated that he does not support the boycott of Israel.

It is ironic that while Abbas is saying no to a boycott of Israel, the American Studies Association, an association of U.S. professors with almost 5,000 members, voted to endorse an academic boycott of Israeli colleagues and universities.

The U.S. professors obviously do not care about what the Palestinian Authority president has to say about the boycott of Israel. The professors, like BDS supporters, apparently believe that Abbas is a “traitor” because he is conducting peace talks with Israel.

Abbas’s attack on the BDS movement is a serious embarrassment for the anti-Israel activists, many of whom are not Palestinians.

The statements have enraged BDS activists worldwide, with some calling into question Abbas’s right to speak on behalf of the Palestinians.

Prominent Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab noted that Abbas’s statement in Johannesburg “naturally has angered many Palestinian and international supporters of the BDS movement.”

Kuttab wrote that Abbas’s statement “reflects the absence of any clear strategy from the Palestinian political leadership except for negotiations. It is unclear whether the reason behind the Palestinian leader’s public attack at the BDS movement is a result of trying to protect the Palestinian elite or not wanting to anger the Israelis and their US allies.”

Abbas did, however, call on people around the world to boycott products of settlements. “No, we do not support the boycott of Israel,” Abbas said. “But we ask everyone to boycott the products of settlements because the settlements are in our territories. It is illegal.”

Abbas’s statements conflict “with the Palestinian national consensus that has strongly supported BDS against Israel since 2005,” Omar Barghouti, one of the founders of BDS, told Electronic Intifada.

“There is no Palestinian political party, trade union, NGO [non-governmental organization] network or mass organization that does not strongly support BDS,” Omar Barghouti continued. “Any Palestinian official who lacks a democratic mandate and any real public support, therefore, cannot claim to speak on behalf of the Palestinian people.”

Salim Vally, spokesman for the Palestine Solidarity Committee in South Africa, told The Electronic Intifada that Abbas’s comments were “shocking” and represented an “attack on the global solidarity movement.”

The claim that Abbas does not represent the Palestinian “consensus” regarding a boycott of Israel is inaccurate. In fact, many Palestinians seem to share Abbas’s view, which supports a boycott only of settlement products.

That is why many Palestinians continue to do business with Israelis on a daily business. That is also why, despite the BDS campaign, Palestinians and Israelis continue to hold joint seminars and conferences in Israel and different parts of the world.

In wake of Abbas’s statements, the BDS movement should reconsider its strategy. Calls for boycotting any party do not contribute to the cause of peace. Abbas’s stance against the BDS should also serve as a wake-up call to its supporters, especially those who are not Palestinians, that negative campaigns only serve to promote hatred and extremism in the region.

Top US Academic Association Decries Israel Boycott

by Lazar Berman

A leading international group of academic institutions issued a scathing attack on a decision last week by American professors to boycott Israel.

The executive committee of the Association of American Universities, which consists of 60 leading US and Canadian universities including Harvard, Stanford, and Yale, released a statement Friday saying that boycotts violate “the academic freedom of Israeli scholars but also of American scholars who might be pressured to comply with it.”

Last week, the American Studies Association voted to boycott cooperation with Israeli universities, a move that was quickly mimicked by the Native American Studies Association. The boycott decision by the ASA spurred Brandeis University and Penn State University Harrisburg to cut off ties with the 5,000-member group.

The AAU said in its statement Friday that academic freedom should not be “abridged by political considerations.”

“Academic freedom is the freedom of university faculty responsibly to produce and disseminate knowledge through research, teaching, and service, without undue constraint,” the statement read. “American colleges and universities, as well as like institutions elsewhere, must stand as the first line of defense against attacks on academic freedom.”

“Restrictions imposed on the ability of scholars of any particular country to work with their fellow academics in other countries, participate in meetings and organizations, or otherwise carry out their scholarly activities violate academic freedom…,” continued the statement. “We urge American scholars and scholars around the world who believe in academic freedom to oppose this and other such academic boycotts.”

The AAU was founded in 1900, and works to promote national and campus policies that support scholarship and research. Membership in the organization is seen as a sign of prestige among American universities.

The membership-wide canvas was unprecedented and was undertaken in part at the behest of boycott opponents, who said at a session during the ASA annual conference in Washington last month that the matter was too sensitive to leave up to the 20-member national council, which unanimously endorsed the boycott.

In the resolution passed unanimously by the national council on December 4, the group justified its decision with the assertions that Palestinian students and scholars enjoy “no effective or substantive academic freedom” under Israeli rule and that “Israeli institutions of higher learning are a party to Israeli state policies that violate human rights and negatively impact the working conditions of Palestinian scholars and students.”

The “boycott is the best way to protect and expand academic freedom and access to education,” ASA president Curtis Marez said in a press release after the national council approved the measure.

Almost immediately after the announcement, opposition to the decision surfaced. Penn State Harrisburg was the first university to announce a break with the ASA the next day, with Brandeis University following suit.

Other university presidents have come out strongly against the boycott.

“The ASA has not gone on record against universities in any other country: not against those that enforce laws against homosexuality, not against those that have rejected freedom of speech, not against those that systematically restrict access to higher education by race, religion or gender,” wrote Wesleyan President Michael S. Roth. “No, the ASA listens to civil society only when it speaks against Israel. As its scholarly president declared, “One has to start somewhere.” Not in North Korea, not in Russia or Zimbabwe or China — one has to start with Israel. Really?”

“Academic boycotts subvert the academic freedoms and values necessary to the free flow of ideas, which is the lifeblood of the worldwide community of scholars,” read a statement released by Harvard President Drew Faust. “The recent resolution of the ASA proposing to boycott Israeli universities represents a direct threat to these ideals, ideals which universities and scholarly associations should be dedicated to defend.”

The ASA’s boycott has not gone unnoticed by lawmakers either.

Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) released a statement blasting the decision, which he said “applies a deeply offensive double standard.”

Congressman Eliot Engel (D-NY) also criticized the vote.

The Anti-Defamation League called the vote to endorse the boycott “manifestly unjust.”“This shameful, morally bankrupt and intellectually dishonest attack on academic freedom by the American Studies Association should be soundly condemned by all who are committed to the ideal that open exchange of ideas is the most effective way to achieve change,” said National Director Abraham Foxman in a statement.

American Studies Association’s Marez admitted that the ASA has never before called for a boycott of any other nation’s universities and did not dispute that many other countries, including some of those in Israel’s region, are considered to have a comparable — if not worse — human-rights record than Israel.

“One has to start somewhere,” he said according to a New York Times report, adding that the US has “a particular responsibility to answer the call for boycott because it is the largest supplier of military aid to the state of Israel.” In addition, Marez noted, Palestinian civil groups had asked the ASA for the boycott, whereas no similar requests had been made by similar groups in other countries.

Founded in 1951 and now counting about 5,000 members, the Washington, DC-based ASA is America’s oldest and largest association devoted to the interdisciplinary study of American culture and history, according to its website.

On Wednesday, the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association became the third US academic body to push for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. The boycott will be open to discussion at the group’s national conference in May in Austin, Texas.

In January, Austin will also see a panel by the Modern Language Association debate the question of whether to boycott Israel. The group has been criticize for failing to include a pro-Israel voice in the discussion.

Earlier this year, the Association for Asian American Studies became the the first US academic institution to boycott Israeli academic institutions.

At its annual conference in Seattle in April, the group’s general membership unanimously voted in favor of a resolution that accuses Israeli universities of supporting systematic discrimination against Palestinian students, among other charges. The US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel was founded in early 2009, in the wake of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. Since then, it has been endorsed by 963 faculty members across the country.

The Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

Dozens of US Universities Reject Academic Boycott of Israel

Dozens of American colleges and universities are rejecting an academic boycott of Israeli universities recently approved by the academic American Studies Association, the nation’s oldest and largest association devoted to the interdisciplinary study of American culture and history.  Some schools said they are withdrawing from the organization.

Rep. Eliot Engel, the senior Democratic member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, sent a letter (text below) to the ASA president, Curtis Marez,  expressing concern over what Engel said was “the unfair double standard Israel is regularly and unfairly subjected to by organizations such as yours.”

The association’s membership — or, rather, 66.05 percent of the 1,252 votes that came in from the group’s 5,000 members — approved the boycott last week over the objections of numerous former presidents of the organization and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who angered activists by saying that he does not support a boycott of Israel (though he does support a boycott of Israeli products in the occupied territories).

Schools including Johns Hopkins, Harvard, Yale, Cornell, Princeton and Boston universities and the Universities of Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Texas at Austin  and others have slammed the boycott, issuing statements similar to one by Harvard President Drew Faust that said that academic boycotts “subvert the academic freedoms and values necessary to the free flow of ideas, which is the lifeblood of the worldwide community of scholars.”

Penn State University at Harrisburg and Brandeis University have said they are withdrawing their memberships from the American Studies Association, and other schools are considering doing the same thing. In addition, two major associations of institutions of higher education, the Association of American Universities and the Association of American University Professors, have issued statements rejecting the boycott.

The approved ASA boycott resolution, which followed a similar one by the Association for Asian American Studies, said in part:

The American Studies Association (ASA) endorses and will honor the call of Palestinian civil society for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. It is also resolved that the ASA supports the protected rights of students and scholars everywhere to engage in research and public speaking about Israel-Palestine and in support of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement.

The Association of American University Professors has long opposed academic boycotts, saying in a 2005 resolution:

We reject proposals that curtail the freedom of teachers and researchers to engage in work with academic colleagues, and we reaffirm the paramount importance of the freest possible international movement of scholars and ideas.

I recently asked Marez if his organization had instituted an embargo on any other country’s academic institution and he responded in an e-mail saying that:

ASA members condemned apartheid in South Africa and urged divestment from U.S. corporations with operations there. More recently the ASA condemned anti-immigrant discrimination in Arizona and in other states.

That’s a long way of saying that the Israeli boycott is the first and only for the ASA.

Here’s Engel’s letter, and following that are some of the statements that presidents of universities have issued:

Mr. Curtis Marez

American Studies Association
1120 19th St NW, Suite 301
Washington, DC 20036

Dear Mr. Marez:

I noted with great dismay the decision of the American Studies Association (ASA) to launch a boycott targeting Israeli academic institutions. I believe such action by the ASA is another example of the unfair double standard Israel is regularly and unfairly subjected to by organizations such as yours. I could not help but notice that the American Association of University Professors condemns such boycotts as violations of academic freedom, and that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas himself made clear that his government does not support boycotts of the institutions that the ASA is now targeting.

I take great issue with how supporters of the ASA’s misguided actions draw a distinction between boycotting individual Israelis and Israeli academic institutions, which the ASA has termed “party to Israeli state policies that violate human rights.” Simply put, I fail to see how cutting off ties to Israeli universities furthers the interests of peace and coexistence. Does your membership really believe the institutions such as the Walter Lebach Institute for Jewish-Arab Coexistence Through Education at the Tel Aviv University, the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, or the Jewish-Arab Center at the University of Haifa contribute to the purported Israeli assault on human rights and academic freedoms?

Further, I was surprised to learn that Israel is the first country formally subject to a boycott by the ASA, which curiously has chosen to stay silent on China’s suppression of independent academic voices critical of the Communist Party, the Venezuelan government’s retaliation against opposition-oriented universities, or Zimbabwe’s denial of foreign academics from countries critical of Robert Mugabe’s dictatorial government from assuming academic residencies at the University of Zimbabwe. Unfortunately, your response that “we have to start somewhere” when queried about this contradiction only serves to highlight your organization’s bias against Israel. If you must “start somewhere,” than I strongly suggest the ASA turn its attention to Syria, where Bashar al-Assad’s forces have indiscriminately shelled universities, killing students even as they sat for exams.

I have attached several sections from the State Department’s most recent Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for your review. I would note that under the Israel country section, the report states “there were no government restrictions on academic freedom.”

If you desire any assistance in further identifying other countries with human rights records of concern, I and my staff stand ready to assist you and the ASA in that regard.



Ranking Member

President Drew Faust

Harvard University

Academic boycotts subvert the academic freedoms and values necessary to the free flow of ideas, which is the lifeblood of the worldwide community of scholars. The recent resolution of the ASA proposing to boycott Israeli universities represents a direct threat to these ideals, ideals which universities and scholarly associations should be dedicated to defend.

President Susan Herbst
University of Connecticut

The recent votes of two scholarly societies — the American Studies Association and Association for Asian American Studies — to endorse the Palestinian boycott of Israeli academic institutions is contrary to both academic freedom and the international exchange of ideas. The University of Connecticut joins the American Association of University Professors in firmly opposing all such boycotts. Choosing one nation for a boycott is patently unfair and represents a disturbing philosophy among some segments of the academy.

As a university with global reach and prominence, UConn seeks research and educational partnerships with people of all nations, and is proud to serve as a force for political conversation, inter-ethnic exchange, and the pursuit of scholarly excellence.

Academic leaders at UConn will continue to visit Israel and Arab nations, invite Israeli and Arab scholars to our campuses, encourage our students and faculty to study in these nations, and pursue research collaboration with the many outstanding Israeli universities. We do this with pride and a productive focus on social justice, to forge the very critical dialogues that will someday lead to the peace we all seek.

That is the true essence of a university — to foster dialogue and develop solutions to problems without regard to political, racial, and cultural differences.

Susan Herbst
University of Connecticut


I am disappointed and concerned that the American Studies Association, invoking the principle of academic freedom, would vote to boycott Israeli academic institutions. Research, teaching, and scholarship flourish through robust exchange of ideas, across borders and among institutions in different parts of the world. Universities and their faculties can often transcend even profound political differences. It is ill-advised to make academic institutions the instrument with which to promote a political agenda by attempting to isolate students and scholars. Boston University cannot support this boycott.

I hope that there will be a serious discussion within our American & New England Studies Program, which has an institutional membership in the ASA that, obviously, is funded by the University. This institutional membership does not come with a vote that is exercised by either the program or the University. The poll taken by the ASA represents the votes of individual members of the organization. We are not prepared to suggest (implicitly or explicitly) to faculty members who hold individual memberships (some of which are funded out of professional funds allocated to individual faculty members) how they should vote. That would lead us onto a slippery slope.

I do hope the faculty in the American & New England Studies Program will consider whether or not continuing membership in the ASA will create the opportunity for a temperate and thoughtful reconsideration of the wisdom of the boycott.

For my part, I am somewhat cautious about following a boycott with a boycott. I’d rather see thoughtful discourse and engagement. This is a case in which the application of the principle of academic freedom is both important but fraught with subtlety. I take the point that the ASA boycott is pernicious and a rather direct attack on academic freedom and scholarly interactions across borders. With my formal statement, I have registered that objection. At the same time, we must be careful about reactions that have the effect of further limiting much-needed dialogue.

Robert A. Brown

Countering Illegal Boycotts of Israel

Educational, corporate and political organizations have stepped up efforts to isolate Israel through academic discrimination and economic blacklisting. Wrongly, organizations funded either directly or indirectly by U.S. taxpayers are advocating these boycotts.

The American Studies Association announced a boycott of Israeli academic institutions, following boycotts announced by the Association for Asian American Studies and the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association. At their recent conference in Chicago, the Modern Language Association debated the issue of boycotting Israel, reportedly narrowly defeating a resolution calling for a boycott, but adopting a resolution condemning Israel. A panel on Jan. 9 consisted of four panelists and a moderator all supportive of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against the state of Israel. One of the panel’s “experts,” Omar Barghouti, is a founding committee member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel and currently studies at Tel Aviv University in Israel. Mr. Barghouti once infamously wrote in the Electronic Intifada on Jan. 6, 2004, “We are witnessing the rapid demise of Zionism, and nothing can be done to save it . I, for one, support euthanasia.”

Boycott methodology was instituted immediately after the 1948 establishment of Israel in hopes of starving the nation of economic sustenance and her legitimate right to exist and to grow as a nation-state of the world.

Previously, Congress enacted two pieces of legislation to discourage U.S. entities from participating in illegal boycotts against Israel or other countries. A 1977 amendment to the Export Administration Act of 1969 instituted criminal and civil penalties for such participation, and an amendment to the Tax Reform Act of 1976 instituted tax penalties for participation in illegal boycotts. Both were partially successful, and congressional intervention is needed now.

Outrageously, the federal government essentially subsidizes these academic boycotts by granting tax-exempt status for many organizations endorsing and encouraging the boycotts. For example, American Studies Association membership includes 2,200 colleges, universities, museums, foundations, societies and other institutions — many of which are tax-exempt — and their revenues often come from tax-deductible contributions. Actions should be taken to highlight — and preclude — charitable organizations from using tax-supported dollars or contributions to engage in illegal conduct.

Economic boycotts of Israel by U.S. companies are also ongoing. In July 2010, a food cooperative with two locations in Olympia, Wash., voted to become the first grocery store in the United States to ban all Israeli-made items from its shelves. Just last month, the office-supply store Staples reportedly announced plans to cease sales of the popular new SodaStream products because the company’s manufacturing facility is located in Israel’s ancient Judea-Samaria area.

An important Supreme Court case shows how Congress should address this issue. In 1970, the Internal Revenue Service informed Bob Jones University, a private religious university, that its tax-exempt status would be revoked owing to its racially discriminatory policies. The Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment’s religious-liberty guarantee does not prohibit the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) from revoking the tax-exempt status of an educational institution with practices contrary to a compelling state interest. Congress can instruct the IRS to revoke the tax-exempt status of institutions endorsing any Israeli boycott. Although some may argue such action would violate First Amendment “free-speech” rights, Supreme Court precedent clearly shows the First Amendment does not preclude the United States government from taking away tax-exempt status if a “compelling state interest” exists in so doing. Because academic boycotts are contrary to U.S. foreign-policy interests and, in effect, promote hatred and racism, a compelling state interest exists in acting to stop these anti-Israel boycotts by denying tax-exempt status to boycott proponents.

In addition, Congress should create a private cause of action under the Export Administration Act for businesses directly impacted by an unsanctioned boycott. The federal government possesses the power to levy monetary damages in the form of fines against companies that comply with demands by boycott proponents, and the government should do so. The Export Administration Act should be amended to allow private parties harmed by boycotts to pursue punitive and compensatory damages in U.S. courts against the responsible party.

It’s time to put a stop to taxpayer subsidization of boycott advocates, and it’s time to allow victims of these boycotts to pursue justice in a court of law. Illegal boycotts cannot be countenanced and must be stopped, and the offending companies and organizations must be held legally accountable.

The Israel Boycott Will Fail For the Same Reason the Seal Boycotted Succeeded

The Super Bowl will host more than the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks Sunday. It will also highlight the most divisive and bitterly contested trade boycott campaign since the 1980s and 1990s, when environmental and animal rights activists successfully demonized the Newfoundland seal fishery.

Today’s high-profile boycott is the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign – designed to force Israel both to leave the West Bank and to remove its security fence. But the boycott against Israeli goods and services will fail for much the same reason the seal boycott succeeded – boycotts require wholly unsympathetic targets. Israel is trendsetting, hip and inspirational, a magnet for winners from all walks of life. The same movers and shakers who recoiled at the sight of bludgeoned baby seals are drawn to Israel’s verve. They refuse to demonize Israel in a conflict too complex to reduce to crude anti-Israel slogans.

The off-field Sunday clash involves a Super Bowl ad for Israel-based SodaStream and its brand ambassador, Scarlett Johansson, the “sexiest woman alive” according to Esquire. BDS supporters, livid that Johansson would back SodaStream, which manufactures home seltzer makers in a West Bank Israeli settlement, has graphically vilified her support of “blood bubbles,” giving her an “A for Apartheid,” comparing her to white slave owners, and noting she’s a Jew. Oxfam, for whom she travelled the world to raise funds, publicly chastised her.

Johansson, long identified with liberal causes, ended her ties with Oxfam and stood her ground. “I remain a supporter of economic cooperation and social interaction between a democratic Israel and Palestine,” she stated. “SodaStream is a company that is not only committed to the environment but to building a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine, supporting neighbours working alongside each other.”

In fact, the 900 Palestinian employees at the SodaStream plant belie the claim that Israel is an apartheid state that exploits cheap labour. Arabs not only work on the same assembly line with Jews, they eat together in the same cafeteria, receive the same health benefits and earn the same amount – often four to five times as much as Palestinian employers pay. To the chagrin of the BDS movement, in an article entitled “Boycott of Israel’s SodaStream may affect Palestinian workers,” Dubai-based Al Arabiya expressed concern that Palestinians may be among BDS’s victims.

The BDS movement occasionally succeeds in bullying celebrities into boycotting Israel – Elvis Costello is one performer who cancelled an appearance in Israel under pressure. But most stars stand up to the bullying to play in Israel, which has become one of the world’s premier venues – they include Barbra Streisand, Alicia Keyes, Elton John, Rihanna, Bob Dylan, Madonna, and Costello’s wife, Diana Krall. Later this year Justin Timberlake, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and the Rolling Stones are expected to come.

They come from the business world, too – Apple, Microsoft, Intel and dozens of other industry icons. After completing a purchase of Israel’s Iscar last year, Warren Buffett said it “will stay in Israel as long as I’m alive. We’re the world’s fifth-biggest investment firm, but for me, the number-one country is Israel, which is far ahead of larger and richer countries…. Israel reminds me of the United States after its birth. The determination, motivation, intelligence and initiative of its people are remarkable and extraordinary.”

Fears that a boycott of Israel could succeed are not entirely unfounded. Anti-semitism, the chief fuel for the boycott of the sole Middle East country that is democratic, empowers gays, and respects religious diversity, is enduring and today resurgent in much of Europe. Just this week, Israel’s finance minister warned that Israel’s largest trading partner, the EU, could turn against it, leading to a 1.1% reduction in GDP. Under “a European boycott, even a very partial one, the Israeli economy will retreat, the cost of living will rise, budgets for education, health, welfare and security will be cut [and] many international markets will be closed to us,” he said.

But even a partial boycott could not stick, not when Israeli products and services in medicine, defense, computers and electronics have become central to advanced economies, not when A-list celebrities are willing to challenge death threats to share in the allure of Israel.

Paul McCartney, a determined opponent of the seal hunt, was just as determined in opposing the Israeli boycott. “I got explicit death threats, but I have no intention of surrendering. I refuse to cancel my performances in Israel,” he said prior to playing to 40,000 fans in a mutual love-in. “I do what I think and I have many friends who support Israel.”

The BDS Threat

LONDON — Secretary of State John Kerry caused outrage in Israel recently when he declared: “For Israel there’s an increasing delegitimization campaign that has been building up. People are very sensitive to it. There is talk of boycotts and other kinds of things. Today’s status quo absolutely, to a certainty, I promise you 100 percent, cannot be maintained. It’s not sustainable. It’s illusionary.”

Members of the Israeli government were indignant. Israel, they declared, will not negotiate under pressure. Advice givers, stay away! But Kerry was only repeating what Israel’s own finance minister, Yair Lapid, had already said: The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (B.D.S.) movement is beginning to bite.

I am a strong supporter of a two-state peace. The messianic idea of Greater Israel, occupying all the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, must wither. Jews, having suffered for most of their history as a minority, cannot, as a majority now in their state, keep their boots on the heads of the Palestinians in the occupied West Bank any longer.

Palestinians must accept the permanence of the state of Israel within the 1967 lines with equitable land swaps. Competitive victimhood should cede to collaborative viability for the nation states of the Jewish and Palestinian peoples. Narratives and revealed truth do not a future make. They perpetuate the imprisoning past.

So, in theory, B.D.S. might be a positive factor. When the largest Dutch pension fund and the largest Danish bank withdraw investments from, or cease business with, Israeli banks because of their operations in the settlements, they send a powerful signal to Israel to get out of the West Bank.

Yet these developments make me uneasy for a simple reason: I do not trust the B.D.S. movement. Its stated aim is to end the occupation, secure “full equality” for Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel, and fight for the right of return of all Palestinian refugees. The first objective is essential to Israel’s future. The second is laudable. The third, combined with the second, equals the end of Israel as a Jewish state. This is the hidden agenda of B.D.S., its unacceptable subterfuge: beguile, disguise and suffocate.

The anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa contained no such ambiguity. As Diana Shaw Clark, an activist on behalf of a two-state solution, wrote to me in an email, “People affiliated with divestment in South Africa had no agenda other than the liberation and enfranchisement of an oppressed majority.”

This is not the case in Israel, where the triple objective of B.D.S. would, in Clark’s words, “doom Israel as a national home for the Jews.” Mellifluous talk of democracy and rights and justice masks the B.D.S. objective that is nothing other than the end of the Jewish state for which the United Nations gave an unambiguous mandate in 1947. The movement’s anti-Zionism can easily be a cover for anti-Semitism.

It would be gratifying if Israelis and Palestinians could learn overnight to live together as equal citizens in some United States of the Holy Land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, a binational and democratic secular state that resolves their differences. But it is an illusion to think this could ever happen, the one-state pipe dream. The fault lines are too deep. A single state cannot mark its Day of Independence and Day of Catastrophe on the same date.

One state, however conceived, equals the end of Israel as a Jewish state, the core of the Zionist idea. Jews must not allow this to happen. Trust your neighbor? Been there, tried that.

The so-called right of return of the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians driven out in the 1948 war (whose descendants now number in the millions) cannot be exercised, any more than the Jews of Baghdad and Cairo have deeds to return home. There can, and should be, agreed compensation for the dispossessed, but there cannot be a reversal of history. The “right” is in fact a claim.

A Jewish national home is needed. History demonstrated that. It must now be reinvented. For that, the corrosive occupation has to end and with it the settlement industry.

B.D.S. is a wake-up call. I oppose it because I do not trust it. That does not mean, as Lapid intimated, that Israel can ignore its message.

Israel can only be a state of laws again when the lawless enterprise beyond the Green Line ends. West of that line, Israel is a democracy affording greater minority rights than other regional states (Omar Barghouti, a B.D.S. leader, has a master’s degree from Tel Aviv University). But that is not enough. All citizens should enjoy equality in the Jews’ national home, a state where civil marriage becomes possible, state and synagogue are divorced, and Israelis are permitted to identify themselves as Israelis if they so wish, rather than as Jews or Arabs or Druze — that is as undifferentiated citizens.

Ten Reasons Why BDS is Immoral and Hinders Peace-Alan Dershowitz

As a strong supporter of the two state solution and a critic of Israel’s settlement policies, I am particularly appalled at efforts to impose divestment, boycotts and sanctions against Israel, and Israel alone, because BDS makes it more difficult to achieve a peaceful resolution of the Mid-East conflict that requires compromise on all sides. 

The BDS movement is highly immoral, threatens the peace process and discourages the Palestinians from agreeing to any reasonable peace offer. Here are ten compelling reasons why the BDS movement is immoral and incompatible with current efforts to arrive at a compromise peace.

1. The BDS movement immorally imposes the entire blame for the continuing Israeli occupation and settlement policy on the Israelis.

It refuses to acknowledge the historical reality that on at least three occasions, Israel offered to end the occupation and on all three occasions, the Palestinian leadership, supported by its people, refused to accept these offers. In 1967, I played a small role in draftingUN Security Council Resolution 242 that set out the formula for ending the occupation in exchange for recognition of Israel’s right to exist in peace. Israel accepted that resolution, while the Palestinians, along with all the Arab nations, gathered in Khartoum and issued their three famous “nos”: No peace, no negotiation, no recognition. There were no efforts to boycott, sanction or divest from these Arab naysayers. In 2000-2001, Israel’s liberal Prime Minister Ehud Barak, along with American President Bill Clinton, offered the Palestinians statehood, and the end of the occupation. Yasser Arafat rejected this offer—a rejection that many Arab leaders considered a crime against the Palestinian people. In 2007, Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered the Palestinians an even better deal, an offer to which they failed to respond. There were no BDS threats against those who rejected Israel’s peace offers. Now there are ongoing peace negotiations in which both parties are making offers and imposing conditions. Under these circumstances, it is immoral to impose blame only on Israel and to direct a BDS movement only against the nation state of the Jewish people, that has thrice offered to end the occupation in exchange for peace.

2. The current BDS movement, especially in Europe and on some American university campuses, emboldens the Palestinians to reject compromise solutions to the conflict.

Some within the Palestinian leadership have told me that the longer they hold out against making peace, the more powerful will be the BDS movement against Israel. Why not wait until BDS strengthens their bargaining position so that they won’t have to compromise by giving up the right of return, by agreeing to a demilitarized state and by making other concessions that are necessary to peace but difficult for some Palestinians to accept? The BDS movement is making a peaceful resolution harder.

3. The BDS movement is immoral because its leaders will never be satisfied with the kind of two state solution that is acceptable to Israel.

Many of its leaders do not believe in the concept of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people. (The major leader of the BDS movement, Omar Barghouti, has repeatedly expressed his opposition to Israel’s right to exist as the nation state of the Jewish people even within the 1967 borders.) At bottom, therefore, the leadership of the BDS movement is opposed not only to Israel’s occupation and settlement policy but to its very existence.

4. The BDS movement is immoral because it violates the core principle of human rights: namely, “the worst first.”

Israel is among the freest and most democratic nations in the world. It is certainly the freest and most democratic nation in the Middle East. Its Arab citizens enjoy more rights than Arabs anywhere else in the world. They serve in the Knesset, in the judiciary, in the foreign service, in the academy and in business. They are free to criticize Israel and to support its enemies. Israeli universities are hotbeds of anti-Israel rhetoric, advocacy and even teaching. Israel has a superb record on women’s rights, gay rights, environmental rights and other rights that barely exist in most parts of the world. Moreover, Israel’s record of avoiding civilian casualties, while fighting enemies who hide their soldiers among civilians, is unparalleled in the world today. The situation on the West Bank is obviously different because of the occupation, but even the Arabs of Ramallah, Bethlehem and Tulkarm have more human and political rights than the vast majority of Arabs in the world today. Moreover, anyone—Jew, Muslim or
Christian—dissatisfied with Israeli actions can express that dissatisfaction in the courts, and in the media, both at home and abroad. That freedom does not exist in any Arab country, nor in many non-Arab countries. Yet Israel is the only country in the world today being threatened with BDS. When a sanction is directed against only a state with one of the best records of human rights, and that nation happens to be the state of the Jewish people, the suspicion of bigotry must be considered.

5. The BDS movement is immoral because it would hurt the wrong people.

It would hurt Palestinian workers who will lose their jobs if economic sanctions are directed against firms that employ them. It would hurt artists and academics, many of whom are the strongest voices for peace and an end to the occupation. It would hurt those suffering from illnesses all around the world who would be helped by Israeli medicine and the collaboration between Israeli scientists and other scientists. It would hurt the high tech industry around the world because Israel contributes disproportionally to the development of such life enhancing technology.

6. The BDS movement is immoral because it would encourage Iran—the world’s leading facilitator of international terrorism—to unleash its surrogates, such as Hezbollah and Hamas, against Israel, in the expectation that if Israel were to respond to rocket attacks, the pressure for BDS against Israel would increase, as it did when Israel responded to thousands of rockets from Gaza in 2008-2009.

7. The BDS movement is immoral because it focuses the world’s attention away from far greater injustices, including genocide.

By focusing disproportionately on Israel, the human rights community pays disproportionately less attention to the other occupations, such as those by China, Russia and Turkey, and to other humanitarian disasters such as that occurring in Syria.

8. The BDS movement is immoral because it promotes false views regarding the nation state of the Jewish people, exaggerates its flaws and thereby promotes a new variation on the world’s oldest prejudice, namely anti-Semitism.

It is not surprising therefore that the BDS movement is featured on neo-Nazi, Holocaust denial and other overtly anti-Semitic websites and is promoted by some of the world’s most notorious haters such as David Duke.

9. The BDS movement is immoral because it reflects and encourages a double standard of judgment and response regarding human rights violations.

By demanding more of Israel, the nation state of the Jewish people, it expects less of other states, people, cultures and religions, thereby reifying a form of colonial racism and reverse bigotry that hurts the victims of human rights violations inflicted by others.

10. The BDS movement will never achieve its goals.

Neither the Israeli government nor the Israeli people will ever capitulate to the extortionate means implicit in BDS. They will not and should not make important decisions regarding national security and the safety of their citizens on the basis of immoral threats. Moreover, were Israel to compromise its security in the face of such threats, the result would be more wars, more death and more suffering.

All decent people who seek peace in the Middle East should join together in opposing the immoral BDS movement. Use your moral voices to demand that both the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority accept a compromise peace that assures the security of Israel and the viability of a peaceful and democratic Palestinian state. The way forward is not by immoral extortionate threats that do more harm than good, but rather by negotiations, compromise and good will.

Why it is Hypocritical to Boycott Israel

We’re not normally called upon to justify a decision to travel abroad. Few people would challenge me if I were visiting China, despite that country’s appalling human rights record, repression of free speech, and colonisation of Tibet. If I was travelling to America, even though Predator drones kill thousands of innocent people each year, and even though Guantanamo Bay still holds 154 detainees, nobody would complain.

I would not be criticised for travelling to Egypt, which has become a police state that imprisons journalists, attacks protesters, and sentences political opponents to death. Nobody would suggest that I boycott India; or Pakistan; or Venezuela; or Saudi Arabia; or indeed Britain, which – I seem to recall – ignored the United Nations and attacked Iraq.

I could go on. But later this month, I am planning to travel to Israel to appear in the Jerusalem literary festival. As surely as night follows day, I have received an “open letter” from a group of 71 activists calling themselves the British Writers in Support of Palestine (BWIP), led by a poet and “professional Tarot card reader”. They were, I was informed, “extremely disappointed” by my decision, and “respectfully encouraged” me to boycott the event. But I am honoured to have been invited to Israel, and will be proud to attend. Here’s why.

It is my strong belief that Israel is, relatively speaking, a force for good in the world. I’m not saying that it is free from controversy, and I’m not saying that I have no sympathy with Palestinians. But every country that abides by the democratic process, enshrines in law the rights of women and minorities, and conducts itself with compassion both in war and in peace – or at least aspires to do so – deserves our support and respect.

But what about Israel’s flouting of international law, I hear you ask? Very well: but has Britain always been squeaky clean? I have already mentioned the example of Iraq. Britain intentionally bombed civilian targets during the Second World War, which was the last time we were under existential threat (the Area Bombing Directive ordered the RAF to attack the German workforce and destroy morale). Moreover, the Army’s Combined Services Detailed Interrogation Centre, based in Kensington Palace Gardens, London, between 1940 and 1948, carried out systematic torture on enemy prisoners. If we were at war again, against an enemy that was able to strike at the heart of our civilian population centres, how would we behave?

Would we, perhaps, be tempted to react as we did when the IRA were terrorising the streets of London? Would we reprise the British Army’s Operation Demetrius of 1971, which allegedly included detention without trial, beating, starving, hooding for long periods, harassment with dogs, placing nooses around prisoners’ necks, forcible head shaving, denying prisoners clothes, forcing them to run barefoot behind Army vehicles, burning them with cigarettes, dragging them by the hair and pressing guns to their heads? Would Bloody Sunday, in which 26 protesters and bystanders were shot by British paratroopers, happen again?

These examples are particularly relevant when you consider the geographical, topographical and historical context in which Israel exists. The Jewish state is roughly the size of Wales, with a ridge of high ground running along the middle of the West Bank. If Britain were surrounded by hostile neighbours at such close proximity, some of which contained terror groups bent on the destruction of the country, would we be doing any better? And would a fearful British public be outraged at the Army’s brutality? Or relieved that it was keeping us safe?

It is significant that a man who knows war, Colonel Richard Kemp – the former commander of Britain’s armed forces in Afghanistan – testified to the UN Human Rights Council that the Israeli military does “more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare”. It is right that every instance of military abuse should be treated gravely. But this does not justify a boycott.

From a historical point of view, Israel has been attacked repeatedly by an enemy bent on its destruction (when the Arab world attempted to liquidate the Jewish State in 1967, the settlements had not yet been built). The country has suffered terror attack after terror attack, tragedy after tragedy. Clearly, whatever the boycott activists may say, to draw a parallel with pre-1994 South Africa is ludicrous.

Of course, Israel presents many areas of concern. In particular, the situation on the West Bank is disturbing, as are the societal disadvantages that confront minorities in Israel, particularly Israeli Arabs. The army has been guilty of heavy-handedness many times. And it is sad to witness the tit-for-tat violence the plagues the region, not to mention the heavy civilian losses that are sustained by Palestinians in warfare.

Again, I could go on. But to boycott Israel alone reveals a deeply partisan approach to the conflict, and a ridiculously naïve and even hypocritical one.

By the standards of the pro-boycott activists, should the Palestinians not also be boycotted? Their society is severely intolerant of homosexuals; many go to live in Israel rather than face oppression at home. The Palestinian government has signed a reconciliation deal with a terror organisation, and within weeks they may form a unity government. As I reported in the Telegraph last week, the Palestinian leadership pays huge financial rewards to those convicted of terror offences, and cold-blooded child killers are celebrated as heroes when they are released.

While we’re on the subject, shouldn’t the BWIP have called their group “British Writers In Support of Palestine and Israel”? And if not, why not?

For these reasons I am proud to be travelling to Israel later this month. As a journalist I value objectivity above all, and am not interested in closing my ears to one side of any story, particularly a story as complex as this. And as a novelist, my concern is with the human condition; attending a festival with fellow writers and artists who are not afraid of challenging ideas can only be a good thing.

And given that according to a YouGov poll, three-quarters of Britons “see no reason why British performers should not travel to Israel” – and fewer than one in five Britons believe that Israeli artists should be barred from the UK – I travel in the knowledge that I have public opinion on my side.

Telling the truth about Boycott, Divest and Sanction Israel (BDS)

The international movement to Boycott, Divest and Sanction Israel (BDS) is rooted in a big lie. Through hypocritical double standards and outright lies and deceptive machinations, it falsely demonizes and defames Israel as a pretext to denying the Jews the right of self-determination, while covering up the hate-filled truth about itself and its most radical supporters. All members of the DePaul community who support human rights and peace in the Middle East must vote against the BDS resolution that’s on this year’s student government ballot.

The BDS movement is the latest incarnation of the 100-year-old Arab boycott of Israel. Before Israel declared independence in 1948, the Arab dictatorships enacted a boycott against the tiny Jewish state, which they later tried to destroy through a series of failed wars and terror attacks. Today, these very dictatorships, like the Palestinian Hamas and Fatah, are crumbling under the weight of the people they oppressed, and over the past century have been guilty of attacking not only Israelis, but also Jews throughout the world. In Israel, France, Bulgaria and elsewhere, they purposely target and kill young schoolchildren instead of targeting adults. They also despise and oppress Christians, Buddhists and, in fact, everyone who is not their type of Muslim. Consider, for instance, the persistent violence against the Coptic Catholics in Egypt.  The Muslim Brotherhood and its allies like Hamas in Gaza think that women should be severely oppressed, not allowed to drive (or even to walk in public without being accompanied by a male relative), not permitted to dress as they like, and tragically presumed guilty even when they are raped.  Gays are executed in the public square as in Gaza, Saudi Arabia, and Iran.  Where these extremists have power, they put these discriminatory policies into practice.

By contrast, Israel protects every person’s right to practice the religion of his or her choice, guarantees a woman’s right to complete equality, and has one of the best records on LGBT rights in the world. In fact, Israel is the only country in the Middle East to guarantee equal rights for all of its citizens, be they Jewish, Christian, Muslim, or of any or no faith.

How does the BDS movement respond to these realities? Does it condemn Palestinian religious, gender and sexual orientation persecution?  No, not at all.  Instead, it disingenuously charges that Israel’s hard fight forLGBT rights are only used to “pinkwash” the alleged persecution of Palestinians.  In reality, though, Israel’s policies are the natural outcome of Israel’s historically consistent commitment to human rights.  For example, while the Islamic government of northern Sudan continues to permit and promote the enslavement of black Africans, Israel supported the emancipation of slaves and creation of the free country of South Sudan.

Israel is in the forefront of humanitarian efforts worldwide.  For example, it has provided medical assistance to those wounded in the inter-Arab warfare in Syria (warfare which has already cost over 100,000 lives). Right now there are Israeli soldiers in Nigeria helping to free the over 250 young girls kidnapped by the Islamic militants in Boko Haram. It aids victims of natural disasters in Haiti, Japan, Turkey and elsewhere.  It counsels victims and survivors of violence as far away as the Philippines and, soon, as nearby as Chicago’s Bronzevilleneighborhood.

It’s not enough to realize that the most powerful promoters of BDS movement do not really care about the protection of human rights – and, in fact, favor the deprivation of those rights for the Jewish people.  Nor is it enough to acknowledge that they do nothing to help ameliorate human suffering throughout the world.

It is necessary to understand ‒ and to understand clearly ‒ that they do not want peace in the Middle East.

The only realistic answer to the Arab-Israeli conflict is the two-state solution, which provides for the co-existence of Israel as a Jewish state and of a separate Palestinian state.

The BDS Movement and its supporters have repeatedly rejected that solution.  Instead, on campuses throughout North America, BDS supporters openly call for the complete destruction of Israel through a fictitious “right of return” that has no basis in international law, and only serves to deprive the Jews of their right to self-determination. On many campuses, including DePaul, one has heard loud genocidal BDS chants calling to free “Palestine from the river to the sea,” which destroys Israel, or ranting about “Zionist” control of the government, media and finance system, which is a veiled reference to Jews and rhetoric out of the 1930’s. Around the country, individual students have been threatened and attacked.  The international BDS movement is not dedicated to peace, but instead, to fomenting hatred, strife and violence.

I take note, however, that to a large part, the BDS backers this year at DePaul have been far less strident and shrill than those at other campuses.  This may be because many of the BDS supporters at DePaul are, in fact, well-intentioned — albeit terribly misinformed as to the facts.  It may also reflect the local leadership’s recognition that members of the DePaul University community would not be receptive to the blatant, ugly anti-Semitic tactics that find resonance elsewhere.  Don’t be fooled by the relative soft sell.  The merchandise — the student referendum — contains false allegations against Israel and is designed simply to promote thedemonization of Israel and Jews.  Vote  “no.”

Seriously BDS, Get a Grip (BDS)

It’s actually getting boring. Mind numbing, irritating and even childish. The BDS need to acknowledge what a monumental failure their South African Woolworths campaign has been, how it has done more damage to their cause than can possibly be imagined, and how moronic they are starting to look. Really, it’s time to get a grip.

News24, one of South Africa’s premier news sites seems to share their obsession and firmly places any activity in the spotlight given a hint of opportunity. But they would do well to read their readers’ responses to the articles that are given such prominence. South African’s are clearly sick of being bullied and intimidated and of being shown mock-dead people. They are sick of the BDS minimizing the horrors of apartheid by using the term loosely and without care. They are offended by the fact that their African brothers and sisters are being kidnapped and raped and blown up in markets on the continent whilst the BDS protest about pomegranates. It’s offensive to any sane person.

They have resorted to making up Woolworths financials in determining what the company has lost in revenue, they have deceived the press with so called “Shareholder” meetings and they have made a mockery of real suffering. Their integrity is quite clearly being questioned and it is time that they acknowledged their failure. It’s time to regroup. Seriously, as I would tell my children, its time to get a grip. And so much time has already been wasted.

The irony is that on a day where PA President Mahmoud Abbas is meeting President Zuma (and having lunch at his home), the press is dominated by the random acts of stupidity committed by the BDS. Surely they would have wanted to honour the man that they are fighting for, they would want to allow him to take the stage and get his message out to the South African public. But then one forgets that Abbas himself has publically denounced the BDS and the sanctions approach as being more damaging to his people. Hmmm, there is a quandary. Imagine the wisdom and chutzpah of the BDS that they continue to follow a strategy that the very person who is the leader of the people that they are fighting to “free” denounced. There is no knowing what he might say following the meeting with our President, and if he has altered his stance on this, but it might also be difficult to know given that the BDS is making sure that he gets as little press as possible.  Self-serving? Dishonest? Disingenuous? Hypocritical? Certainly seems that way to me.

Yesterday in a market up North 30 people were killed when 2 teenage girls dressed in hijabs and strapped with explosives, entered a market. The one girl detonated herself killing 3 people and when others rushed to assist the 2nd one did the same killing the 27. It is a heartbreaking story. Not only because of the lives lost, but because of what must have been done to those teenagers to prepare them for this act. We can only imagine the horror of what they would have endured to the point that decimating themselves and people around them became an option for them. Take that up as a cause BDS. Take up the cause of the woman in Africa who are fighting for their lives and leave the pomegranates alone. You look stupid and uncaring. The veneer is paper thin and there are not many who don’t see through it.

Worst of all you are hurting the people that you are pretending to care about.

Seriously, get a grip!