Tag Archives: BDS

Another libel in the making

While anti-Israel activists currently keep themselves entertained with their annual “Israel Apartheid Week” spectacle, there are apparently some who feel that just slandering Israel as a state that is guilty of practicing apartheid isn’t good enough. In an attempt to “improve” on the demonization of the world’s only Jewish state, some activists are now trying to spread the idea that Israel is the Nazi Germany of our time. As I have recently documented in detail, Max Blumenthal’s book Goliath is entirely devoted to this purpose, and Blumenthal’s message is not only appreciated by anti-Israel activists on US campuses, but also by the fans of David Duke, Stormfront and similar outlets catering to conspiracy theorists, racists and neo-Nazis.

For the Jew-haters at Stormfront, Max Blumenthal is “great,” and his relentless demonization of Israel is appreciated as proof that “not all jews are assholes.” (See documentation here (pdf)). But beyond garnering praise for himself, Blumenthal also managed to demonstrate that the racists at Stormfront have their priorities: while they would usually not show much sympathy for the plight of African migrants and refugees, they won’t ignore it when somebody claims that Africans in Israel are treated so badly that one can only compare their fate to what happened to the Jews in Nazi Germany.

Israel’s supposedly Nazi-like treatment of African migrants and refugees is a major topic in Goliath, and for some of the related material, Blumenthal collaborated with David Sheen, a Canadian-born Israeli who describes himself as a “documentarian & designer.” A few months ago, Mondoweiss – a site that has been frequently accused of publishing antisemitic material – announced that Sheen was writing “the first book on anti-African racism in Israel,” and currently, Sheen is on a month-long speaking tour in the US and Canada to tell everyone who’s willing to listen that his fellow citizens in his adopted country treat African refugees and migrants like the Jews were treated in Nazi Germany.

Max Blumenthal helpfully tweeted a picture showing one of the slides from Sheen’s presentation that illustrates what a great job he’s doing – because obviously, if there is an employment office in the Israeli detention center for African migrants, this is reason enough to compare the facility to Auschwitz and the cynical “Arbeit macht frei” slogan at its entrance gate.

Sheen Arbeit macht frei

To be sure, in Auschwitz the sign indicated “another form of genocide that the Nazis called ‘extermination through work,’” but for “journalists” like Max Blumenthal and David Sheen, this is apparently an irrelevant detail.

Among the material Sheen is presenting to make his case is also a video with the juicy title “Israel’s New Racism: The Persecution of African Migrants in the Holy Land.” The fact that more than 600 000 people have watched this clip so far should probably not be taken as a sign of widespread interest in the plight of African migrants in general; indeed, it is safe to assume that few of the people who watched the clip noticed that right at the beginning, the narrator says: “As Europe closes its gates to asylum seekers, Israel became the next best option.”

This seems to be a glitch that really shouldn’t happen to professional Israel bashers. It certainly shouldn’t happen to David Sheen, who, after all, is working on a book in which he intends to make the case that the plight of Africans in Israel

“has huge implications for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Because if Israeli policy is not based on equal treatment regardless of ethnicity, but on ensuring that as few as possible non-Jewish people remain in the country, then that would go a long way towards explaining Israel’s actions vis-a-vis the Palestinians for the last 66 years. Perhaps the source of the conflict isn’t Arab anti-Semitism, or even competing land claims, but as distasteful as it sounds, a drive by Israeli political and religious leaders for racial and religious purity.”

Now we only have to find out why “Europe closes its gates to asylum seekers”… or why some would talk about “America’s deportation machine”…

Of course, anti-Israel activists couldn’t care less about refugees and migrants outside of Israel. If they did, they would have to realize that the kind of books Blumenthal and Sheen produce could also be written on the US and most European countries. A recent report entitled “Fortress Europe: How the EU Turns Its Back on Refugees” explained that the “expectations of refugees who come to Europe often go unfulfilled. Many must struggle through long asylum application processes or fight against ingrained local prejudice. In some countries, they endure appalling living conditions in refugee camps; in others, they end up on the streets.” Recently filmed footage from an Italian “reception center” for refugees showed scenes that inspired widely reported comparisons with concentration camps;  a report on “Europe’s Deepening Refugee Crisis” described “a cycle of degradation faced by thousands of African refugees living in Europe today;” refugees in Germany complain that they are treated like criminals; in the Netherlands, scores of asylum seekers facing deportation have committed suicide in the past decade and many more have tried to kill themselves; and the way some asylum seekers are treated in Britain has led critics to conclude that they are not even seen as human beings.

And just imagine how popular this slide show would be if it was about Israel…

Sheen uninteresting deportations

* * *

Cross-posted from my JPost blog.

 

Soccer and terrorism: what UEFA needs to know [updated]

Thanks to an energetic campaign by anti-Israel activists, even someone like me who doesn’t really keep up with sports and soccer news can know that this year’s UEFA European Under-21 Championship finals are scheduled to take place in Israel this June.

Naturally, the BDS-crowd that wants Israel held to bigoted double standards can’t stand the idea, and at sites like the Electronic Intifada, Ali Abunimah and friends have begun to churn out their usual fare of propaganda, petitions and piffle to rally the BDS-faithful for yet another campaign.

When it comes to football, it’s perhaps particularly easy to illustrate that BDS is indeed all about applying bigoted double standards to Israel.  After all, while there have been displays of despicable racism by Israeli football fans, very similar problems have long plagued the sport in Europe and elsewhere, as even the title of this BBC analysis from 2000 nicely illustrates: “Soccer violence an international problem.”

Yet, the BBC and other media outlets like nothing better than to report over and over again on the transgressions of Israeli fans. But when Egyptian football fans display a huge banner calling for a new Holocaust, it’s not worth mentioning. Similarly, there is no interest when Jibril Rajoub, the President of the Palestinian Football Federation and the Palestinian Olympic Committee elicits chuckles and roaring applause when he promises that he will provide helicopters for visiting committee members “so they will see no Jews, no Satans, no Zionist sons of bitches.”

Given the determined disinterest of the media in reporting anything that might show the pervasive demonization of Jews and Israel among Palestinians, the activists who want to pressure UEFA into boycotting Israel take no risk when they use Palestinian footballer Mahmoud Sarsak to push their campaign. And the BBC is there to help: as blogger Adam Holland noted in a post last July, the BBC “reported on Israel’s release of Mahmoud al-Sarsak and his return to Gaza, portraying him as a hunger-striking soccer player who was never formally charged with a crime. […]  All that is true, of course, but only a partial recounting of the facts.”

Holland goes on to quote a related AP report:

“Dozens of Islamic militants fired rifles in the air Tuesday in a rousing homecoming for a member of the Palestinian national soccer team who was released by Israel after being held for three years without formal charges.

The player, Mahmoud Sarsak, 25, had staged a hunger strike for more than 90 days to press for his release, winning support from international sports organizations.

Israel accused Sarsak of being active in the violent Islamic Jihad group, a charge he denied while in custody.

However, senior Islamic Jihad officials were present during a welcoming ceremony for him in Gaza City on Tuesday, and one of the group’s leaders, Nafez Azzam, praised the soccer player as ‘one of our noble members.’

Later Tuesday, as Sarsak approached his family home in the Rafah refugee camp, dozens of Islamic Jihad gunmen fired in the air from SUVs and motorcycles. Women waved black Islamic Jihad banners from nearby homes and streets were decorated with huge photos of the player.”

Combining soccer and terrorism isn’t all that unusual for Palestinians, as documented by this very long list of sport events, programs and facilities named after terrorists. Football events on this list include a youth tournament in August 2012 named after three terrorists who murdered a 45 year-old father of 7; another football tournament for youth in March 2011 named after the first Palestinian female suicide bomber Wafa Idris who used her position as a volunteer for the Palestinian Red Crescent to bypass Israeli security; the May 2010 “Shahid…Abu Al-Qassam…tournament for security services teams;” and the regularly held “Abu Jihad football tournament.”

Beyond using sport events to honor terrorists, sport facilities have also been used to store weapons and explosives and to launch rockets targeting Israeli civilians.

 Gaza stadium

Screenshot IDF tweet

But needless to say, the fact that Gaza terrorists use a stadium to fire missiles on Tel Aviv and Jerusalem doesn’t prevent the likes of Ali Abunimah to accuse Israel of wantonly destroying the stadium and demanding that therefore, “Israel must not host UEFA tournaments” – and of course, Abunimah is not at all embarrassed to back up his call by referring to Mahmoud Sarsak, one of Islamic Jihad’s “noble members.”

But indeed, why should Abunimah be embarrassed to promote an Islamic Jihad member cynically appealing to “people of conscience”? When it comes to the Palestinians, anything goes: the Palestinian Authority (PA) was not even embarrassed to honor Amin Al-Hindi, one of the senior planners of the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, with “an imposing official military funeral.” As one commentary in the official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida put it when Al-Hindi passed away in August 2010:

“Everyone knows that Amin Al-Hindi was one of the stars who sparkled at one of the stormiest points on the international level – the operation that was carried out at the [Olympics] sports stadium in Munich, Germany, in 1972. That was just one of many shining stations.”

Given this unabashed veneration for the planners of the Munich massacre, it is all the more disgraceful that Jibril Rajoub – the man who wants to see “no Jews, no Satans, no Zionist sons of bitches” – claimed that commemorating the 40th anniversary of this atrocity would amount to “racism.” But of course, the western media had no interest in finding out how Palestinian authorities and Palestinian society today view the terror strike at the Munich Olympics – after all, it wouldn’t have been all that pleasant to acknowledge the official Palestinian praise for the “stars who sparkled” so gloriously in the Munich massacre.

Naturally, the BDS activists who try to pressure UEFA into boycotting Israel also have nothing to say about the pervasive glorification of terrorism, and the cooperation with terrorism, that is so common in Palestinian sport.  But whether it is sports or any other area, BDS always means bigoted double standards: grotesquely magnifying Israeli problems that are not dissimilar to shortcomings in other countries, while ignoring gross abuses by Palestinians.

* * *

Cross-posted from my JPost blog.

Update:

Since I first posted this, I realized that there could be almost daily updates to this story. Here’s just one from The Guardian’s Comment is free (Cif), written by Cif blogger Giles Fraser whose posts get filed under “belief” in Fraser’s “Loose canon” series….

Under the headline “Why Theodor Herzl’s writings still have an urgent message,” Fraser writes about antisemitic chants by Hungarian football fans and other recent manifestations of antisemitism in Hungary; he then goes on to argue that because of such incidents, “re-reading Theodor Herzl’s The Jewish Question in a Budapest cafe, opposite the astonishingly beautiful Dohány Street Synagogue, feels, once again, so topical.”

And just a few hours ago, Robert Mackey of the NYT Lede blog found it worthwhile to post a tweet about some Palestinian youngsters who protested a planned game by the Barcelona club in Tel Aviv.

Mackey Pal soccer

 As the link tweeted by Mackey explains oh-so-helpfully:

“11 soccer playing youths from Bil’in torched 11 FC Barcelona football jerseys at the Apartheid-Annexation Wall in disgust at that club’s proposed playing of an exhibition game in Israel’s national stadium, Tel Aviv, on July 31st. FC Barcelona is a serial offender in normalising the occupation, toadying up to Israel and drawing an equivalence between colonised and colonizer, victim and victimiser. As the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) put it: Cultural events and projects involving Palestinians and/or Arabs and Israelis that promote ‘balance’ between the ‘two sides’ in presenting their respective narratives, as if on par, or are otherwise based on the false premise that the colonizers and the colonized, the oppressors and the oppressed, are equally responsible for the ‘conflict,’ are intentionally deceptive, intellectually dishonest and morally reprehensible. Such events and projects, often seeking to encourage dialogue or ‘reconciliation between the two sides’ without addressing the requirements of justice, promote the normalization of oppression and injustice.”

I could be COMPLETELY wrong, but somehow I suspect that Mackey hasn’t yet shown any interest in the rampant racism and glorification of terrorism that is sadly such an integral part of Palestinian sport.

* * *

h/t Adam Holland for the Mackey tweet.

Shana Tova from Berlin’s Jewish Museum

Last Saturday evening, the Jewish Museum in Berlin hosted a “debate” on a question that you could translate from German either as “Is Zionism part of Judaism?,” or, perhaps more sensibly, “Is Zionism part of Jewish identity/Jewishness?”

The answer of the museum’s guest of honor is well-known: the American academic Judith Butler – who, just a few days earlier, had received the Adorno Prize in Frankfurt in recognition of her work on gender, sexuality, critical theory and moral philosophy – has most recently published a book entitled “Parting Ways: Jewishness and the Critique of Zionism.”

Butler is also a well-known supporter of the BDS-movement that targets Israel with campaigns calling for boycotts, divestment and sanctions with the ultimate goal to delegitimize the Jewish state and pave the way for Israel’s dissolution in a bi-national “Isratine.”

As I have pointed out previously, Butler’s support for the BDS movement means in practice that her political statements can be found on a website frequently criticized for antisemitic content and that she would refuse to lecture at Tel Aviv University, but be perfectly happy to visit Birzeit University, which has a well-earned reputation for fostering extremism and glorifying terrorism. Indeed, in the acknowledgements for her recent book, Butler mentions Birzeit University as one of the places where she “learned from students and faculty.” Hopefully, these students didn’t include those that attended a festive event on the university campus to honour the terrorists released last year in exchange for Gilad Shalit.

While Butler thus helps to make the case that BDS really stands for “Bigoted Double Standards,” there is no question that “anti-Zionists” everywhere appreciate her academic celebrity status as the “reigning queen” of Queer Studies – which was only reinforced by the Adorno Prize – as a great asset.

There is also no question that the Jewish Museum in Berlin was fully aware of the problematic political implications of Butler’s views. Yet, the organizers of the event apparently preferred a “debate” that excluded questions to which Butler obviously has no good answers.

According to a report in the Jerusalem Post – which noted straightforwardly that this seems to have been “the first anti-Israel event held in the Jewish museum since its opening in 2001” – the organizers allowed only “written audience questions” and made clear that any questions on Butler’s widely criticized views about Hamas and Hezbollah would be ignored.

But judging from media reports about the event, the audience had anyway come to cheer Butler – as one German newspaper put it: “The audience was dominated by the typical ‘Butler-Groupies’: people with an academic education between 20 and 30.”

Butler’s debating partner, the liberal German Jewish professor Micha Brumlik, found apparently little favor with this audience, and his attempts to argue that Butler’s professed enthusiasm for a merely “cultural” Zionism were neither grounded in Jewish tradition nor realistic clearly made much less of an impression than Butler’s response that somebody had to stand up for utopian ideals. Indeed, several of the German language reports end by quoting Butler’s relevant remarks, and the Berliner Zeitung concludes by asserting that a utopian quality was after all an essential characteristic of philosophy.

If we “translate” what Butler is saying here (noting that her new book includes reflections on “Ethics, Politics, and the Task of Translation”), it turns out that she simply wants to have her cake and eat it, too. On the one hand, we are supposed to appreciate that it is the core business of a philosopher to come up with noble utopian ideals that are above mundane criticisms questioning how realistic they are; on the other hand, Butler clearly wants her political views to be taken serious and lends her prestige as a philosopher to one of the most controversial causes of our time.

The bottom line of Butler’s argument is that the most ethical resolution of the Arab conflict with Israel requires Jews to realize that Arabs and Muslims were right all along when they insisted that Israel has no right to exist as a Jewish state. Butler is obviously aware that with this view, she has a lot of really bad company, and she has taken to emphasizing her opposition to all forms of racism, including antisemitism.

In the controversy about her nomination for the Adorno Prize, she also tried hard to market herself as a fearless fighter against the popular straw-man argument that anyone who dares to criticize Israeli policies risks being denounced as an antisemite.

But the “debate” hosted by Berlin’s Jewish Museum illustrated once again that in a climate where it is regarded as legitimate to assert that it would only be ethical to do away with the Jewish state, antisemitism is never far away.

Reporting on the event for the Jüdische Allgemeine, Fabian Wolff notes that the debate moderator Andreas Öhler limited himself mostly to telling a few stories about his Jewish and Israeli friends. At one point Öhler mentioned how amazed he was to realize that despite Israel’s policies, there were so many nice Israelis who were interested in culture and music…

Sounds somehow familiar? Well, it should: whether Öhler was aware of it or not, the staff of Berlin’s Jewish Museum can certainly be expected to realize that this remark unmistakably echoed the popular stories about Nazi or SS officers as lovers of classical music, which have become part of movies like Schindler’s List and The Pianist.

Without this background, it is hard to explain why Öhler should have been so amazed to discover that there are many really nice Israelis who love culture and music.

It is noteworthy in this context that studies show that some “40% of Germans are critical of Israel in ways […] deemed anti-Semitic. The commission regarded anti-Israel critics as having crossed a line, for example, when they compared Israeli treatment of Palestinians with the Nazi extermination of Jews in death camps. Among the […] findings cited in the report: More than 41% of Germans believe Israel is conducting a war of extermination against the Palestinians.”

In view of these findings, it is all the more dismaying that moderator Öhler reportedly opened the event with Judith Butler by declaring everyone’s resolve not to be frightened – meaning, presumably, not to be frightened of accusations of antisemitism in a “debate” intended to establish that Israel’s existence as a Jewish state violates crucial ethical norms. But in a country where some 40 percent of the population believes that, when it comes to the Palestinians, Israel’s Jews are the Nazis of our time, there is actually plenty of reason to be frightened when the Jewish Museum decides to give out the message that, done properly, it is intellectually and ethically noble to “criticize” Israel for the evil of existing as a Jewish state.

* * *

Cross-posted from my JPost blog; also posted on Harry’s Place.

Judith Butler and the politics of hypocrisy

German prize award committees seem to have a weak spot for outspoken Jewish critics of Israel: writer and activist Uri Avnery has accumulated multiple German awards over the years, and the staunchly pro-Palestinian attorney and activist Felicia Langer was awarded Germany’s Federal Cross of Merit, First class, in 2009. Now it is the turn of Judith Butler, an American philosopher and professor in the Rhetoric and Comparative Literature departments at the University of California, Berkeley, who will receive the prestigious Theodor Adorno Prize on September 11 in Frankfurt.

To be sure, the Adorno Prize is awarded to “acknowledge outstanding performances in the fields of philosophy, music, theatre and film” – which is to say that it is Butler’s academic work, and not her political activism that are being honored with the prize. However, it is obviously Butler’s academic fame and her status as the “reigning queen” of Queer Studies that make her activism very valuable to her political allies in the BDS-movement that targets Israel. Critics who argue that it is therefore disingenuous to pretend that Butler’s contribution to philosophy can be honored irrespective of her political activism obviously have a point.

There are indeed several problematic political implications of honoring Butler with the Adorno Prize.  First and foremost, it has to be noted that, while we cannot know how Adorno would feel about Israel now, we do know that he was very concerned about the antisemitic and anti-Zionist tendencies that became acceptable and even fashionable on the left in the 1960s.  At the beginning of the Six-Day-War in 1967, Adorno expressed great alarm about the danger Israel faced and explicitly stated that he hoped that Israel would prove militarily superior to the Arabs. Shortly before his death in 1969, he worried that the open hostility to Israel displayed by the student movement might indicate fascist tendencies.  [See: Stephan Grigat, Befreite Gesellschaft und Israel: Zum Verhältnis von Kritischer Theorie und Israel; a shorter version is: Kritische Theorie und Israel: Adorno, Horkheimer und Marcuse über den Zionismus]

It is therefore hard to imagine that Adorno would have been anything but horrified by Judith Butler’s view that “understanding Hamas, Hezbollah as social movements that are progressive, that are on the Left, that are part of a global Left, is extremely important.” While Butler also emphasized that there were “certain dimensions of both movements” that were problematic and that she herself was firmly committed to “non-violent politics,” she also eventually clarified that in her view, Hamas and Hezbollah qualified as “left” because “they oppose colonialism and imperialism.”

How completely inane this view is will be readily apparent to anyone who has ever glanced at the Hezbollah or Hamas Charters, and there is arguably a strong case to be made that somebody who is able to see anything “progressive” in groups that define themselves in the most reactionary religious terms and advocate an unbridled Jew-hatred should automatically be disqualified from winning a prize named after Adorno.

Unsurprisingly, Butler has reacted to criticism of her views regarding Hamas and Hezbollah by complaining that her remarks “have been taken out of context.” She mainly emphasizes now that she has “always been in favor of non-violent political action” and explicitly declares: “I do not endorse practices of violent resistance and neither do I endorse state violence, cannot, and never have.”

But it is arguably revealing that Butler chose the Mondoweiss website to publish her most recent rebuttal. Surely an academic of her standing had many other choices and did not have to turn to a site that has often been criticized for hosting antisemitic posts and comments as well as antisemitic cartoons? On such a site, it is somewhat strange to read Butler’s lament:

“For those of us who are descendants of European Jews who were destroyed in the Nazi genocide (my grandmother’s family was destroyed in a small village south of Budapest), it is the most painful insult and injury to be called complicitous with the hatred of Jews or to be called self-hating.”

And how come that somebody who evokes such a family history has nothing to say about the Jew-hatred espoused by Hamas and Hezbollah, and their acknowledged ideological sponsors, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Iranian regime?

How come that somebody who evokes such a family history would eloquently speak out in favor of boycotting Israeli universities, but would have no problem to lecture at Birzeit University, which has a well-earned reputation for fostering extremism? One former student of Birzeit University is Ahlam al-Tamimi, the exceedingly proud collaborator in the Sbarro restaurant suicide bombing whose release in exchange for Gilad Shalit was publicly celebrated by the Islamic bloc at the University of Birzeit.

Adorno prize winner Judith Butler can only imagine to speak at Tel Aviv university once it is a “fabulous bi-national university,” but she has no problem lecturing at Birzeit University, where Ahlam al-Tamimi is a much admired celebrity.

* * *

Cross-posted from my JPost blog.

Quote of the day

“We can tell that this hostility to Israel is as artificially constructed as any antisemitism by looking at the list of theatre groups [performing at the Globe Theatre World Shakespeare Festival in London] against which the enlightened ones organized no boycott. Antizionists have created a whole new ‘-ism’, a worldview, around their campaign against Israel. Within it, a caricature of Israel is endowed with huge symbolic significance which relates only here and there to the actual state, to the complex conflict and to the diversity of existing Israelis. If the Palestinians stand, in the antizionist imagination, as symbolic of all the victims of ‘the west’ or ‘imperialism’ then Israel is thrust into the centre of the world as being symbolic of oppression everywhere. Like antisemitism, antizionism imagines Jews as being central to all that is bad in the world.”

From the truly brilliant reflections by David Hirsh on the Habima Theatre’s performance of “The Merchant of Venice” in London. David prefaces his post with the often debated question: “Is the Merchant of Venice an antisemitic play or is it a play which intimately depicts the anatomy of persecution, exclusion and bullying?” The way David tackles this question is particularly powerful because he combines his impressions from the play with his thoughts about the BDS protesters who tried to disrupt the performance.

Update:

At CiFWatch, Adam Levick has an excellent post on the review of the Habima production by the Guardian’s theatre critic, who, unsurprisingly, happens to be an enthusiastic admirer of Caryl Churchill’s antisemitic play “Seven Jewish Children.” It’s only natural then that the Guardian’s theatre critic can’t help herself when she sees the broken Shylock at the end of the play: why mention anything about antisemitism if you feel so strongly that it’s “impossible not to think of other displaced people, too, most particularly the Palestinians”…

Bigoted Double Standards: Ben White hits rock bottom for BDS

Staunch anti-Israel activist Ben White has been busy recently advocating a boycott of a performance by Israel’s Habima Theatre during the Globe Theatre World Shakespeare Festival in London. As I have noted in a related post, the campaign against Habima is part of the broader BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) efforts that have targeted Israel in order to delegitimize the Jewish state for the sake of “a world without Zionism.”

While it is therefore hardly surprising when BDS activists appeal to antisemitic sentiments, Ben White, who has a BA in English Literature from Cambridge University, has generally tried to present himself as a somewhat more sophisticated advocate of the Palestinian “cause” – at least if the Palestinian cause is defined as requiring nothing more than attacking Israel.

But the mask seemed to slip when Ben White posted the following tweet:

The picture he linked to is from a tweet posted by the San Francisco Voice for Israel (Bay area chapter of StandWithUs):

Ben White has since seen no reason to apologize for this tweet; indeed, people who challenged him got only evasions and childish LOLs in response.

 

The question whether Ben White’s suggestion that “a picture of Howard Jacobson’s face” provides “another reason to support a boycott of Habima” is a clear-cut example of antisemitism has been debated hotly on Harry’s Place, where Joseph W. argues – convincingly, in my view – that

“Ben White appears to be linking Howard Jacobson – an English Jew – and Israeli Jewish Habima actors, by aesthetics and looks. If you are aware of the history of antisemitism, you will know that a great deal of attention was given to the physical appearance of Jews, who were portrayed as people whom one could legitimately hate based on how they look.

[…]

Only a racist and an antisemite, could look upon the face of one Jew, tell others to look upon the face of this Jew, hoping that they would hate it so much, that they would choose to boycott other Jews.”

It is clear that Ben White isn’t much bothered by these arguments, and it’s easy to see why: in the milieu he moves as an activist, accusations of antisemitism are either regarded as “a badge of honour” or easily dismissed with a tweet that includes  #wtf and #lol.

But there is another dimension to this episode that is worth pondering: if pro-Palestinian campaigner and BDS activist Ben White is “doing the right thing” when he suggests that “a picture of Howard Jacobson’s face” provides “another reason to support a boycott of Habima,” then surely anyone willing to stoop to this level could argue that a picture of Yassir Arafat provides “another reason to support” opposition to some Palestinian endeavor.

Anyone willing to stoop to Ben White’s level could then also argue that, given the official Palestinian show of appreciation for disgraced journalist Helen Thomas, a picture of her face provided a reason to oppose certain Palestinian projects. Indeed, since Thomas was honored for “supporting Palestine in the West,” a picture of her face should – according to Ben White’s “reasoning” – provide a perfectly valid reason to oppose Palestinian efforts to make their case in the West.

Ben White may smugly shrug off accusations of antisemitism, but the mask slipped nonetheless, because we all know how he and his fans would react if this kind of stupid and bigoted argument was used by anyone speaking out for Israel: there would be endless tweets with #hasbarafail and #hasbaralol and all the other mindless vitriol that is so popular among the Israel-haters that Ben White so tirelessly tries to mobilize.

* * *

Cross-posted from my JPost blog

Targeting the Jewish State: the kind of culture BDS loves

As part of London’s Globe Theatre World Shakespeare Festival, Israel’s Habima Theatre will perform The Merchant of Venice in Hebrew on Monday and Tuesday of this week. A Palestinian theatre company from Ramallah has already given a performance of Richard II.

Unfortunately, it seems that so-called pro-Palestinian activists didn’t have much time to take pride in the Palestinian performance, because they have been terribly busy with an unsuccessful campaign to pressure the Globe Theatre into cancelling the Habima performance.

This campaign is part of the broader BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) efforts that have targeted Israel for quite some time in the hope to isolate and delegitimize the Jewish state.

While BDS advocates usually like to present themselves as defenders of Palestinian rights who only oppose Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, most of them actually oppose Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.

A good example is anti-Israel activist Ben White, about whom I have already repeatedly written (there is also a recently posted list of some of his more openly antisemitic views at Harry’s Place).  In April, White penned a piece published in the New Statesman, where he attempted to explain “Why a cultural boycott of Israel is justified.”

White notes in this piece that “a common objection to cultural boycott (or BDS in general) is some version of ‘Why Israel’s musicians and not China’s?’” His response to this question is simple: “Boycott is a strategy, not a principle.”

So here we have it: BDS happens to be a “strategy” that singles out the Jewish State – supposedly because of the occupation of the West Bank, but in reality, as Ben White’s own writings illustrate so well, because activists like him want “a world without Zionism.”

While White himself may be too sophisticated to shout this out loud, many of his fellow-BDS activists are more outspoken.  Here is London BDS ranting about the upcoming Habima performance:

“Zionism is a murderous, parasitic political doctrine and what the apartheid Zionist state is doing to Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank is monstrous. Apartheid Israel is trying to whitewash their crimes by sending cultural representatives to these shores that include the Jerusalem Quartet (disrupted in London and Brighton), The Jerusalem Trio (picketed), the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (performance ‘enhanced’) and now – Habima.

The Palestinian people are undergoing a slow-motion genocide courtesy of Israel. Their land is being stolen, homes bulldozed and movement controlled. Palestinians who peacefully protest are met in force by Zionist soldiers and settlers who don’t hesitate to shoot on sight – and Israelis who maim or kill Palestinians are rarely punished. Not long ago, Palestinians who had no weapons other than their own bodies went on highly publicised hunger strikes to protest Zionist barbarity.

Zionists in turn are gnashing their teeth and wailing that any disruption is wrong and call those who take action, “cultural terrorists.” That is how the mind of the Zionist thinks; they accuse others of being racists and terrorists, but as their words and actions last Tuesday in support of racist Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman prove, they themselves are the most hateful people imaginable.

[…]

Habima’s performance was supported by a few unenlightened has-beens seeking publicity, the most well-known being Maureen Lipman and Howard Jacobson. One has to ask if Lipman and Jacobson, along with their fellow do-gooders, would have supported the Nazi-sponsored Berlin Philharmonic’s concerts in pre-war London or embraced performances funded by the racist apartheid South African government.”

Is there any antisemite out there who wouldn’t whole-heartedly agree with this vicious rant?

 

Norman Finkelstein’s metamorphosis

It’s nothing short of Kafkaesque: when Norman Finkelstein, a veteran hero of Israel-haters left and right, criticized the BDS campaign in a recent interview, his erstwhile admirers turned on him with a ferocity that is positively delightful.

The +972 blog – which the New Israel Fund supports in order to help it become “sustainable” – posted this scathing verdict (which is real fun because it starts off with what can only be described as a Freudian typo):

Normal [sic!] Finkelstein has made a career out of being the son of holocaust survivors who doesn’t shy away from picking a fight with Israel’s backers, and who unabashedly defends the rights of Palestinians. […] Everything about the interview is classic Finkelstein: his demeanor, his tendency to raise his voice, his adversarial, passionate approach, everything, that is, except for the things he’s saying. In a bizarre turn of events, he comes off as a Zionist bully, or for that matter, any other angry right wing pundit.

[…] Finkelstein even resorts to the desperate tactic of denial. When the interviewer puts forth his contention that the BDS movement is growing in popularity, Finkelstein rejects the idea out of hand, comparing the movement to some Maoist group he apparently was affiliated with at some point in his more idealistic youth.

Here you have it: Norman Finkelstein transformed into a “Zionist bully”…

It really shows you how little it takes in the world of +972 – or, for that matter, of Mondoweiss, which approvingly linked to the +972 post – to earn the label of “Zionist bully”.  Norman Finkelstein most definitely doesn’t deserve it…

Just one additional note: for the author of this +972 post, it is apparently a sign of “idealism” to have been affiliated with a Maoist group — but it’s the sort of ideological “idealism” that isn’t much bothered by the fact that one expert on China’s modern history has argued that Mao “qualifies as the greatest mass murderer in world history.”

 

Showcasing Israeli wrongs: +972 and the BDS campaign

Last Thursday, a terrible accident involving a Palestinian school bus and an Israeli truck killed eight children and left an additional 36 children injured; some of the victims suffered serious burns caused by a fire that broke out after the crash. As the Jerusalem Post reported, Israeli rescue services were immediately mobilized, and some of the seriously injured children were evacuated to Israeli hospitals to receive the most advanced care.

Prime Minister Netanyahu, who was abroad, offered the Palestinian Authority (PA) ”any aid requested,” and President Shimon Peres telephoned Palestinian President Abbas to convey his condolences.

However, as the Jerusalem Post also reported, several Palestinian officials immediately blamed Israel for some of the deaths, claiming that rescue services were prevented from quickly coming to the scene of the accident and didn’t treat the injured adequately. Israeli officials rejected these accusations and pointed out that all of the injured had been evacuated to hospitals within 30 minutes after the accident.

In a post aptly entitled Where Also The Truth Goes Up In Flames, Aussie Dave at IsraellyCool concluded that the Palestinians “never miss an opportunity to blame Israel” and pointed out that this was a “sickening accident and sickening attempts to exploit it as part of the demonization campaign against Israel.”

However, the far-left online magazine +972 chose to highlight a very different angle. Completely ignoring the attempts of Palestinian officials to exploit the tragedy for political purposes, a blog post by  Fady Khoury, an intern at Adalah, an organization promoting Arab minority rights in Israel, focused on a selection of disgusting reader comments at the Facebook page of Israel’s Walla News.

Khoury noted that “there were a lot of readers who condemned these and other racist comments,” but he justified highlighting the repulsive comments:

Israelis tend to accuse Palestinians of being immoral because once and again [sic] the Israeli media shows Palestinians gloating and celebrating over the death of innocent Israelis. The reaction of these ordinary Israelis to the death of Palestinian children shows that the “moral” party in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not so moral after all.

[…] My only intention is to show an example of the consequences of continuous occupation, which is affecting Israeli society as well as Palestinian society. […] there cannot be any doubt that these individuals feel comfortable openly expressing their hateful and racist opinions in a public domain mainly because discriminatory political discourse has legitimized this type of expression.

In my view, these comments should cause concern to Israelis more than Palestinians. Once hateful speech becomes legitimate, even if not explicitly, it tend [sic] to seep inwards, and in a divided and fragmented society – which is clearly the case in Israel – the risk is even greater.

It is worthwhile to read Khoury’s words carefully, because he provides an excellent example of the efforts to mainstream the demonization of Israel.

Presenting himself as fair-minded and objective by acknowledging that the repulsive comments were immediately criticized, he appeals to an audience that is not a priori ready to condemn Israel. However, Khoury then goes on to claim that the comments illustrated “the consequences of continuous occupation” and that “these individuals feel comfortable openly expressing their hateful and racist opinions in a public domain mainly because discriminatory political discourse has legitimized this type of expression.”

Khoury’s short post offers no evidence to back up his assertions; indeed, his own acknowledgment that “there were a lot of readers who condemned these and other racist comments” obviously contradicts his subsequent claims that a “discriminatory political discourse has legitimized this type of expression.”

The plain fact of the matter is that in every country, you will find individuals who are posting vicious comments about their objects of hate – and evidence for this can easily be found by looking at talkbacks for articles about Israel…

It is also important to note that +972’s professed goal is “to provide fresh, original, on-the-ground reporting and analysis of events in Israel and Palestine;” in addition, the name of the site – derived from the telephone area code that is shared by Israel and Palestine – is presumably meant to convey the message that events should not be seen in a compartmentalized way, but as interconnected.

This is therefore a site where you can expect to find a commentary on Israel’s social protest last summer complaining about the protesters’ lack of interest in discussing the occupation of the West Bank.

But when it comes to appalling comments, it’s apparently fine and dandy to simply highlight that they can be found on Hebrew websites and to tout this as proof that Israel is “not so moral after all.”

The obvious implication is that Israel has no reason to complain when Palestinians glorify terrorism – but the obvious problem is that there are countless well-documented examples showing that, very different from Israel, this is a mainstream phenomenon in Palestinian society that is openly endorsed and promoted by political, religious and social leaders, and that Palestinian criticism of this phenomenon is quite rare.

Any “fresh, original, on-the-ground reporting and analysis” of this by +972?

If there is anything “fresh” or “original” about yet another website that joins the already crowded field of sites that push the simplistic narrative of Israel as the perpetrator and Palestinians as the victim, it is perhaps the fact that +972 usually refrains from the shrill anti-Zionism and scrupulously tries to avoid the open antisemitism that is quite popular among the “blame Israel firsters.”

But like so many others, +972 pushes the popular notion that “without dramatic pressure from abroad […] Israelis will continue the occupation and the current political trends forever.” While this message ultimately reflects a deep despise for the majority of mainstream Israelis, there is definitely an audience that appreciates the endless repetition of this empty claim.

The traffic attracted by +972 has reportedly “grown exponentially since its inception” in the summer of 2010 – driven presumably also by the fact that some well-placed writers like the New York Times Lede editor Robert Mackey have repeatedly quoted the site – and, in addition to some smaller funds,  +972 has recently received a one-year, $60,000 grant from the Social Justice Fund intended to “help support the site becoming a sustainable operation” as well as a $10,000 grant from the Moriah Fund.

Given that the New Israel Fund wants to help +972 to become “a sustainable operation,” it should be legitimate to scrutinize the basic world view propagated by the site.

The initiative for +972’s establishment came reportedly from Noam Sheizaf, who serves as editor in chief and CEO. According to a recent admiring feature by Sarah Wildman in The Nation, Sheizaf is “magnetic, intellectual and articulate” – and Wildman assures her readers that  the “same is true” for all the other +972 contributors she has spoken to. However, Wildman admits that the “writers are fringe,” though she insists that “they are on the whole far smarter and more nuanced than most who attract that label.”

But all the smartness and nuance cannot conceal that ultimately, +972 has as little sympathy for the experience of the mainstream Israelis who, after supporting the Oslo process in the 1990s, learned from the bloody violence of the Al-Aqsa intifada and the continued rocket threat from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip that their hopes for “peace now” were not realistic.

While +972 writers may feel that they “are all part of a process of redrawing the Israeli political map,” there is reason to think that, unwittingly or not, they may actually be part of a very different process: it turns out that editor in chief and CEO Noam Sheizaf  thinks that the “Palestinian problem is a human rights problem disguised as a diplomatic problem; this was Israel’s greatest success, making it look like a geopolitical issue.”

This is of course exactly the position of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement that campaigns frantically to delegitimize Israel as an “Apartheid state” – indeed, this issue was highlighted in the tempestuous debate that followed Norman Finkelstein’s recent criticism of BDS. Consider the following passage from a scathing rejection of Finkelstein’s criticism published by +972:

There is an increasing consensus among Israel’s critics to see the issue as one of civil rights, rather than a conflict between two nations. Indeed, some BDS activists harbor a desire to see the end of the Jewish state, and others believe this is the inevitable outcome of a civil rights movement, whether they desire it or not. But many others, I would argue most Palestinians among them, simply don’t care about this abstract One State v. Two State argument. They just don’t think civil rights – indeed human rights – can be trumped by someone’s nationalist claims.

Very different from Sheizaf’s spiteful notion that it “was Israel’s greatest success, making it look like a geopolitical issue,” it is actually the BDS movement’s greatest ambition to ignore the history of the conflict and repackage the rejectionist Palestinian view that Israel’s mere existence as a Jewish state constitutes some basic violation of Palestinian “rights” into slogans that will appeal to activists – many of whom care primarily about human rights violations that can be blamed on Israel.

The BDS movement is dependent on a steady stream of stories about Israel’s wrongdoings – whether real, invented or just liberally embellished – and by showcasing Israeli wrongs without much regard for context and reinforcing a simplistic perpetrator-victim narrative, +972 is doing its part, even if its writers may not openly support BDS.

Moreover, ignoring the long history of Arab and Palestinian rejectionism and pretending that the conflict is a “human rights problem disguised as a diplomatic problem” inevitably implies that efforts to negotiate a two-states-for-two-peoples solution will not solve the Palestinian “human rights problem.”

That is exactly the message BDS activists want to get out – and, couched in Islamist terms, this also happens to be the message of Hamas:

From time to time there are calls to hold an international conference in order to seek a solution for the [Palestinian] problem. Some accept this [proposal] and some reject it, for one reason or another […]  However, the Islamic Resistance Movement […] does not believe that these conferences can meet the demands or restore the rights [of the Palestinians], or bring equity to the oppressed.

I think anyone who agrees with the view that the “Palestinian problem is a human rights problem disguised as a diplomatic problem” and that this “disguise” is somehow due to Israel’s nefarious machinations should wonder what exactly distinguishes this position from the stance of Hamas.

Moreover, anyone who sincerely believes that the Palestinian problem is exclusively or primarily a human rights problem should insist that this problem is illuminated in all its aspects – including abuses by Hamas and other Palestinian groups, and including the longstanding severe discrimination suffered by the descendants of Palestinian refugees who are denied citizenship and related rights in the countries they were born.

Anyone who is interested in Palestinian human rights only when their violation can be blamed on Israel is not a human rights activist, but an anti-Israel activist – and there is absolutely nothing “fresh” or “original” about that.

* * *

Cross-posted from my JPost blog.

Quote of the day

And if PennBDS is particularly disturbed only by the oppression of Palestinian Arabs, then one wonders why they are not protesting the governments of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Syria, or others in which the Palestinians have suffered extreme discrimination, violence, and forced expulsions.

In Gaza, under the authority of Hamas, political freedom, religious freedom, and freedom of association are severely curtailed, women’s rights are limited, human rights activists are targeted, and homosexuality is a criminal offense.

Upon any serious consideration, it becomes clear that BDS actually has no problem with oppression, no problem with oppression of Arabs, and no problem with the oppression of Palestinian Arabs. BDS actually has a problem only with Israel and it can only be deduced that their problem is truly with Jews.

Sarit Catz, Bigotry under the umbrella of a great university, commenting on the forthcoming 2012 National Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Conference at the University of Pennsylvania campus on Feb. 3-5, organized by a university-recognized group called PennBDS. Many excellent posts about the hollow BDS claims can be found at PennBDS-Oy.