31 March '16..
The recent willingness of both the Board of Regents of the University of California and the New York State Legislature to consider action relating to the troubling growth of anti-Semitism marked an important step forward in recognizing the corrosive effect the BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) movement has had on the culture of higher education in this country. As I wrote earlier this week, at the heart of this debate is the connection between anti-Zionist activity and anti-Semitic incidents that are creating a hostile atmosphere for Jewish students at some institutions. In particular, the willingness of the Board of Regents in California to speak out against “anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism” angered many on the left who promoted the cause of BDS on college campuses and did not want to be identified as promoting hate.
The shift in the discussion from the BDS movement’s attempt to single out Israel for opprobrium and destruction to the anti-Semitic nature of their rhetoric and goals is an unexpected setback for the left. That’s because they were operating under the assumption that in an era where all sorts of opinions are repressed because they might conceivably offend some fragile student, Jews are the one minority group that are generally denied “safe space.” By focusing on the Jew-hatred that is inextricably linked to BDS activism, anti-Zionists are being stripped of their pose as defenders of human rights and correctly lumped in with hate groups.
The fight against BDS and anti-Semitism is one that ought to unite all supporters of Israel, whether they are supporters of the current government or its fiercest critics. But for some on the left, the pushback against a BDS movement that they claim, at least in some instances to oppose, makes them uncomfortable. Having made common cause in some cases with BDS activists, they find labeling their fellow leftists as anti-Semites to be a bridge too far for them. Thus, so-called “liberal Zionists,” such as writer Peter Beinart, have now stepped into the breach to denounce the effort to categorize anti-Zionism as anti-Semitism.
Writing in Haaretz, Beinart claims that the argument in favor of this link is bogus.
Beinart first claims that it is wrong to assert, as I have done, that anti-Zionism is a form of discrimination because opposition to the Jewish right to a homeland and self-defense is unique. He says that opposition to statehood for the Kurds or the Basques is not assumed to be a form of hate against those peoples. For the same reasons, he also says that opposing a state just because Jews might need one in order to protect themselves is also not bias because no one would consider critics of Kurdish or Basque secession from other nations is based on hatred.
Next, he claims it is a misnomer to assume that all anti-Zionists want to abuse Jews because BDS groups welcome both individual Jews and anti-Zionist groups like Jewish Voices for Peace as allies.
Third, he says that just because anti-Zionists want to dismantle Israel — as distinct from opposing states that have not yet been created — isn’t discriminatory because of the precedent of destroying the Afrikaner-dominated Republic of South Africa.
Most importantly, he says that Israel’s policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians are inherently discriminatory, thus making at least some of the arguments of the Jewish state’s foes understandable if not justified. According to Beinart, who believes that Israel should be forced to give up the West Bank and Jerusalem to the Palestinians, it is the actions of the Netanyahu government that are justifying BDS and undermining the rationale for a Jewish and democratic state.
He’s wrong on all counts.
First, the comparison between the Jews and the plight of the Basques and the Kurds is complicated but far from analogous. While both of those peoples have fought for autonomy or statehood as well as for the survival of their national cultures against oppressive overlords, neither was ever subjected to the kind of mass ethnic cleansing that the Jews suffered in their homeland. Their cause was always a question of power sharing, not their physical existence. Nor, despite a history that includes discrimination, did they undergo the kind of treatment that Jews experienced during 20 centuries of anti-Semitism.
Moreover, while advocates for other nationalisms — be it Spanish, Turkish, Syrian or Iraqi — might dispute the right to separate sovereignty for Basques and Kurds, there is no worldwide movement that combines hate groups, ethnic rivals, and their intellectual auxiliaries dedicated to ensuring that they are not merely deprived of sovereignty but deprived even of national rights. Anti-Zionism is a form of discrimination because of the unique nature of its advocacy that serves a cause designed to ensure that the Jewish people remain not merely stateless but homeless.
As for the welcome mat laid out for Jewish anti-Zionists in the BDS camp, that is meaningless. The fact that some Jews are ready to join forces with those urging the destruction of the Jewish state is not evidence that its attitude toward Jews is benign. Part of the psychosis of the Jewish existence in the Diaspora has always been a willingness to believe that all other peoples and faiths have rights to particularity that Jews should not have or exercise. Cynthia Ozick’s quip that “universalism is the parochialism of the Jews,” tells us a lot about the tension between the two differing yet ultimately compatible strains of thought in Judaism. But when applied to the battle for the existence of the state of Israel, the desire of some Jews to treat Israel as the one illegitimate ethnoreligious state on a planet that has so many other similarly constituted nations is a testament to dysfunction on the part of this small minority of Jews. It tells us nothing about the toxic nature of the vile cause for which they serve as useful idiots.
As for Beinart’s South African analogy, it is so specious that he even disassociates himself from it even as he urges us to consider it. Democratic Israel is not, as Beinart correctly states, remotely analogous to apartheid-era South Africa. But contrary to his argument, the Republic of South Africa was not an attempt to create an ethnic Afrikaner state. The Boer republics that did have that purpose were wiped out in the South African war waged by the British at the beginning of the 20th century. They were instead eventually replaced by a multi-ethnic (English whites as well as Afrikaners) nation that sought to impose the rule of a white minority on a black African majority. Their cause was rooted in racism and a desire to deny sovereignty to blacks. Zionism has always sought a Jewish majority state alongside neighboring Arab majority states.
Which leads us to his last argument in which he says the occupation of the West Bank without giving Palestinians voting rights in Israel makes the Jewish state an oppressor and gives legitimacy to those who wish to use BDS to force it out of those territories to create a Palestinian state. But the reason why a two-state solution has never been implemented is because the Palestinians have always refused any compromise that would have obligated them to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn.
The fallacy at the core of Beinart’s argument blaming Israel and Netanyahu for both the lack of peace and the rise of anti-Semitism is that the anti-Zionist cause has always been tainted by the intolerance and Jew hatred that motivated the Palestinian Arabs who are the focus of their sympathy. Despite the rhetoric about human rights, anti-Zionism has never been a cause that sought to alter Israel’s borders or to bring succor to the suffering Palestinians. It is about the denial of rights, if not life itself, to Jews.
Had the Palestinians wished to accept a solution that would have shared the land with the Jews at any point in the last century, they would have gotten their separate state. But they have always refused to do so because their national identity is inextricably tied to the belief that Jews, whom they see as a despised non-Muslim minority that has forgotten their place, should never be given equal rights in the region.
But this doesn’t just apply to Palestinian nationalists — both of the secular and Islamist varieties. It also applies to their foreign cheering sections that seek to do their part in the war against Zionism by crippling Israel’s economy via BDS. The reason why BDS activists are so prone to anti-Semitic invective is that the passion that animates the pro-Palestinian cause around the world feeds off traditional anti-Semitic tropes about Jews. Without that anti-Semitic fervor injecting its maniacal passion into anti-Zionism, the BDS crowd would have as little support in the international arena and college campuses as supporters of Basque nationalism or Kurdish statehood. Which is to say that they wouldn’t exist as a movement at all.
The overwhelming majority of Israelis would gladly give up almost all of the West Bank, just as they have already given up Gaza where an independent Palestinian state in all but name run by terrorists already exists, if it were in exchange for peace. But so long as the Palestinians’ goal is to wipe out Israel and to dispossess its six million Jews, BDS is a cause in service to hate. Despite Beinart’s efforts to exonerate it, the same must be said of anti-Zionism.
Updates throughout the day at http://calevbenyefuneh.
blogspot.com. If you enjoy "Love of the Land", please be a subscriber. Just put your email address in the "Subscribe" box on the upper right-hand corner of the page.Twitter updates at LoveoftheLand as well as our Love of the Land page at Facebook which has additional pieces of interest besides that which is posted on the blog. Also check-out This Ongoing War by Frimet and Arnold Roth. An excellent blog, very important work as well as a big vote to follow our good friend Kay Wilson on Twitter.