Sunday, January 30, 2011

One doesn't boycott the only free society in the Mideast

By Bernard-Henri Lévy
Published 03:10 28.01.11

Earlier this month, supporters of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement scheduled a meeting at the prestigious Ecole normale superieure in Paris. When the school’s administration canceled the meeting, there were news reports that Bernard-Henri Levy and Alain Finkielkraut had pressed for that action. Here, Levy responds to the charge, and goes on to say what he thinks of the BDS campaign.

Since it is necessary to spell things out, let’s do so.

Obviously, I have never, directly or indirectly, pressured anyone to cancel a meeting in support of the partisans of the boycott of Israel, with Palestinian Leila Shahid, Frenchman Stephane Hessel and others scheduled to appear, at the Ecole normale superieure in Paris.

This would have been all the more absurd because, by nature and by conviction, I believe in the power of ideas and, even more, in that of the truth. In such circumstances, I am always in favor of debate, the clash of opinions, even the confrontation of convictions − hence, not of censure.

And the fact is that, in this particular circumstance, that is to say in the matter of the BDS ‏campaign that was to be the main subject of the Ecole normale meeting, I would have been more than happy to be able to present those who speak sincerely with facts and, basically, evidence that seems to have escaped them: namely, that we are faced here with a skillfully orchestrated but calumnious, bellicose, anti-democratic and, in a word, despicable campaign.


First, because one boycotts totalitarian regimes, not democracies. One can boycott Sudan, guilty of the extermination of part of the population of Darfur. One can boycott China, guilty of massive violations of human rights in Tibet and elsewhere. One can and should boycott the Iran that is oppressing Sakineh and Jafar Panahi − a country whose leaders have become deaf to the language of common sense and compromise. One can even imagine, as we once did with regard to the fascist generals’ Argentina or Brezhnev’s USSR, boycotting those Arab regimes whose citizens’ freedom of expression is forbidden, and punished, if necessary, with blood.

One does not boycott the only society in the Middle East where Arabs read a free press, demonstrate when they wish to do so, send representatives to parliament, and enjoy their rights as citizens. Regardless of what one thinks of the policies of its government, one does not boycott the only country in the region and, beyond the region, one of the unfortunately limited number of countries in the world where voters have the power to sanction, modify and reverse the position of said government. To such an extent that finding, like Mr. Hessel, in his recent best-selling book, the source of his “main indignation” in the workings of a democracy that, like all democracies, is by definition imperfect but perfectible ‏(yet, on the contrary, having nothing to say about the millions of victims of Africa’s forgotten wars, about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, or about the massacre of Bosnia’s Muslims‏) is at best profoundly stupid and at worst, disgraceful.

And then, because, in any event, this boycott campaign is in reality indifferent to the stance of Mr. X or Mrs. Y. on their government. It is unaware of, nor does it care to know, what Israeli citizens themselves think, for example, of the resumption of settlement construction in the West Bank. It doesn’t give a hoot about demands, parameters, actual conditions of peace between the citizens in question and their Palestinian neighbors. Of the latter, their aspirations, their interests, their possible hopes and the way the Hamas regime has smashed those hopes in Gaza, it doesn’t give a tinker’s damn and never says anything, either.

No. Regardless of what its promoters and its useful idiots say, the only real, accepted, hackneyed goal of this boycott campaign is to delegitimize Israel as such. That is what the comparison with the South Africa of apartheid implicitly expresses. That is what the anti-Zionist rhetoric that serves as the common denominator of all the groups constituting the BDS movement explicitly says, and, if words have any meaning, what signifies their intent to undermine the very idea that today, like it or not, binds the Israeli nation. And that is why this campaign, in fact, contravenes the customs, rules and laws of international and, in this case, French or American national law.

And then, lastly, there are those at the heart and, sometimes, at the origin of this campaign whose inspiration is, to say the least, not that of de Gaulle’s Free French nor of those who penned the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, nor of those in favor of a just peace between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.

I submit, to whomever wishes, the declarations of Omar Barghouti, one of the founders of the Palestinian BDS campaign, affirming that his goal is not two states but two Palestines. And those of Ali Abunimah, co-founder of Electronic Intifada and also opposed to the two-state solution, who does not hesitate to compare Israel to Nazi Germany and this or that of its philosophers to the columnists of Der Stuermer. And the declarations of the leaders of Sabeel, that group of Palestinian Christians firmly implanted in North America, who, anxious to lend the idea of “responsible investment” a “theological” basis, do not hesitate to subtly but surely reactivate the stereotype of the Christ-killing Jew. Not to mention some rather shady initiatives whose purpose is to mark Jewish − sorry, Israeli − merchandise with supposedly derogatory stickers intended for the attention of the vigilant French consumer.

All that is deplorable and, once again, indisputable. Presenting the promoters of this discourse of hatred as victims speaks volumes of the current state of confusion − intellectual and moral − of a Western world one would have hoped had been cured of its worst criminal past.

Philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy is the author, most recently ‏(together with Michel Houellebecq‏), of “Public Enemies: Dueling Writers Take On Each Other and the World” ‏(Random House‏).

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