The Context of Boycotts

‘Liberal Delusion’ wrote this comment ‘below the line’ in an earlier thread. We thought it worth reproducing.

The BDS movement places the boycott in the context of SA (and so have to inflate Israeli human rights contraventions as ‘apartheid’). However, the vast majority of Jews place the idea of a boycott against Jews in a very different history; a history in which Jews have been singled out for allegedly unique crimes and unique wrongs despite the fact that they were no worse than many, if not all others and/or were total fabrications, and, as a consequence of these claims suffered ‘boycott’ – see e.g. the 1904 Limerick boycott where Jews were accused of price manipulation.

The problem is that when Jews raise these concerns, especially through the question – why Israel? – no sensible answer is given – the ASA’s comment, that ‘we have to start somewhere’ begs the question. (Despite the above response, the BDS movement is not supported by the PA or Hamas, and was, far from emanating from Palestine, devised by two members of the SWP here in London – and even if it did emanate from Palestinian civil society, that does not involve an immediate and unmediated response – what is right in Palestine, may not appear so right in a different context, and for very good reasons).
Rather than recognising this history and this sensitivity in its critical dealings with Israel, many BDSers simply claim that Jews are abusing this history of antisemitism (and anti-Jewish boycotts), of using ‘real’ antisemitism (and the Shoah) as a magic talisman to ward off ‘criticism’ (which is conflated by the BDS movement with exclusion) and of acting in bad faith.

In so doing, the BDS movement show that along with their support for Palestinians is an attempt to antagonise and confront non-Israeli Jews who, for those who disagree with their boycotting (what Claire Potter confused with scrutiny) are transformed into ‘supporters of Israel’ and for whom no quarter must be given.

If those in the US and Europe were serious about antisemitism and its history as well as being serious about Palestinian solidarity, they would actually realise what boycotts mean to Jews (and progressive forces in general). They would need to think of a new strategy, one that is not hostile to Jews, but which at the same time allows them (and many Jews) to move forward to achieving a just and equitable peace in the Middle East; a move forward that does not rely, replicate and bring into the present the antisemtism of the (not so distant) past.

“Echoes of the Past into the Present”: Arguments in support of the ASA Boycott.

This is a guest post by Saul:

Reading through the arguments of those proposing and supporting the ASA’s boycott of Israel, one can only be struck by the correspondence of the structure of argumentation with those of what some today like to call ‘real’ antisemitism as well as racism and Islamophobia in general These correspondences appear in the following way.

First, they begin with a list of the litany of Israel’s crimes. Many of the crimes of which Israel is accused they are indeed culpable. However, in the context of boycott two points come to the fore. The first point turns on the widely debated question of ‘Why Israel’? As many have shown and many more acknowledged, none of the crimes committed by the Israeli state are either unique nor their most terrible expression. As many of those opposing the boycott have argued, this is no excuse not to bring them to light. Yet, many of these same people are uncomfortable with the fact that of all states who commit these and worse crimes, only Israel is singled out for boycott. The response to this concern is that it is being used to ‘deflect attention’ from Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and constitutes the diversionary tactic of ‘whataboutery’.

As with so many other areas of the boycott discussions, the battleground of ‘whataboutery’ is neither new nor novel. It has been a component part of debates about Jews for a very, very long time. The lines of this debate have more or less remained the same. On the one hand, there are those that say that there is something ‘innate’ about Jews, Judaism and Jewishness and, more recently Israel, that sets it apart from the rest of the world and, as a consequence, deserves special or, if that word is now too emotive, unique treatment. More often than not, such allegations of uniqueness are presented as the reason or cause that, with the best will in the world, Jews or Israel should be denied the rights of those granted to non-Jews or states that are not ‘Jewish’. On the other hand, there are those that say that the differences that distinguish Jews from other religions and peoples and Israel from other states, are no reason, no excuse, to deny such rights, rights freely available to everyone else.

Perhaps the most famous instance of this contestation is Karl Marx’s polemic against Bruno Bauer around the question of Jewish emancipation in the 1840’s. As is well known, Bauer argued against Jewish emancipation. He argued that as long as Jews remained Jews they were to barred from being granted the same rights as those among whom they lived. There was, he declaimed, something unique, something special about Jews and Judaism that prevented them from the benefit of emancipation into the emerging nation-states of his time.

Bauer has posed the question of Jewish emancipation in a new form, after giving a critical analysis of the previous formulations and solutions of the question. What, he asks, is the nature of the Jew who is to be emancipated and of the Christian state that is to emancipate him? He replies by a critique of the Jewish religion, he analyzes the religious opposition between Judaism and Christianity, he elucidates the essence of the Christian state……..

Marx’s devastating response to this exclusive and reactionary focus on the alleged nature of Jews and Judaism and only Jews and Judaism is perhaps the most succinct and positive use of what is now excoriated as pure whataboutery,

Man, as the adherent of a particular religion, finds himself in conflict with his citizenship and with other men as members of the community. This conflict reduces itself to the secular division between the political state and civil society. For man as a bourgeois [i.e., as a member of civil society, “bourgeois society” in German], “life in the state” is “only a semblance or a temporary exception to the essential and the rule.” Of course, the bourgeois, like the Jew, remains only sophistically in the sphere of political life, just as the citoyen [‘citizen’ in French, i.e., the participant in political life] only sophistically remains a Jew or a bourgeois. But, this sophistry is not personal. It is the sophistry of the political state itself. The difference between the merchant and the citizen [Staatsbürger], between the day-laborer and the citizen, between the landowner and the citizen, between the merchant and the citizen, between the living individual and the citizen. The contradiction in which the religious man finds himself with the political man is the same contradiction in which the bourgeois finds himself with the citoyen, and the member of civil society with his political lion’s skin.

As with Bauer’s antisemitism, one of the consequences of demanding sole focus on Jews and only Jews, and, correspondingly today, Israel and only Israel, is exclusion, from the state and, today, from the community of states. As in the past, the call for boycott opens up an abyss between, on the one side ‘Israel’ and on the other side, the rest of the world. In contemporary terms, by placing the call for boycott of the need for international solidarity as a means of resisting Israeli criminality, the radical antisemitic vision of the division between Jews and humanity is re-articulated in the divide between Israel/Jewish Israelis and the rest of the world. Like Jews of the past, Israel is now recast as the ‘other’ of ‘humanity’.

The second main structural element of arguments made in support of the ASA boycott and one visible particularly in Claire Potter’s account of her Damascan moment, is the old tale of Jewish privilege. Of all the states in the world who receive US funding and financial assistance, Israel, it is said, is the most ‘privileged’. Israel receives more than any country in US military aid. Israel receives more support in the UN and security council than any other of its allies, etc.. These facts are, of course, true. But they are presented not as a consequence of past and present political considerations (for example, that US funding and support for Israel began, originally from the prior recognition of Israel by the then Soviet Union (the first country to recognise the Sate of Israel in 1948), the divisions of the Cold War, the rise of Arab pan-nationalism, the Iranian Revolution, the rise of Islamicism and anti-Americanism, the obsessive focus of Israel in some of the UN instiutions, and so on). Instead, they are presented as instances of a specifically Israeli privilege (often, but not always, an argument connected to the alleged omnipotence of the ‘Israel’ or ‘Jewish Lobby’). Needless to say, this idea of Jewish privilege by the state is not new in the annals of both the history of antisemitism or of racism in general. For example, it was common currency in the debates surrounding and following Jewish emancipation. It also forms a core component of contemporary Islamophobia; that somehow the British state ‘prvileges’ the concerns of British Muslims.

This notion of Jewish/Israeli privilege connects with the third point; that one cannot say a bad word about Israel without being labelled an ‘antisemite’, See also Clare Short’s letter in support of Rev Stephen Sizer in the Jewish Chronicle, 20th December, 2013.

Other formulations in which this arguments is presented is the idea of the Shoah as a magic talisman warding off any and all negative comments about Israel. This theme is presented in its most crystalline form by Alex Lubin in this article in The Nation. He writes there that, ‘Israel’s creation in the violent crucible of the European Holocaust allows it always (!) to appear vulnerable, regardless of its oppressive actions’`1. Here, we can but note the sheer nastiness of the claim that Israel and those labeled its ‘supporters’ are guilty of cynically manipulating the most terrible event in the history of Jews and inverting it into nothing more than a ‘strategic advantage’. This belief in Jewish cynicism is again, an updated variant of the accusation leveled against Jews from the time of their emancipation onward that they exploited their past discrimination to wheedle those ‘privileges’ noted above from the State at the expense of all others. Even more relevant in the present context, however, is that this idea replicates almost exactly the antisemite Willhelm Marr’s claim in the late 19th century that ‘one cannot today criticise Jews [i.e. by which he meant his and others antisemitic assertions] without being called an antisemite’.2

The BDS movement constantly respond to accusations that its call to boycott Israel and only Israel taps in to antisemitic ways of thinking by claiming that, first, one must distinguish between ‘real’ antisemitism and ‘criticism of Israel’, and secondly, that they are free from the seductions offered by antisemitism in forwarding their own aims. As the structure of their arguments show (both in form and content) neither claim is sustainable.

1. The reference to the term ‘European Holocaust’ is interesting in the specific context of ASA. Not only does the term ‘European Holocaust’ imply denial of the uniqueness of the ‘Holocaust’ or Shoah – as opposed to the concept if genocide – but chimes in with a rather nasty debate a little while ago when US academics claimed that the studying and recognition of the genocides and brutalities suffered by the First Nations in what was to become the United States were being hindered by the mal fide of scholars of the Holocaust. (See Dan Stone; ‘Histories of the Holocaust, OUP, (2010) p. 210

2. See on this point, Moishe Zimmerman’s ‘Wilhelm Marr: The Patriach of Antisemitism,OUP, (1986)

The Price of Kings: Shimon Peres – screening 30th January

Received by email:

The Price of Kings: Shimon Peres

Film Screening & Discussion

Next Wednesday 30th January, at Kings College London, OneVoice will host an event to examine the legacy of President Shimon Peres, and the wider question of leadership in the region.

The Price of Kings: Shimon Peres

“I’ve never heard leaders speak like this before” – Total Politics
“Chills the blood” – The FT, “Uncompromising” – Huffington Post, “Outstanding” – The National
“Epic in scope, themes and revelations” – Rankin

Together with Kings College War Studies Society, the event will examine the legacy of President Shimon Peres and the wider question of leadership in the region with a Q&A after the screening.

Paul Charney (Chair, Zionist Federation)
Dr Ghada Karmi (Palestinian activist and academic)
John Lyndon (Executive Director, OneVoice Europe)
Richard Symons (Co-Director, The Price of Kings)

Venue: Room K4U.12, Kings Building, Strand Campus, Kings College London
Time: 7:00pm, Wednesday 30th January
Admission : FREE

We do hope you’ll be able to join us at Kings College for this event, and the subsequent screening next month of the second film examining the life and political legacy of Yasser Arafat.

OneVoice is an international mainstream grassroots movement that aims to amplify the voice of Israeli and Palestinian moderates, empowering them to seize back the agenda for conflict resolution and demand that their leaders achieve a two-state solution.

Howard Jacobson on Alice Walker and her trip to Gaza

This piece by Howard Jacboson is from cnn.

It should not need arguing, this late in the ethical history of mankind, that good people can do great harm. One of the finest and funniest novels ever written — Don Quixote — charts the damage left in the wake of a man who would make the world a better place.

Human beings are seldom more dangerous than when they are sentimentally overcome by the goodness of their own intentions. That Alice Walker believes it is right to join the Freedom Flotilla II to Gaza I do not have the slightest doubt. But beyond associating her decision with Gandhi, Martin Luther King and very nearly, when she talks about the preciousness of children, Jesus Christ, she fails to give a single convincing reason for it.

“One child must never be set above another child,” she says. A sentiment that will find an echo in every heart. But how does it justify the flotilla? Gaza is under siege, Israelis will tell you, because weapons are fired from it into Israel, threatening the lives of Israeli children. If the blockade is lifted there is a fear that more lethal and far-reaching weapons will be acquired, and the lives of more Israeli children endangered.

You may want to argue that had Gaza been treated differently it would have responded differently, but if the aim of the flotilla is to ensure that one child will not be set above another it is hard to see how challenging the blockade will achieve it. All an Israeli parent will see is a highly charged emotionalism disguising an action that, by its very partiality, chooses the Palestinian child over the Israeli.

The boat on which Alice Walker will be traveling is called The Audacity of Hope. Forgive me for seeing a measure of self- importance in that reference. It will be carrying, Alice Walker tells us, “Letters expressing solidarity and love.” Not, presumably, for Israeli children. Perhaps it is thought that Israeli children are the recipients of enough love already. So what about solidarity? It is meant to sound innocuous. “That is all.”

Alice Walker makes plain, “its cargo will be carrying.” But what will these letters of solidarity be expressing solidarity with? Solidarity is a political term implying commonality of interest or aspiration. So what interest or aspiration do Alice Walker and her fellow travelers share with the people of Gaza? A desire for freedom? Well we all aspire to that. A longing to live in peace?

If they have such a longing we must be solid with them in that too, though the firing of rockets from Gaza is not, on the face of it, an expression of such a longing. And what about the declared hostility of Hamas to the very existence of Israel? Hamas, we are often told, is the elected government of Gaza, a government that fairly represents the wishes of its people. In which case we must assume that Hamas’s implacable hostility towards Israel fairly represents the implacable hostility felt by the people of Gaza. Are Alice Walker’s letters of love and ‘solidarity’ solid with the people of Gaza in that hostility?

Alice Walker, writer of 'The Colour Purple'

“If the Israeli military attacks us, it will be as if they attacked the mailman,” she says. Wrong on a thousand counts. As a writer, Alice Walker must understand the symbolic significance of words. The cargo is a cargo of intention. It is freighted with political sympathy and attitude. It means to blunder into where it isn’t safe, clothed in the make-believe garments of the unworldly, speaking of children and speaking like children, half inviting a violence which can then be presented as a slaughter of the innocents.

Even before the deed, Alice Walker has her language of outraged moral purity prepared — “but if they insist on attacking us, wounding us, even murdering us…” The Israeli response is thus already an act of unprovoked murder, no matter that the flotilla is by its very essence a provocation. Whatever its cargo, by luring the Israeli military into action which can be represented as brutal, the flotilla is engaged in an entirely political act. To call it by any other name is the grossest hypocrisy.

Alice Walker might be feeling good about herself, but by giving the Palestinians the same old false comfort we’ve been doling out for more than half a century, and by allowing the Israelis to dismiss it as yet another act of misguided and uncomprehending adventurism — further evidence that its fears go unheeded – her political gesture only worsens the situation. The parties to this conflict need to be brought together not divided: but those who speak disingenuously of love will engender only further hatred.

This piece by Howard Jacboson is from cnn.

Lots more from Howard Jacobson here.

 

 

Two pieces from Harry’s Place

The activist left must condemn the murder of the Itamar family – Dmitry Reider

There has been plenty of condemnation of the abominable murders of Udi, Ruth, Yoav, Elad, and Hadas Fogel in the settlement of Itamar last night. But the condemnation has been dominated by ugly opportunism from Israel’s pro-settlement right, and has been used as a pretext for menacing Palestinians and urging more settlement activity in defiance.

In 972 mag Dmitry Reider does the necessary, which is liable to earn him more opprobrium than approval from some of his comrades.

“To those among us citing the illegality and illegitimacy of the settler enterprise: The community of Itamar is in and of itself a violation of international law. It was established to deepen Israeli hold on an the occupied territory; and over the years, the settlers of Itamar became almost equally well known for their violent attacks on Palestinian farmers as for the attacks that they themselves sustained – the community of 1,000 lost 15 of its members to attacks like last night’s over the past ten years. Needless to say, the occupation of the West Bank, the establishment of the settlement, and the individual settlers attack against their Palestinian neighbors are all illegal under international law; the latter are not only particularly brutish and wrong, but are also illegal under Israeli law.

but:

But none of this justifies retaliatory violation of the very same laws, just like being robbed does not justify walking into the robber’s house and butchering him and his entire family. More generally, international law clearly allows armed resistance by occupied population to the armed forces of the occupier, but just as clearly bans targeting the occupier’s civilian population. The power of the law, certainly of international law, is in its totality and universality. We cannot call for selective application of the law against one party, and completely ignore the same law being broken by another; our legal argument loses any and all merit if we do that.”

and:

“The sheer viciousness of this cold-blooded butchery should have provoked furious condemnation from those unequivocally opposed to the targeting of civilians – Israel’s civil society,the Left and the activist (“radical”) Left. However, at the time of writing, only two organizations spoke out: B’tselem, which has done the most extensive work of documenting the opposite sort of violence – by settlers against Palestinians – led the way late Saturday morning, announcing on Facebook and on its website that it is “appalled by the attack in Itamar and strongly condemns it. Intentional killing of civilians is a war crime and is unjustifiable. The Israeli and Palestinian authorities must work to locate and bring to justice those responsible for the attack.” About an hour later, Physicians for Human Rights joined in, announcing that the organization “strongly condemns the appalling attack in Itamar and calls the state of Israel and the Palestinian Authority to act in order to bring those responsible individuals to trial. Once again we learn that fences and security systems are not a guarantee for security. Only brave steps towards peace agreement and putting end to the conflict will bring end to these murderous acts.”

Apart from these two voices, and a quite a few individual activists expressing shock and dismay at the killings, much of Israel’s famously vibrant, undoubtedly committed activist Left remained silent.”

They have since been joined by Solidarity Sheikh Jarrah,  New Family, the Bilin Popular Committee Against the Wall, J-Street, Peace Now, Human Rights Watch and Rabbis for Human Rights.

Read it all.

HT Yish.

Australian Workers’ Union National Secretary speaks against boycotting Israel

The Australian Workers Union believes that “a-worker-is-a-worker-is-a-worker“.

Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine (TULIP) has a transcript of a recent speech against boycotting Israel by its national secretary Paul Howes.

“I am proud of the fact that our union believes in, and supports, democratic societies, democratic institutions. I am proud to say our union has a long history of supporting the building of democratic civil society groups – like unions.

Well, how am I to apply AWU tradition in the context of the Middle East? I think I am upholding that union tradition when I work to support the development of the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions as an independent, democratic, civic society institution.

I think I am upholding that union tradition as I stand with the union movements of both Israel and Palestine, as they fight for workers rights on both sides of the Green Line.I think I am upholding that union tradition when I support the trust-building co-operative projects that the Israeli trade union movement – led by the Histadrut – and the Palestinian trade union movement – led by the PGFTU – are promoting.

If you truly believe that a-worker-is-a-worker-is-a-worker then the function of any trade union is to ensure fair pay for a fair day’s work and a safe and healthy workplace. This applies to an Israeli worker , this applies to a Palestinian worker. I can’t see how you can discriminate between an Israeli worker and a Palestinian worker. (Let alone a foreign worker from Asia or Africa working in Israel).

Our task now is to support and ensure that trade unions – Israeli or Palestinian – have the capacity to address these issues; and to do so co-operatively. It is because of these principles that I joined with fellow union leaders in the UK and the USA to establish Trade Unions Linking Israel and Palestine (TULIP).

That leads me to the new threat to Israel – Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS).”

Read it all.

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