Bernard-Henri Lévy on the Israel-Hamas war


David T reports from the anti-Israel demonstration in London

Singing “Hey Ho, Israel Gotta Go”, words and pictures, here.

Naomi Klein is wrong to call for a boycott of Israel – David Hirsh

In The Guardian and on Naomi Klein calls for “Israel to become the target of the kind of global movement that put an end to apartheid in South Africa.”

She wants Israeli sports teams to be chased out of the arena.

She wants Israeli scholars and teachers to be excluded from the world academic community.

She wants Israelis to be excluded from the economic, cultural and artistic life of humanity.

She argues that this is the “best strategy to end the increasingly bloody occupation” of Gaza and the West Bank.

She argues that it would be more fruitful in the fight for peace for the world to punish Israel than to engage constructively with it.

She argues that Israel is not like South Africa but she quotes Ronnie Kasrils approvingly saying that the “occupation is infinitely worse than apartheid”.

She argues that Israel should be singled out for punishment not because it is the only state which deserves it but because it is the only state where such punishment would “actually work”.

She argues that a boycott strategy would not cut communication with Israelis but that it would dramatically grow such engagement.

These are not arguments for a boycott, they are attempted rebuttals of obvious reasons to oppose such a boycott.

Astonishingly she doesn’t even bother to rebutt the most obvious reason which is that building a global campaign to punish Israel – and only Israel – would normalize hostility to the only Jewish state and to the overwhelming majority of Jews who would rightly and bravely oppose such a movement.

Klein wants to mobilize a mass worldwide movement to picket shops selling Israeli goods, to prevent Israeli sports teams from playing, to silence Israeli intellectuals, to boycott Israeli dancers, to shun Israeli firms, to black out Israeli movies.

She could only possibly countenance such a call if it is her judgment that racism against Jews is absolutely a thing of the past; a dead thing which could no longer grow; a thing which could never regain its virulence. Is that her jugment?

In Italy this week there is a campaign, no doubt inspired by Klein’s boycott movement, to ‘boycott’ Jewish shops.

In London this week a socialist pro-Palestinian activist was bundled off a demonstration against Israel’s war against Hamas by Islamists because he believed in Israel’s right to exist.

In London this week Jewish children have been bullied because of their responsibility for Israel’s war.

In London this week an attempt was made to firebomb a synagogue. There were attacks on synagogues in Toulouse, Toulon, Metz, Charleroi and Brussels; on a Jewish school in Brussels; on cars and shops belonging to Jews in the Kremlin Bicetre (France), in Toulon (France), Brussels and Antwerp (Belgium).

A gang of between 15 and 20 youths rampaged down Golders Green Road last Wednesday trying to force their way into Jewish restaurants and shops. A motorist was dragged from his car and assaulted. The following day, another car was driven up and down the road while its occupants shouted antisemitic slogans.

Hamas, the antisemitic movement which currently claims leadership of the Palestinians, and which organizes the killing of Israelis whenever it can manage it, has explicitly threatened to kill Jews around the world, and specifically Jewish children.

Antisemitism is not dead. Yet Klein proposes to build a mass, popular political movement across the world, to boycott Israel – and only Israel. She must judge that the danger of the accelerating emergence of antisemitism is trivial when compared to other political dangers.

Klein makes much of the precedent of the boycott against apartheid South Africa. But she doesn’t think to mention the rest of the history of boycotts against Jews.

Why does she not mention the fact that Jews have been subject to exclusions and boycotts by non-Jews routinely and across many centuries? How can she think that the boycott of South Africa is the only relevant precedent?

What kind of judgment does she make when she remembers the Nazi picket lines excluding Jews from Universities or preventing customers from entering Jewish shops?

It will be said that I am illegitimately attempting to “use” the history of antisemitism to protect Israel from the punishment that it deserves. But actually what I am doing is pointing out the huge political irresponsibility of inciting exclusions against Jews – and against nobody else. Experience demonstrates that where there is a movement for singling out Israelis for boycott, there follows antisemitic ways of thinking, antisemitic arguments and antisemitic exclusions of the Jews who oppose the movement.

It will be said that I am worrying about trifling inconveniences for Jews when I should be worrying about the much greater hardships faced by innocent Palestinian civilians who are being caught in the current war. I don’t accept the logic of this kind of political calculus of priorities. If I did, I would point out that hugely greater suffering of innocent civilians is being caused right now in Darfur, in Zimbabwe, in North Korea, in Congo, in Sri Lanka, in Afghanistan, in Iraq and in many other places. But antisemitism is, in itself, a serious harm and a serious danger. It is dangerous to Jews; it is a danger to peace in the Middle East; it infects and disables Palestine solidarity movements; it acts as an indicator of a profound sickness in precisely the kind of non-socialist radical political current of which Klein claims leadership.

Even if a boycott of Israel was a good idea in some ways, the danger of encouraging an antisemitic movement would outweigh the good. But in fact, there is nothing good about the arguments to boycott Israel – and only Israel.

Boycott is not a “non-violent” strategy as Klein argues. It is counterposed to a politics of peace and reconciliation between Israel and Palestine. It is war against Israel by other means. Boycott would therefore not be effective in ending the occupation. It could only be experienced by Israelis as an antisemitic attack. Israel was born in the aftermath of an antisemitic attack. It was an attack from which all of the world’s civilization was unable to rescue the Jews. It was an attack which drove many Jews to the conclusion that in the future they should put themselves in a position to defend themselves against antisemtic attacks without relying on anybody else. Boycott would not bring out the “dove” in most Israelis.

Israel is not like apartheid South Africa. I made that argument here. Other people made it here.

In backing a global “anti-apartheid” movement against Israel Klein is making a serious error of political judgment. But more importantly she is acting in a politically irresponsible way.

David Hirsh
Goldsmiths, University of London

Israeli basketball team ‘chased from court’ in Turkey

Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign crows about ‘boycott’ of Israelis.

Report from Turkish Weekly here.





Workers Liberty activist not welcome at Israeli embassy demo

This is from the Workers Liberty website.

At the nightly picket of the Israeli embassy, AWL comrade Robin Sivapalan was expelled from the demonstration after waving two small flags, one Palestinian, the other Israeli. The flag-waving attracted the attention of Islamists who attempted to wrest the flags away. Other protesters intervened one both sides, one person trying to rescue Robin into the crowd, until the Islamist men brought in the police to physically remove him from the protest.

TUC Aid Appeal – Give for Gaza

All proceeds from the appeal will be forwarded through the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) and the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) to support emergency humanitarian relief operations carried out by them in Gaza. All trade union relief operations are co-ordinated through Red Crescent in Jordan, Egypt and Gaza and focused on the identified needs of the people affected by the events. The first ITF-PGFTU humanitarian flight is due to leave for Gaza on 08 Jan 2009. The TUC supports an immediate ceasefire by both sides, and the pursuit of a political solution to the problems of the Middle East based on two states.