Harriet Sherwood on Israeli intransigence and somnolence

In an article published in the Guardian Harriet Sherwood quotes Netanyahu’s attack on Europe in which he invoked Nazi boycotts of Jewish businesses in order to highlight what he sees as the sinister implications of BDS.  People support BDS for different reasons, and implying that they are all motivated by antisemitism is probably not the best way to get them to engage with concerns about the strategy.  But Sherwood doesn’t acknowledge any problems in the BDS movement.

This is a serious charge, and one that causes deep discomfort to many who want to bring pressure to bear on the Israeli government over its policies towards the Palestinians, but who also vigorously oppose antisemitism in any form. Opposing the occupation does not equate to antisemitism or a rejection of Jews’ right to, and need for, a homeland. The repeated accusation of antisemitism does not make it true, however frequently it is levelled by those who defend Israel unconditionally.

Of course opposing the occupation does not equate to antisemitism or a rejection of Zionism, of Israel’s right to exist. But very many supporters of BDS see the whole of Israel as occupied territory – and certainly do not acknowledge either the right to, or need for, a Jewish homeland.  Just because accusations of antisemitism sometimes seem misplaced doesn’t mean they are never justified. And it is really misleading to imply that all those expressing concerns ‘defend Israel unconditionally’.

Sherwood goes on to distinguish between those who only boycott settlement goods and those who think all cultural, academic and sporting ties with Israel should be off limits.  She acknowledges that some feel this is a step too far, but her own rhetoric implies approval for a maximalist approach:

But others – increasingly frustrated by Israel’s intransigence, the dismal prospects for the peace process, and the failure of the international community to back up critical words with meaningful actions – say that only when Israeli citizens and institutions feel the consequences of their government’s policies will they force change from within.

Many Israelis are shielded from the occupation. To those soaking up the sun on a Tel Aviv beach or working in a hi-tech hub in Haifa, Gaza and the West Bank feel like another planet. The daily grind experienced by more than 4 million Palestinians living under military occupation just a few dozen miles away barely registers. A boycott – whether it’s the ending of academic links; the refusal of artists to perform; the divestment of international companies for reputational reasons; or a consumer rejecting Israeli produce in the supermarket – has the potential to jolt Israelis from this somnolence.

I don’t think you have to ‘defend Israel unconditionally’ to feel (like the writers of the New York Times piece quoted below) that there may be fault on both sides in the peace talks.

Mr. Kerry is not about to give up on the process. But like Mr. Baker, he is dealing with two parties that are paralyzed by intransigence and fall back on provocations: Israel announcing new Jewish settlements and refusing to release Palestinian prisoners; the Palestinians, in response, applying to join international organizations and issuing a list of new demands.

The picture of Israelis soaking up the sun as proof of their ‘somnolence’ is meaningless moralising – presumably even supporters of B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence occasionally go to the beach.  It’s a little like using a picture of a shopping mall or fancy hotel to ‘prove’ that there are no problems in Gaza.

43 Responses to “Harriet Sherwood on Israeli intransigence and somnolence”

  1. josephinebacon Says:

    “It’s a little like using a picture of a shopping mall or fancy hotel to ‘prove’ that there are no problems in Gaza”. No it isn’t, because there are many elegant buildings and luxury homes in Gaza, all paid for by EU money. The Gaza oligarchy do not care about the unemployment and poverty, they wallow in the hand-outs from the EU and taxpayers like you and me. If Harriet Sherwood is not herself an antisemite, she is an utter hypocrite and a liar because as an enthusiastic supporter of BDS she must have heard masses of overtly antisemitic comments from her fellow boycotters. When one compares the so-called “peace process” to the humungous injustices that are being perpetrated against innocent victims throughout the world – Venezuela, Cuba, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, the Central African Republic, I could go on … the whole Israel-Palestine thing pales into insignificance. The fact that so many people who are not even Israeli or Palestinian are so deeply involved in condemning one side unilaterally speaks volumes about their mindset.

  2. sometimesantisocialalwaysantifascist Says:

    You’re spot on with your last sentence – it like IDS going on about big tellies and that to prove his benefit cuts are harmless. OMG THEY’RE AT THE BEACH

  3. DrBrianRobinson Says:

    I have heard and read all the arguments as to why BDS in all its forms isn’t, apart from a few exceptions, antisemitic. Many practitioners and advocates of, say, the academic and cultural form of it, will insist, and I believe they do so in good faith, that they have no anti-Jewish animus (although I recognise that some do so in bad faith). I have read many philosophical and linguistic analyses of such words as ‘antisemitism’, ‘antisemitic’, and so on, and many of them are rigorous and highly persuasive. But even having regard to all that, I can’t help feeling that, in the end, there is something antisemitic, and heavily so, about the whole endeavour.

    It simply isn’t enough for the advocates of BDS to respond to critics with sneers such as ‘whataboutery’, because I have never yet read an adequate response to the charge of ‘singling out’. Even what to my mind is one of the better BDS arguments, applicable only to practitioners in the USA, doesn’t really stack up, namely the one about US citizens’ ‘tax dollars’ supporting Israeli activities, because US tax dollars go to support all kinds of things in the world of which liberals, progressives and humanists couldn’t approve. Why just object to what the tax dollars pay for in Israel?

    But the main problem, I think, with the whole BDS project, especially in its academic / cultural forms, apart from the charge of consequential if not intentional antisemitism, is that it is divisive. The boycott tactic was not divisive in the case of South Africa, indeed on the contrary it united disparate elements within the society. In the case of the boycott being directed against Israel, it does not unite people who might otherwise join together to make the Israeli government, say, stop settlement-building in the West Bank, end discriminatory laws, and so on. Indeed, the very aims of boycotters are, as has often been pointed out, confused.

    And so, simply as a tactic, it is incoherent. Which is not to say that it doesn’t make a great bandwagon.

    • Maya M Says:

      To me the “tax-dollars” argument made in the US context to justify boycott of Israelis is a very weak one for another reason. Those US political activists that believe that their taxes are spent in wrong and immoral ways should fight their battle in their country to mobilize their fellow citizens and pressure their government to change the way its spends tax dollars.

      The pro-boycott argument that appeals to tax dollars for justification is absurd. It goes something like this:
      1. Israelis should be punished by means of boycott for the bad deeds of their government, because they are collectively responsible for these deeds or benefit from them.
      2. Our government (the US government) facilitates those bad deeds with financial support.
      Therefore 3. We, Americans, should boycott Israelis.
      Well, NO. what follows from 1 and 2 is that Americans should be boycotted for the bad deeds of their government. Not that they, Americans, should boycott others, for the bad deeds of the US government.

      Logic 101, anyone?

      • Jacob Arnon Says:

        What is wrong with the tax argument is that it assumes that Israel is a banana Republic that is maintained by US tax dollars. I have met many people on the left who know very little about contemporary Israeli economic reality. They assume that without American tax dollars the country would fall apart as other countries receiving American aid.
        The reality is very different: the Israeli economy is huge and the country will not disintegrate without US aid.
        A few years back Israel asked the US to scale back its economic aid but the US Administration asked them to continue receiving that aid because congress would not appropriate aid to Egypt and other Arab countries which would fall apart without American support. The Egyptian economy is one of the most fragile in the world.
        The aid that Israel needs from the US is military and diplomatic support. But the moneys it receives for military purposes it uses to buy American made military hardware. Moreover Israel and the US have many military projects in common and have been aiding each other with new weapons systems especially in the area of missile and antimissile technology.

        Former defense secretary Gates had this to say about it:

        “U.S. President Obama’s former Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates categorized the relationship between U.S. and Israel with the following: “I cannot recall a time during my public life when our two countries have had a closer defense relationship. The U.S. and Israel are cooperating closely in areas such as missile defense technology, the Joint Strike Fighter, and in training exercises such as Juniper Stallion…our bilateral relationship and this dialogue is so critical because Israel lives at the focal point of some of the biggest security challenges facing the free world: violent extremism, the proliferation of nuclear technologies, and the dilemmas posed by adversarial and failed states. And I think it important, especially at a time of such dramatic change in the region, to reaffirm once more America’s unshakable commitment to Israel’s security.”[5][6]”


        The tax issue is just plain stupid because the US is NOT wasting tax money on Israel. Those who wish to cut aid will need to prove that it is in the US interest to do so.

        The ethical argument is dead and will remain dead as long as the anti-Israel forces will not acknowledge

        (A) The Israel is a Jewish State

        (B) that Israel has a right to live in piece within mutually agreed borders,

        (C) that the turmoil in the area which has claimed over a hundred thousand lives and left over a million refugees will not engulf Israel, and

        (D) That the Palestinian refugees be allowed to become citizens in the countries in which they reside now if they so wish.

        It is not in the interest of the US to curtail its alliance with the Jewish State. It is in the interest of Hezbollah, Hamas and above all the resurgent Islamic Republic of Turkey. Is this what BDS is all about?

  4. Jacob Arnon Says:

    Harriet Sherwood, I don’t support Netanyahu’s stand on settlements and I wish someone other than he were Prime Minister now, still, he has got one thing right BDS as a political program is antisemitic.

    It doesn’t matter what individual’s who support BDS say. BDS’s aim is to de-legitimize the Jewish State which is what makes it antisemitic. There is no movement BDS movement against any other country no matter how odious their human rights practices are. Only Israel is the target of BDS. Is there a BDS movement against Russia, or Iran or Syria (where the number people killed is now over one hundred and fifty thousand and over a million displaced people? Where is the BDS movement against Lebanon where a government faction Hezbollah has helped perpetrate atrocities against civilians in Syria?

    Moreover, people have been pro-Fascist or National socialist for all sorts of reasons some like Heidegger claimed not to have been antisemitic. Hence saying that people support BDS for all sorts of reasons is not a valid claim that it is not antisemitic

  5. sometimesantisocialalwaysantifascist Says:

    I don’t think it’s necessarily antisemitic tbh. I know a few decent people with good politics who support it but I don’t think it is a particularly effective strategy and certainly not one that’s gonna attract support of the Jewish or Israeli working class

    • Jacob Arnon Says:

      Saying that it isn’t antisemitic is not an argument, anti.

      Neither is appealing to “decent” people proof that it isn’t.

      BDS could turn out to be a kind of ” Fascist International ” which Hannah Arendt argued was the essence of antisemitism.

      • sometimesantisocialalwaysantifascist Says:

        I am just saying from my own experience. I don’t support BDS by the way.

      • Lynne T Says:

        Could turn out? The poster boy / stump circuit star of BDS, who cannot bring himself to boycott Israeli academics who are his own teachers, has made it clear that the goal of BDS is a binational state, which he expects to rise phoenix-like from Israel’s ashes as a secular democratic one, notwithstanding what is going on in virtually every country on Israel’s borders except for Jordan at the moment, and Jordan is under serious threat.

        The BDSers who claim they wish only do so as a “non-violent means” to bring about the end of “the occupation” without acknowledging what is likely to happen on the heels of a wholesale Israeli withdrawal are pretty much what Orwell had to say about “intellectual pacifists” during WW II — fascists by default.

  6. Aloevera Says:

    Readers here may be interested in this recent essay:


    “The Problem with Judith Butler: The Political Philosophy of the Movement to Boycott Israel”

  7. sometimesantisocialalwaysantifascist Says:

    Don’t get me wrong I know for ia fact that there areantisemites involved, I’ve met some very unpleasant characters who were into it. But I don’t think that the BDS movement is full of antisemites. I think it is full of people that ignore antisemitism. And I don’t think that saying it is antisemitic is the best argument to make against it, I would make the argument that it is liberal consumer politics and that it is essentially asking the EU and USA to put sanctions on a ‘rogue state’ completely ignoring what the population of the country think about it. I would also ask why there’s a boycott against Israel and not against say China, to an extent it is because Israel is an easy target.

  8. DrBrianRobinson Says:

    “Because Israel is an easy target.” I was going to make a point about this the other day, but forgot. It’s not, I think, that it’s an “easy” target, although I know what you mean: anti-Israel activists often speak about alleged obstacles in the way of getting their messages across, I’ve heard them speak of “a campaign like no other”, and one of the most common complaints they make is to refer to something called “Israeli exceptionalism”, why Israel (as they claim) is not held to account by “the international community”. I once believed this argument held some force, until I read the historian Mark Curtis’s fascinating and disturbing book, “Secret Affairs: Britain’s Collusion with Radical Islam” (updated edition 2012, publ Serpent’s Tail). Incidentally the book carries an endorsement by John Pilger, no less.

    Anyone who thought there was anything “exceptional” about Israel in terms of (please excuse mixed metaphors) being let off hooks, had blind eyes turned on it, soft-soaped, kid-gloved and the rest, would soon have to drop that notion as they worked through Curtis’s chapters on, oh let’s just pick one to save space, Saudi Arabia. (By the way, Curtis’s earlier book “Web of Deceit: Britain’s Real Role in the World”, which also met with Pilger’s approval, would also prompt any honest UK BDS supporter to take a close look in the mirror for beams and motes. Throw in glass houses and stones.

    And of course with respect to Saudi Arabia, well, the USA is even worse: where 87 billion dollars’ worth of arms sales are the most important issue of the day, who cares about human rights there, gender apartheid, and let’s not go here into matters concerning religious empire-building. I’d better stop at that.

    So I wouldn’t say the campaigners have it easy, necessarily. But the world and its problems are today immensely complex, and getting more so literally by the hour. Who can even absorb the extent of it, let alone know where and how to begin to deal with it? The easy thing is to reduce the complexity to something manageable, something that can be stated (simplistically of course) in a few paragraphs and even better if it’s reducible to catchy slogans. And of course something familiar to western culture, even if the echoes of Sunday School have grown increasingly faint within it. Thus a relatively small territorial squabble at the eastern end of the Mediterranean becomes *the* issue. A very fragile hook, one might have thought, upon which to attempt to hang every trouble, but that’s human nature for you.

    The other day I was having a friendly argument with someone about the Shoah (a term I use to describe the Nazi genocide perpetrated on the Jews of Europe, as distinct from what I take to be the wider usage for the term, Holocaust, involving others besides Jewish victims – a usage not everyone would accept, but I think it makes sense). I maintain that the Nazi policy was directed primarily and mainly against Jews (the Israeli historian Yehuda Bauer maintains that this is a point even yet not sufficiently understood in Europe and elsewhere). My interlocutor maintained that this was not so, that “from the start”, the Nazis intended to exterminate a wide range of peoples. They only (he maintains) “started” on the Jews, because being the weakest in Europe at the time they were the easiest (of course they started with mentally and physically long term sick, but that’s another debate).

    It’s true that the Jews were weak in the Europe of the period, and the position of Israel is not comparable to that of the European Jews. But some campaigners when chided about singling out Israel for special punishment will indeed regularly say that the larger intention is indeed to move on to a more general assault on human rights infringements, when they’ve got the Israel/Palestine conflict sorted — that they’re only starting with Israel because that’s the most clear-cut, black-and-white issue of the day. Is that a roundabout way of saying (and avoiding) the word ‘easy’? (A friend of mine actually admits that he’d like to boycott China, but it’s simply too difficult.)

    • Suada Says:

      I’d also offer a measured endorsement of Mark Curtis’ book. It gives an interesting account of Britain’s (and America, to an extent) relationships with radical Islamic regimes and movements in the name of realpolitik. Its account of Britain-Saudi relationship is particularly interesting and disturbing as you say; even if I find his political analysis often quite tendentious. For example, when it comes to south-eastern Europe, Curtis is on very shaky ground indeed. One may also find his analysis on Israel quite tendentious in parts.

      The ironic thing about the attempts to boycott Israeli academics by the BDS is that Israel’s academics have for many years been at the forefront of criticism of Israel’s policies in the West Bank and Gaza. Those are the people the BDS sets out to damage and de-legitimize, suggesting something quite sinister at play.

    • Jacob Arnon Says:

      “(A friend of mine actually admits that he’d like to boycott China, but it’s simply too difficult.)”

      Boycotting China, even if successful, is different in kind than a boycott of Israel. I will come back to this.

      You make some important points, Dr. Robinson, especially with regards to the Holocaust. But, it is all part of the same story, Brian: the aim is to delegitimize not just the Jewish State but the Jewish people. This is truer by people on the left which has always had a difficult time accepting Jewishness in all its incarnations.

      We like to think of antisemites as a right wing ideology. But before it was a right wing ideology it was left wing dogma. Maurice Barrès the French chauvinist antisemite, and according to a recent book by Frederick Brown: “The embrace of Unreason: France 1914-1940) the originator of the term nationalism as an extreme ideology, was a socialist before he became a right wing antisemite. Even more ironic, according to a recent book: Sperber, Jonathan: “Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life (2013) It was the 19c left including Marx who introduced nationalism into Prussia because it challenged the Monarchy there. The examples are too numerous not to take seriously left wing antisemitism.

      Jewish leftists have a hard time recognizing antisemitism in their midst because that would mean admitting to themselves that some of their best friends are antisemites. It is terrifying to admit that this is indeed the case. Antisemitism seldom targets individuals. Our view of the antisemites as hoodlums who attack Jews physically, while true, is not the most dangerous form of antisemitism.
      The most dangerous form is antisemitism as dogma of nation states, of religions, and of political parties and sects.
      Today Jew hatred is covert and implied rather than open and explicit. At times as in Hungary and France today it does surface and shows its ugly face. When this happens many people, both Jews and non-Jews, try to analyze it away.

      Hence it is not surprising that many try to explain that BDS is not antisemitic when the policy of this loose confederation of individuals is the de-legitimization of the Jewish State and hence antisemitic.
      We need to learn to see what is plainly in front of us: antisemitism is embraced but both wings of modern political ideologies: the right as well as the left. They each see Jews as either a throwback to an earlier time or as dangerous enemies who try to manipulate non-Jews for personal gain.

      Hence, boycotts of Israel are different in kind than boycotts of China, Iran or Saudi-Arabia. If successful, a boycott of Israel would abolish the Jewish State while a boycott of China would merely target its current regime.

    • zaccaerdydd Says:

      Excellent set of comments, Brian, very much appreciated input.

      • Brian Goldfarb Says:

        Three extracts from Jacob Arnon, just above:
        “This is truer by people on the left which has always had a difficult time accepting Jewishness in all its incarnations.”
        “Maurice Barrès the French chauvinist antisemite…was a socialist before he became a right wing antisemite.”
        “Jewish leftists have a hard time recognizing antisemitism in their midst”

        Only up to a point. I regard myself as a “leftist” (of the democratic socialist variety), and I’m quite willing to admit that certain of those who should be my allies are anything but. Most people on the democratic left are anti-racist and they include Jews among those who qualify for protection from racism. A clear distinction needs to be made between the vast majority of those on the democratic left and those on the left who qualify as the “rancid left” (copyright Noga of The Contentious Cemtrist website), usually from the far (and very undemocratic) left.

        As for Barres, the same applies to Mussolini and Mosley – though Mosley went from the conventional Right to the Left and back again.

        And as for the third quote, as a “Jewish leftist”, neither I nor my friends have an at all hard time recognising antisemitism in our midst, which I have I have been consistently rude to all sorts of commenters on these pages since this website started.

        • Jacob Arnon Says:

          Brian, I don’t know how to answer your post except to say that the list of Socialists and Marxists how have moved to the right is a formidable one.

          No, not all of them became fascists Jewish leftists could hardly have embraced antisemitic movements (except for a few mental cases), some avoided that trap ;by inventing their own form of right wing politics (the Neo Conservatives for example), others like David Horowitz, whose Radical Son: A Generational Odyssey explained clearly why he moved away from the left and embraced aConservative (though not radical) ideology.


          His book is very well written and even enjoyable here and there.

          I do understand the difference between “the vast majority of the democratic left and the right wing left. Still with regards to Israel how much of a distinction is there>

          Take Norway, for example which has an anti-Israel government. This government was voted in by “the vast majority of people of the democratic left persuasion has it not? (Norway is instructive in another sense Norwegians vote for the left because they are the beneficiaries of the vast oil wealth the country has. Will they stop voting for the left if that oil wealth runs out?)

          Finally I made the point that Jewish leftists have a hard time recognizing antisemitism in their midst. If they did they would have to recognize that their most cherished of ideologies is not as benign as they were led to believe. Besides most of their leftist friends accept them, so how can they be seen as antisemites?

          Horowitz too had a very hard time accepting what was in front of his nose. He wasn’t alone.

          I write this as a former leftist who did not move to the right and I am familiar with the way people can kid themselves about the nature of the left.

        • Jacob Arnon Says:

          btw: Mr. Goldfarb, I have been reading your posts here off and on for a long time and i usually agree with much of what you write. This is one of the rare exceptions where we disagree.

        • Brian Goldfarb Says:

          Hopefully, this will get to the bottom of this section.

          Thank you, Jacob, for the compliment concerning much of my posted commentary. However, I’m finding that increasing numbers of the conventional centre and conventional right of democratic politics are insisting that all on the left are lumped together with the “rancid left”. That is, because of the likes of Nick Cohen’s “progressives” (see “What’s Left?”, passim), everyone who (in the UK context, for example) is opposed to the Con-Lib coalition is lumped together with trotskyites, stalinists, et al, when most supporters of the Labour Party are either pro-Israel or indifferent, and certainly have no truck with BDS. Indeed, I have just had a run-in with a couple of commenters over on Richard Millet’s blog who take exactly that stance: because of the likes of Jeremy Corbyn, MP, the whole of the Parliamentary Labour Party is damned. Which is arrant nonsense. Is the whole of the Lib-Dem party in the UK to be condemned because of Richard Ward MP and/or Lady Jenny Tonge? Or the Conservatives because of some loathsome, club bore type antisemite? Hardly. The left, however…

          I’d actually like an answer (not necessarily from Jacob, from anyone who takes this stance). To answer in the affirmative is to condemn, essentially, 40%+ of British politics and voters as antisemites (let’s not beat about the bush)and praise the rest as pro-Israel and philosemites to a person – which we all know is arrant nonsense. Yet for lots of people on the right and centre at present, this is actually the stance they appear to take.

          So, to the likes of this group, I find common cause with the likes of Anne’s Opinions (to be found at http://anneinpt.wordpress.com/), even though she is plainly a supporter of Netanyahu and Likud, whereas, if I were an Israeli voter, I’d be found voting, ideally, for Labor or, if that seemed counter-productive, possibly Yesh Atid. She knows my politics, I know hers, and she quite happily posts articles from me.

          So where’s the logic to this?

          Please don’t extend “antisemitism as the socialism of fools” to the whole left. intelligent people are supposed to know better.

          Do they?

  9. sometimesantisocialalwaysantifascist Says:

    Well you have to remember that these people don’t really know about what the average Israeli, the average Jew or even the average Palestinian thinks about all this, it’s liberal single issue bollocks, like the whole idea of if you buy something ethical then it removes all of the issues of capitalism, and they also tend to view politics even closer to home as some ‘save the whale’ type thing, ie viewing whoever they are trying to help whether it’s Palestinians or ‘the poor’ as passive victims, ‘the voiceless’ who can’t speak for themselves and need some middle class liberal to do it for them.

    Like one example – a mate recently went to one of these ‘Palestine embassy’ type places run by psc types, I looked at the website for it and it includes both a nightclub and a Nakba museum, you don’t have to be a genius to work out how insensitive that is and one wonders what ordinary Palestinians in the UK make of all this

  10. Jacob Arnon Says:

    A “Nakba museum?” is that like a Shoah museum, “Anti”? Where more than a million children were murdered? I am not being either glib or facetious. The PA often equate the refugees of 1948 to the murder of European Jewry. This along with their denial of Jewish very long history in the Judea and Roman Palestine is their attempt to delegitimate the Jewish State.

  11. sometimesantisocialalwaysantifascist Says:

    By the way, you don’t have to tell me about antisemitism in psc/the BDS movement, I was involved in it for a couple of years and left for that reason, I don’t however think every single person involved in that organization is antisemitic, a lot are very good well meaning people, the problem isn’t the antisemites so much as there’s a culture of ignoring antisemitism or not recognizing it, the antisemites get key positions in branches etc and they are the ones doing most of the talking and a lot of the ‘activism’

    • Jacob Arnon Says:

      “Anti,” I am neither trying to tell you about antisemitism in the BDS movement nor anywhere else. I have learned from experience that one Jew can’t tell another Jew about antisemitism. (This is also true I am told among Blacks and other minorities in the US. People have to come across it for themselves, otherwise it’s another useless lecture. It sounds to me that already did experience it and I am sorry you did. I wish antisemitism didn’t exist, but sadly it is a fact of life for too many individual Jews even in the non antisemitic US—I am not being ironic.)

      I also wasn’t being aggressive towards you, though it’s obvious that you felt that I was. Besides I wasn’t just addressing you personally and I don’t know why you seem so defensive. Still,, I am sorry you felt that I was attacking you.

      I agree when you say: “…the problem isn’t the antisemites so much as there’s a culture of ignoring antisemitism or not recognizing it, the antisemites get key positions…”

      It’s been my experience that antisemitism is ignored because of a lack of historical knowledge even among leftist Jews (I am not excluding myself). Antisemitism is thousands of years old and most of us know only the highlights: a pogrom here, a holocaust there, (we survived lets’ eat goes the joke).
      After the latest and most extensive pogrom in Europe many Europeans even former antisemites seemed satiated for a while. It seems to me that the beast is hungry again. It would be suicide for European Jews not to learn their history. You can’t laugh bigotry away.

      I have read thousands of books in my life and I am still being surprised by the extent and depth of Jews hatred in Europe and the Arab world.

      In the sixties I worked in the civil rights movement and even there we encountered antisemitism among the very people we were trying to help by eliminating segregation: some of it had to do within the difficulty people have of thanking their benefactors. We Jews are not exempt here. In a recent book Dara Horn tells the story of Varian Fry who helped rescue hundreds of Jews stranded in France in the early 40’s. many of the people he rescued were big names in European literature and the other arts including the then unknown Hannah Arendt. When many of these people came to the US they refused to acknowledge what Mr. Fry a very decent Wasp (I use the term with a lot of respect here) did for them.


      I am not apologizing for the antisemites I encountered in the civil rights movement in the US. On the contrary, I would like to see them exposed, though some (like alice Walker) have been doing a good job exposing themselves.
      I don’t think it’s a general truth that those who don’t learn from history are condemned to repeat it. I think thought that this is true for the Jewish people. Lately in Eastern and Western Europe it feels like we have learned very little. Pretending that postmodern culture there is different is bunk.

      • sometimesantisocialalwaysantifascist Says:

        Fair enough, was a work so couldn’t reply to your comments.

        Yeah I have experienced antisemitism in the left, I used to be quite heavily involved in the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, I could tell you some stories…oy

        I’m not sure that I agree with evetything in your reply but I will try to come back and give it the reply it deserves, you are right that it is still a serious problem but I think that one good thing is that these people are a lot less relevant than they think they are, outside of a lefty activist bubble few non Jewish people have actually given it much thought, and even a mate of mine in the psc disagrees with it

        Actually it was a Palestinian bloke I once worked with who got me to think about my views, and not swallow that line so uncritically

      • sometimesantisocialalwaysantifascist Says:

        A mate who used to be in the psc and left around same time as me I mean

    • Lynne T Says:

      I think a lot of BDS support is about the snowball effect. The Palestinians, with the help of however many countries in the UN, the media and academe have managed to elevate them as the #1 brand of righteous oppressed ever since the resounding defeat of the seven day war. Finklestein wrote/talks about the Holocaust Industry. Well I don’t think there was much exaggeration about the decimation of European Jews and far too little is known about what was done to the Jews of the MENA courtesy of the Mufti of Jerusalem’s work. But we do seem to have a bit of a Naqba industry that has seen the wearing of kefiyyahs become the measure of one’s commitment to human rights, as opposed to say, the wearing of any article of clothing to show solidarity with Tibetans, etc.

      Some of the most passionate of the BDS supporters may be more motivated by narcissist / histrionic tendencies than antisemitism per se is all I’m sayin’.

      • Jacob Arnon Says:

        “Some of the most passionate of the BDS supporters may be more motivated by narcissist / histrionic tendencies than antisemitism per se is all I’m sayin’”

        Thanks for your reply Lynne,

        I agree with much of what you wrote Lynn, but I have a problem with the sentence posted above.

        I don’t know if you meant your last sentence as a summary of your post, or it’s merely an afterthought

        The BDS’s could very well be motivated by narcissism Nut does it really matter if they are associated by narcissism or by rank hatred of Jews? I suspect that many Jew haters are motivated by jealousy, but that too doesn’t matter.

        What does matter is the that the aim of the organization they joined is antisemitic. I have given my reasons for saying that elsewhere here and won’t repeat them now.

        There is a wonderful little review by the indomitable Adam Kirsch in the Jewish Review of books which takes on towards the end of he review two prominent critics of the existence of the Jewish State. Here the relevant paragraph:

        “The very debate has played out, fascinatingly and a bit ominously, in the work of Alain Badiou, who is often described as the greatest living French philosopher. Badiou presents in a formal, philosophical language the same idea that Rose advances through her reading of Proust: the idea that the word “Jew” is only a predicate, or, better, that it should be only a predicate. In a series of articles collected in his recent book Polemics, Badiou argues that there are two opposed meanings concealed in the word Jew. One is the Jew as defined by community, tradition, and politics, one might say, as defined by him or herself. To Badiou, as to Rose, this is a corrupt and implicitly oppressive use of the word, because it allows Jewishness to be a positive identity, and positive identity is the source of ethnic violence and partition, notably, though not only, in Israel and Palestine”


        (If you cannot access it here you can find it in the Summer 13 issue of the Review.)

        Rose and Badiou make it clear that their aim isn’t just the dissolution of the Jews State, but the dissolution of the Jewish people. This I believe is the real aim of BDS. This is what needs to be addressed and to the public realizations they have all learned to repeat to the media and to Jewish organizations.

        We ignore this at our peril. ..

        • sometimesantisocialalwaysantifascist Says:

          Ugh. For what it is worth, I am very very proud of being a Jew. Not in a nationalist way but I am happy with my faith. Being a Jew is no more intrinsically oppressive to the Palestinians (and what about those of us who are being discriminated against themselves such as in Russia etc) than being a Christian is to say Muslims in the central African republic.

          I really cannot stand arguments like this, especially as I am on a low income and have never been to Israel myself, it is really disgusting.

  12. sometimesantisocialalwaysantifascist Says:

    I would also add that antisemitism isn’t the only prejudice to be found with these people one of them told me that I was ‘very knowledgeable for a woman’ heh heh!

  13. DrBrianRobinson Says:

    I thought we were agreed that it’s possible unwittingly to do and say things that are racist without the person concerned actually being consciously racist. Of course once the nature of the action, remark or attitude is made clear to them, if they persist in behaving as previously, then they are indeed racist. That was a main finding of the Macpherson Report: for example a policeman dutifully carrying out “stop-and-search” might himself not be at all racist, but the policy that he is required by his seniors to carry out is institutionally racist. But then of course the whole thing may become only too easily blurred, and true racists may claim that they’re only doing their job.

    I do not support the academic and cultural boycott of Israel, as I’ve said, although I think there might well be a case for targeted, selective economic boycotts of goods produced in factories in the settlements in the West Bank.

    I do think that an awful lot of the time we, ie human beings, have to live with ambiguity, uncertainty as well as definitions that don’t have hard edges or clear boundaries. I maintain that that human predicament often requires us to hold incompatible ideas in our heads simultaneously if not all of them consciously at all times. The failure to do that is what often leads to lethal dogmatism, although I admit that it’s often quite difficult to live with ambiguity. That’s the seductiveness of dogma.

    Thus it may for instance be psychologically possible to hold a view that the creation of the state of Israel was a wrong, although perfectly comprehensible, answer to antisemitism, and also hold that now that it exists, Israel must continue to do so; it’s possible (I believe) to hold that, as for instance Shlomo Sand argues, there is no such ethnos as the Jewish people in the way that there is such a thing as the French people, and yet to believe strongly that — even though Jews speak different languages, eat different foods, don’t all live in the same place — there is *something*, however ineffable, that unites and binds us. (Even if we identify ourselves as secular, and practice no religion at all, we nevertheless still know very well what precisely it is that we are *supposed* to believe and do: negation presupposes acknowledgement. “We don’t believe *that* or practice *that*” still recognises the same, or roughly the same, “that”.)

    So I really do believe that it’s possible, whether one is Jewish or not, to think that Israel isn’t really a Jewish state at all, to go further and hold that Zionism has been a corrupting influence on both Judaism and Jews, and also to fight for the absolute right of Jews to live in security in the world — in other words, to believe those things and not be antisemitic. It’s also perfectly true that one could believe the same things and be a virulent antisemite.

    But unresolved ambiguities only take us so far, and there comes a time when we really have to decide. And perhaps paradoxically it’s the very momentum of the BDS movement that did it for me. That’s why I said above that it’s divisive. And increasingly it has become a shibboleth.

  14. sometimesantisocialalwaysantifascist Says:

    As a communist I don’t believe in any states and I also don’t think there is necessarily any contradiction, I don’t think as many seem to here that the BDS movement is intrinsically racist, I do however think that there’s a culture in it of ignoring racism, andthis is partly due to the fact that PSC is a very broad church, with all sorts of people in it, there’s really no requirement for membership or any sort of political education given beyond ‘look how terrible this is’ meaning that you got very intelligent people with good politics involved, whose views I respect and were not motivated by antisemitism, to the likes of conspiracy theorists and ‘ukip friends of Palestine’ (this is actually real I am not making this up). In addition it is entirely a single issue movement, in all of these groups there is no real attempt to look at other conflicts in the world like Sri Lanka, Western Sahara, and how they are similar (or not) if they did so then maybe it would discourage the types who have an obsession with ‘Zionism’ behind everything bad in the world. And with a few exceptions they are not really involved in any community politics in the local area.

    Also I think that part of the reason for some groups involvement in this movement is a pure opportunism, the SWP and stop the war spring to mind but locally the lib dems and others were also involved. These people just want to promote their own group and not challenge the dodgy views (not just antisemitism) and don’t really care who their supporters are.

    • Brian Goldfarb Says:

      “I don’t think as many seem to here that the BDS movement is intrinsically racist” (says sometimesantisocial…). Umm, maybe not, but, in that case, while Israel, the only Jewish state in the whole world, and not, say, Syria, which is quite small and manageable as a boycott object? Is it the “only” that makes it so attractive? No large number of co-religionists to protest, loudly, about Islamaphobia? Or Christianphobia? Or whatever? After all, there’s only 8 million of them, and only a further 7 to 10 million in the whole wide world. After all, not enough to cause any grief.

      Anyone would think that the BDSers feared that the rulers of the world might be out to get them.

      Fancy that.

      • sometimesantisocialalwaysantifascist Says:

        I think that is basically it yeah, Israel is targeted because it is an easy target and if you want to be ultra cynical about it its an attempt for these people to regain their credibility without actually having to do anything. I’ve heard a lot about the ucu and their stupid ‘one hour strikes’ for example, like anyone is gonna take that seriously !

        I really don’t want to defend these people when I say that its not intrinsically antisemitic, I hope some of them wake up and look at the damage they have caused the last couple of years, I think their ignoring it and tolerating it within that movement and on the left has been one of the things that helped it to increase, and it has increased, quite a lot, I don’t ever remember it being as bad as this.

  15. sometimesantisocialalwaysantifascist Says:

    To be honest it is still saying that if the Jews were to change their identity then everything would be fine which is an absurd analysis of Israel and Palestine and relies on emotional blackmail

  16. soupyone Says:

    There are many fascinating arguments here, both powerful and lucid, as well as a bit of anecdote.

    But let us try a small thought experiment:

    1) If the pro-boycotter’s case has nothing, in anyway, connected with animus towards Jews then we should be able to test that, empirically

    2) By studying the sentiments (pro-boycotting of Israelis or not) amongst hardline antisemites it should be possible to draw a conclusion

    3)Twitter provides the most ready and available source of hardline antisemites, thus by using its search facility (a quick and easy tool) we can determine how they feel about boycotting Israelis.

    We do not need to question people’s motives or speculate on what might be behind their views, when the evidence (indisputable facts) can clarify how entrenched antisemites view this issue, therefore settling the question.

    However, I somehow doubt that pro-BDSers would be prepared to investigate this matter in any serious way!

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