Why BDS is antisemitic – David Hirsh

  1.  BDS is a global campaign against Israel and only Israel.  It seeks to foment sufficient emotional anger with Israel, and with only Israel, so that people around the world will want to punish Israel, and only Israel.
  2. We are free to criticize whoever we want to criticize and people attracted by BDS are critical about other human rights abuses too; but this specific punishment, exclusion from the global community, is proposed only against Israel.  BDS cannot be defended as free speech; it goes beyond speech into action.  See this debate for more on the issues of singling out Israel; the debate continues here.
  3. BDS says that it seeks to punish only Israeli institutions and not to silence or exclude Israeli individuals.  This is not true.  Israeli individuals, academics, athletes, artists, actors, film-makers, work inside Israeli institutions; where else could they work?  If BDS demands that Israelis should not be part of institutions then it puts an eccentric demand on Israelis.  Follow this link for what happened when the BDS movement tried to disrupt a Hebrew production of Merchant of Venice in London.
  4. The BDS demand that for Israelis to be accepted in the global community they have to emigrate, and so not be part of Israeli institutions, is a claim about the essential illegitimacy of the Israeli state.  See ‘The Myth of the Institutional Boycott‘ for more on this.
  5. Sometimes BDS argues that there should be a political test rather than an institutional test.  For example Israelis have been challenged to criticize Israeli ‘apartheid’ – and if they fail to do so in the terms required of them then they are excluded.  But proponents of BDS never explain what kind of machinery would be set up in a university in Britain, say, or America, to test the political cleanliness of an Israeli.  And they never explain why such a McCarthyite blacklist would only be set up for Israelis.  For more on McCarthyism and BDS, see Steve Cohen here.
  6. BDS is careful to remain ambiguous on the question of Israel’s legitimacy.  It says that it is appropriate for people who oppose only the post 1967 occupation but it also refuses to make a distinction between Israeli institutions within Israel and within the West Bank.  BDS refuses clarity on what it means by the Palestinian ‘right of return’ and it thinks about the creation of the state of Israel itself as the root of the problem.
  7. BDS talks about Israel as a colonial settler state or an apartheid state but it allows no conception of Israel as a life-raft state, a haven for the un-dead of Europe, a home for Jews ethnically cleansed from the great cities of the Middle East, or as an asylum for the Jews who limped away from the carcass of the Soviet Union.  For more on the progressive case for Israel, see this link.
  8. BDS constructs Israelis as white foreigners, who came from outside to settle the land and it constructs Palestinians as indigenous, who have a natural right to the land.  In truth many Jews and Arabs have always lived in Palestine; and both Jews and Arabs moved into the area as it became more developed in the late Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries.  There is a historical connection between Jews and the land of Israel.  In any case, the splitting of peoples into ‘foreigners’ and ‘indigenous’, the notion that some people have a natural right to land while others are impostors, is profoundly reactionary.  Moreover the idea, put about by BDS that Israelis are ‘white’ is also highly misleading.  About half of Israelis are descended from people who came from the Middle East; the other Israelis are descended from people who were defined and treated as a racial infection in white Europe.
  9. BDS remains unimpressed about Israel’s role as a potential haven for Jews around the world, if that should become necessary.
  10. BDS says that Israel is an apartheid state.  This analogy mis-states the key problem, which is a conflict between two peoples, not a racist state which seeks to exploit the black majority.  This analogy again refuses to make a distinction between Israel itself, which is fundamentally a multi-ethnic democracy in which everyone is equal before the law; and the occupied territories, in which there are two different legal systems.  Israelis and Palestinians need to find a peace agreement; we need to support those in both nations who recognise the independence of the other.  The apartheid analogy is weaponized by BDS as a thought-free short-cut to the conclusion of boycott.  See this piece by Alan Johnson on the apartheid analogy.
  11. BDS does not impact much against Israel; it impacts hard against Jews around the world where BDS takes a hold.  BDS constructs friends and enemies of the Palestinians in such a way that the overwhelming majority of democratic and antiracist Jews cannot be recognised as friends of the Palestinians.  BDS sets up an assumption against Jews, on campus, amongst progressives and in the Labour movement, that they are enemies of Palestinians and therefore enemies of those who want to support the Palestinians.  BDS sets itself up in opposition to the overwhelming majority of Jews.   See this debate with Claire Potter on the question of antisemitism.
  12. BDS situates itself in the tradition of the boycott of apartheid South Africa but it always remains silent about the other traditions in which it follows.  The boycott of Israel organised by the Arab Nationalist States was formally established in 1945, within a year of the gas chambers in Europe going cold.  Boycotts of Jews from universities and campaigns to ‘not buy from the Jews’ have been integral to antisemitic movements for centuries.
  13. To teach people to relate to the overwhelming majority of Jews, that is Jews do not agree with BDS, as apologists for apartheid, Nazism or colonialism is to teach people to relate to those Jews in an antisemitic way.  If BDS says that Israel is apartheid and that anybody who does not agree with boycotting Israel is a supporter of apartheid, then it is setting up a framework for Jew-baiting.  If antizionists say that Israel is genocidal, is like the Nazis, that Zionism is similar to Nazism, then they are inciting people to treat Jews as though they were Nazis.
  14. BDS operates as though there was no threat to the State of Israel.  Yet in 1948, 1967 and 1973 there were military attempts by Israel’s neighbouring states to wipe it off the map.  The Iranian state continues to argue for and to work for the elimination of Israel and it finances and arms Hamas and Hezbollah in their campaigns against Israeli civilians.  Israel may be strong compared to the Palestinians, but in the world as a whole it is a small state surrounded by states and political movements which want it eliminated.
  15. BDS is a campaign to make people angry with Israel and with Israelis and with those people around the world who are suspected of supporting Israel.  It would be extraordinary if such a campaign did not sometimes bring with it antisemitic emotions and if it did not sometimes draw upon antisemitic tropes.  Experience tells us that BDS does precisely that.  Israel is portrayed as a blood-thirsty child-murdering state; it is said that it is racist because the Torah, with its talk of ‘chosen people’ is racist; it is said that Jews were behind the slave trade; it is said that the Rothschilds financed the state of Israel by stealing diamonds from South Africa; it is said that Israel steals and trades in body parts; it is said that Israel is genocidal like the Nazis; it is said that Israel controls politics and the media around the world.  In these ways old antisemitic tropes, including blood libel and conspiracy, have a tendency to emerge, recycled, out of the BDS movement.
  16. BDS is only thinkable for people who have no fear of antisemitism.  But if we look at the political movements and the states and the militias which seek the destruction of Israel and if we look at the culture which BDS always brings with it into a social space, then having no fear of antisemitism is eccentric indeed.  See this critique of Naomi Klein’s argument for more on this .
  17. BDSers sometimes say that there is nothing to fear from debate.  This is not always the case.  Sometimes there is much to fear from debate.  Some debating questions are racist questions.  For example we would fear a debate on whether the Holocaust really happened; we would fear a debate on whether women should remain in the kitchen; we would fear a debate on whether black people are more aggressive than white people.  In the same way, I fear a debate on whether Israelis, and only Israelis, should be excluded from the global academic, sporting, artistic and economic community.  Antisemitism and racism never opens debate, it always closes off free speech.
  18. It is sometimes said that the claim that BDS is antisemitic is an ad hominem argument, aimed at smearing those activists who are in favour of it.  The truth is the opposite.  The truth is that antisemitism is not a characteristic of people who push BDS, but it is a characteristic of the movement itself.  Antisemitism is not only a hatred of Jews; it is also norms, practices and discourses which discriminate against Jews.
  19. The claim that Jews raise the issue of antisemitism as a dirty trick to silence the BDS movement is itself an antisemitic claim.  It teaches people to recognize someone who raises the issue of antisemitism as being part of a Jewish conspiracy to play the antisemitism card or to mobilize the power of Holocaust victimhood in a disgraceful way.   Usually when people say they have experienced racism or sexism or bigotry, we take that seriously.  But BDS trains activists not to take that seriously when it comes out of the mouths of Jews or Jewish communities.   BDS trains activists to assume that Jews lie.  BDS refuses to teach activists about the history and tropes of antisemitism.  BDS is happy to be in a global coalition with antisemitic movements which hate Israel, such as Hamas and Hezbollah.  BDS treats people who worry about antisemitism as being more of a threat than people who are antisemitic.  Follow this link more on the Livingstone Formulation, the counter-charge that somebody who says they experiences antisemitism is really lying for Israel.
  20. It is understandable when Jews have a special connection to Israel.  Sometimes this is manifested in a special horror or even shame concerning the crimes of Israel, both real and imagined.  This becomes problematic when Jews export their own specifically Jewish obsession with what Israel does wrong into civil society, campus debate and the Labour movement.  It becomes more problematic still when they offer guarantees to non-Jewish institutions and individuals that a focused hostility to Israel, and only to Israel, is not antisemitic.  It is problematic when Jews educate non-Jews to think in antisemitic ways and to support antisemitic movements.  Read more on antizionism, and particularly Jewish antizionism here.
  21. Antizionism forms the intellectual and the emotional underpinnings of the culture in which antisemitic speech and actions are tolerated.  Antizionism is not simply criticism of this or that policy or characteristic or Israel.  It is a political movement which takes hostility to one particular state and it makes it into an ‘-ism’, a worldview; one which has a tendency to position the Jewish state as being central to all that is wrong with the world.  Everything bad that happens in Israel is constructed, within this ideology, as the necessary result of the supposedly racist essence of Zionism.  The aspiration to dismantle the state of Israel, against the will of its citizens, leaving them defenceless against military and political forces which threaten their lives, is part of the antisemitism problem.
  22. Antisemitisms have always constructed ‘the Jews’ as being at the centre of all that is wrong in the world.  BDS mirrors this characteristic of antisemitism by putting Israel as the very centre of the political activity of ‘good people’ all round the world.   It trains people to think of Israel as the key question of emancipation in our age.  But Israel isn’t key.  It is just one rather small, rather unremarkable local conflict.  It is far from being the most important and it is far from being the most urgent and it is far from being the greatest injustice.
  23. For more on the kind of movement which we should be building, a genuine solidarity movement with Israelis and Palestinians who fight for peace, follow this link.

12 Responses to “Why BDS is antisemitic – David Hirsh”

  1. Labenal Says:

    Reblogged this on labenal's Blog and commented:
    Dear readers. I wish I had written this myself. All the more powerful as Hirsh avoids the pit falls of overstatement, hyperbole and emotive language that are never far from the surface in writing on this topic.

  2. GW Says:

    Also, BDS accepts Arab nationalism and Muslim nationalism yet hatefully demonizes Jewish nationalism.

    And BDS accepts that Arab-majority states define themselves as Arab, accepts that Muslim-majority states define themselves as muslim, hate demonizes the world’s only Jewish-majority state for defining itself as a Jewish state.

    Also, BDS accepts the democratic wishes of every democracy in the world, yet rejects Israel’s democracy and demands that Israel accept millions of Palestinians as citizens specifically so Israel would then be a Muslim majority, and only then does the BDS movement accept Israeli democracy. In other words, they reject Israeli democracy if Jews are the democratic majority, yet will accept Israeli democracy when Muslims are the majority — so that they can vote Israel out of existence.

    And BDS holds Israeli universities, artists, scientists, musicians, etc. all guilty for what their government does. No other universities, artists, scientists, musicians, etc. on the planet are treated as collectively guilty of what their goverment does. This is only done to Israelis.

  3. Gabriel Webber Says:

    This is pathetic. Reasons 1-6, 10, 16-17 and 23 don’t make the slightest reference to Jews or Judaism, and only (at most) show why BDS is a bad idea. Reason 23 isn’t even a reason, it’s a counterproposal. Very poor effort.

  4. Gary Carp Says:

    BDS is the Arab war against Israel of 1948, continued by other means. Couched in neo-liberal human rights terminology it’s exponents have seized the vacuum in political consciousness created when apartheid South Africa ended and sought to cast Israel in the role of political pariah.

    This is convenient for the left. Those of us who grew up on the left, our donkey jackets filled with subversive badges, attending marches & demonstrations chanting “Free Nelson Mandela” put a good deal of emotional energy into those activities. Of course, we’d never been to South Africa. We had little to no idea about the nuanced politics – that Black, White & Coloured; Zulu vs Xhosa; Dutch vs English provided fissures hidden to the outside world. We understood a simple binary equation: Black was right; white was wrong. End of….

    The left do like simplistic constructs

    Last year I spoke directly with Ezeldeen Mesrie, the Palestinian head of One Voice and asked him simply: Why, when the PLO made their first territorial claims in 1964, did they exclude Gaza, East Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria from the claim?”
    His answer was astonishingly direct: “because in 1964, those territories were already in Arab hands”

    So the moderate political face of the Palestinians is no different to the militant face. For Mesrie, any place there is a Jew or Israeli is “Palestine” – so whilst talking of 2-states (3 states really, because everyone overlooks Jordan as part of Mandate Palestine)- the real issue is there is no real space for Israel in this narrative.

    David Hirsch is right to call out BDS as antisemitism and equally, Antizionism is antisemitism too. We need to calll it so unambiguously. Antiionism is not a disagreement about Israeli government policy, it is the rejection / negation of the legitimacy of Jewish national identify, our right of self-determination and our eternal connection to Israel.

    And BDS has nothing to say about advancing the rights, dignity of Palestinians, it’s sole focus is the delegitimization of Israel.
    So the exposure of antisemitism can be definitively narrowed to one simple issue: Human Rights. If one argues against Israel from a human rights perspective, you have to have a moral integrity or else be arguing that some livesare more important than others. So it would be really helpful if some social sciences academic pulled together a simple, independently sourced/verified scorecard on human rights for all middle east countries and produces a league table.

    This would be the sort of readily sharable data that would show just how great Israel is and allow us to reframe the human rights debate. This is the sort of stuff that every student and political organisation should have at their finger tips…and allows us to challenge emotionally & factually…

    Any ideas who might be working on this?

  5. east1956 Says:

    It seems to me that much of language used by the BDS movement and its supporters is indicative of their own profoundly troubled relationship with the historic Christian and Muslim states and their Jewish communities. Rather than acknowledge that Jews were the traditional “Other” that could be victimised at will and assigned culpability for events far beyond their control and capacity, they assign to Jews a plethora of values that bear no relationship with reality. The relevance of Zionism rests on 2 elements in history; the perpetuation of Jews as separate and distinct by Christians and Muslims, thus reinforcing the concept of Zionism as a political expression of Jewish communal identity; and the failure of Christian and Muslim states and their dominant populations to protect their Jewish fellow nationals from persecution and discrimination.
    Following WW2, we spoke of learning the lessons of the Holocaust, and within the Christian West it was spoken of as though there is a single set of lessons. This is clearly an absurdity because their at at least 3 sets of stakeholders in the Holocaust; those who perpetrated it; those who were victims of it; and those who stood by and did little o
    if anything to prevent it. Each has their own set of lessons to learn. For the victims it is the simple lesson of never letting it happen again.
    However, the BDS campaign by denying the relevance of Zionism based on historical evidence and its ready use of language describing Zionists as being akin to the perpetrators of the Holocaust and other fascist, is alleviating itself of the responsibility to learn the lessons of the Holocaust and learning to have empathy with the historic victims of antisemitism. In essence, IMO, BDS is a form of denial.
    Perhaps worse still such is the perversion by the BDS movement, it has corrupted perceptions so much that the BDS Movements supporters will express support for, and friendship with political movements that espoused sectarian genocide, the denial of basic human rights, and have absorbed the products of antisemitic political movements and states into the fabric of their national identity.
    IMO the ideas behind BDS are like a political epidemic that has infected vast sections of the political mass to a degree where it is incapable of distinguishing between fact and fiction in respect of Israel and the Middle East. No political party is free of it and like all infections it seeks to invade one cell after another until it dominates the entity it resides within. Yet it is incapable of progressing to being a creative sentient being able to synthesise and achievable solution to the issues of the Israelis, Palestinians and other communities of the Middle East.
    We should all be deeply troubled by the BDS Movement, not because we care whether Israel exists or not, or that the Palestinians ever realise their political ambitions. But because of the degree to which the BDS Movement has foster an environment where we cease to seek objectivity in political decision making and rely instead on myths and fabrications and absurd denials, and set the scene for further absurdities.

  6. Jaap Bosma Says:

    Looking for one reason why BDS is antisemetic, I couldn’t find one here.
    The truth is simple: BDS is about Palestinian rights, those etnically cleansed in 1948, those in the occupied territories, and those who are third class citizens of Israel, which has over 50 laws discriminating against them.
    Israel is perhaps not a greater perpetrator of evil than countries like North Korea, Russia, Zimbabwe, Saudi Arabia, Syria etc., but what singles out Israel from these other countries is that it has so much support (and support for its crimes) in the West and from Western governments. It’s precisely because Western countries support Israel so much that there is so much resistance against this.
    Not the supporters of Palestinian rights should be ashamed of themselves, but the supporters of Isreali wrongs!

    • Hans Says:

      Jaap, you shouldn’t believe everything you read on the internet… Do your own homework and fact checking!… Case in point, the allegation that there are “over 50 laws discriminating them” (“them” being Arab citizens of Israel)…

      If you will fact check this claim you’ll see that it’s bogus… For example, one of the alleged discriminations is that people who served in the IDF get a preferential mortgage on their 1st house… Implying that Arabs are discriminated… HOWEVER, Arabs can (and do) serve in the IDF!… Furthermore, Arabs can (and do) volunteer for “National Service” which is non-military… Furthermore, Jews who don’t serve don’t get the preferential mortgage either!… IOW, there is NO discrimination!…

  7. Peter Says:

    Joan Peters, author of “From Time Immemorial” confirmed my long held knowledge that the Jews are the true heirs of Israel and hence Jerusalem. The BDS’rs want to deny historical facts. It is so easy to hate but hate is a 24/7 job and it will eventually destroy the haters. Peace to Israel from a friend in Canada.


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