I’m always looking for the knock-out punch, the kind of pro-Israel argument, especially in the mainstream press, that will strengthen fair-minded supporters and silence unfair critics. I open all those forwarded e-mails with anticipation, and sometimes I’m rewarded.
This week, for example, Richard Cohen wrote a devastating critique of an unsigned book review in The Economist. Under review was a new biography of Sayyid Qutb, the Egyptian author often referred to as “the father of Islamic fundamentalism.” Missing from the review, however, was any mention of Qutb’s virulent anti-Semitism, which not only survived the Holocaust but seemed to gain inspiration from it.
“Critics of Israel frequently accuse it of racism in its treatment of Palestinians,” writes Cohen. “Sometimes, the charge is apt. But there is nothing in the Israeli media or popular culture that even approaches what is openly, and with official sanction, said in the Arab world about Jews. The message is an echo of Nazi racism, and the prescription, stated or merely implied, is the same.”
I was hoping Jacob Weisberg would do a similar job on the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) movement in his piece for Newsweek. If Weisberg doesn’t connect as solidly as Cohen, he does a good job in dissecting “the repellent idea of shunning the entire country.”
He makes two strong points. The first is consistency: “That supporters of this boycott seldom focus on China or Syria or Zimbabwe — or other genuinely illegitimate regimes that systematically violate human rights — underscores their bad faith.”
Certainly when various leftist groups and individuals, as well as celebrities like Elvis Costello, jump on board the boycott bandwagon, I’d like to know if they are planning to boycott countries like the ones named by Weisberg. Otherwise, their boycott actions are more a fashion statement than a consistent political stand.
His second strong point is about message: Just what are the boycotters after? Withdrawal of West Bank settlements? A return to the negotiating table? By refusing to offer specifics, the cultural boycott emerges as a “weapon designed not to bring peace but to undermine the country.”
I recently spent a long time on BDSMovement.net and could find no goal more specific than this: BDS supports a boycott “until Israel meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with international law.”
“Self-determination” defined how? Mutually recognized statehood, secure borders? And whose definition of “self-determination”? The UN’s? The PA’s? Hamas’?
Here’s how Omar Barghouti, cofounder of the Global BDS Movement, describes the “self-determination” the boycotters are seeking:
The only way that we can exercise our right to self-determination [emphasis added], without imposing unnecessary injustice on our oppressors, is to have a secular, democratic state where nobody is thrown into the sea, nobody is sent back to Poland, and nobody is left in refugee camps.
In other words, one state, Jewish and Palestinian, from the Mediterranean to the Jordan — in essence, the dissolution of Israel in favor of a single binational state. So much for two states, living side by side in peace. Is this really the vision of those co-op shoppers, turning up their noses at Israeli hummus and tomatoes? No more Israel?
As for international law, what specific UN Security Council resolutions will Israel have to comply with before Costello agrees to play Tel Aviv? Stated another way, what would Israel have to do before the BDS people called off the boycott? They rarely say, which is intentional: When your ultimate fantasy is the elimination of your opponent, it is hard to settle for anything less.
I doubt explaining how their movement is inconsistent or unfocused will do much to dissuade the boycotters. Maybe the best way to respond is to appeal to their self-interest: The boycott may get a lot of attention and may cause a lot of suffering, but it won’t work. In the guise of helping the Palestinians, there are at least five ways the boycotts only prolong the misery on both sides of the conflict:
1) By singling out Israel for condemnation, a boycott emboldens its critics and enemies, many of whom have an animus against Israel that has nothing to do with the fate of the Palestinians.
2) Global boycotts encourage Palestinians and their supporters in the belief that time and world opinion, as opposed to meaningful actions on their part, will bring them closer to their goal of “self-determination.”
3) Israel boycotts grossly oversimplify a tragic conflict, suggesting a dualist struggle between good guys and bad guys.
4) Boycotts strengthen Israeli extremists, whose stars rise when Israelis are feeling most isolated and vulnerable.
5) Finally, cultural boycotts insult and disempower the many, many Israelis who have been working for peace and reconciliation and will ultimately undermine the internal Israeli dynamic that is necessary to bring about peace.
Of course, this assumes that the goal of the boycotters is peace. Cohen writes that he “cannot quite suppress the feeling that the need to demonize Israel is so great that the immense moral failings of some of its enemies have to be swept under the carpet.” I get the feeling that the need to demonize Israel trumps even consideration of what’s best for the Palestinians.