The Radical Left Is Never Right about Israel
On April 30, 2013, Julia Gillard, then Australian prime minister and leader of the Labor Party, denounced the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement as "not serving the cause of peace and diplomacy for agreement on a two state solution" of the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
She was aware of a number of factors. One was that, despite pretenses, BDS in reality aimed at targeting a whole nation, not individuals or groups responsible for any particular activities. Secondly, she was experiencing BDS action at the University of New South Wales that had mutated from anti-Zionist rhetoric to expressions of anti-Semitism and Holocaust-denial on campus. She was also aware of the absurd concentration of left radicals on the issue of Israel rather than on Iran, "whose regime has for decades been a patron of the darkest forces in the region."
Since June 2005, the Palestinian Authority, instead of following the road laid down in the Oslo Accords to discuss negotiations, has called for BDS against Israel.
With the aid of a collection of organizations and individuals, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel has concentrated with ideological intensity and hatred on targeting individuals, businesses, and organizations that have some ties with Israel.
Some of the businesses, organizations, academic units, and entertainers who are complicit in this effort have accepted some version of the Palestinian narrative of victimhood and oppression by Israel, or they have been subjected to considerable pressure to take part in BDS. They constitute a motley group: official bodies such as the Norwegian government, trade unions in Ireland and Britain; academic organizations in a number of countries; businesses such as the Dutch pension fund PGGM, the Danish Danske Bank and the German Deutsche Bahn; and entertainers and writers such as Alice Walker, Roger Waters, Elvis Costello, Jean-Luc Goddard, and Emma Thompson.
What is the common thread tying them together? Abettors of the campaign give specious reasons for their participation. In general, involvement in boycott or disengagement from Israel is explained as a response to Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory and the existence of or continuing construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Except for what they have heard from the Palestinian propaganda that has been funded and disseminated by critics of Israel, almost all of the people involved in boycott know little of the history and politics of the Middle East, let alone anything about the alleged Israeli behavior that they attack with such venom.
The reality is that the hostility towards Israel is not directed at helping the Palestinian population. It is fundamentally based on a campaign to de-legitimize the State of Israel, to refuse to acknowledge the validity of the existence of a Jewish state. About Israeli settlements there can be legitimate differences of opinion. The settlements are regarded, incorrectly, by some critics of Israel as impediments to the peace process, but it is inaccurate to call them "illegal" or "illegitimate."
Much of the hostility in democratic countries has come from the radical left. The essential problem with these radicals is that they hold, or pretend to hold, Israel to a higher standard than they apply to any other country. They single out the Jewish State of Israel for criticism while neglecting almost all other world problems, as for example the treatment of the Roma in Europe or the oppression of Tibet by China. Genuine problems in the West Bank, such as checkpoints and roadblocks, are magnified into absurd accusations that Israel is "racist" or an apartheid state like the infamous regime in South Africa.
Perhaps the ghost of Hitler haunts the utterances of the radical left. It is true that not all criticism of Israel can be identified as anti-Semitism, but to a considerable extent, such criticism seems to be related to hatred or fear of Jews. There are a number of indications of such motivation. The application of a double or different standard towards a country is identified as racist by the European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia (now called the Fundamental Rights Agency). One item in its working definition of anti-Semitism is "applying double standards by requiring of it [a country] a behavior not expected or demanded of any other nation." Another manifestation of this anti-Semitism is the way in which some in the left have drawn a comparison of contemporary Israeli policy with Nazi Germany. The Portuguese Nobel Prize winner Jose Saramago and the rock performer Roger Waters are guilty of this. So is the group in Amsterdam responsible for the BDS site that in February 2014 depicted Anne Frank wearing the Palestinian keffiyeh.
Courts have made clear that a boycott is a militant act, discriminatory in nature, and aimed at a particular goal, undermining the nation or organization at which it is directed. The French Cour de Cassation (appeals court) on May 22, 2012 decided that publicly calling for a boycott of Israeli products constituted incitement and discrimination based on nationality and is therefore illegal under French law. Earlier, in July 2009, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that banning the boycotts of Israeli products was not a violation of human rights. The boycotts, it held, would affect not only the settlements, but also all of Israel.
The radical left and the "international community" that it seems to dominate simply refuse to recognize that Palestinians are not victims of Israeli colonization. They are not disenfranchised people incapable of formulating their own destiny. These leftist advocates of equality, social justice, and protection of the oppressed and pay no heed to the faults and abuses of human rights, such as honor killings, in the patriarchal Palestinian society. They ignore the fact that Yasser Arafat, head of the PLO, refused to implement the September 1993 Oslo Accord, in which he pledged to recognize the State of Israel and to stop Palestinian violence. They certainly pay little attention to the fulminations of the Arab Islamists, including Hamas. They might review the videos of the thousands of Islamic Jihad members, and senior members of Hamas, demonstrating in October 2010 in the streets of Gaza chanting, "Death to America" and "Death to Israel." That extreme Islamic group still screams the slogan that Israel must be wiped out of existence.
Finally, the radical left has been blind to Israeli compromises intended to bring the Palestinians to the negotiating table. The left has forgotten that Israel agreed to release, in four stages, 104 of the longest-serving Palestinian prisoners, all convicted of violent attacks against Israel. The left has also forgotten two Israeli policies offered as olive branches: the complete Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005 and the ten month construction freeze on all settlements in the West Bank in November 2009. The former did not result in Palestinians coming to the negotiating table, but rather to violence on the part of Hamas; the latter was a painful step for Israel, but this gesture was also rejected by the Palestinian Authority, which again refused to enter negotiations. Even worse, Palestinian factions attacked Israeli civilians via drive-by shootings and rockets.
Instead of pressuring the PA to enter the peace process, the left still calls for boycott. The essential mystery is why the left so passionately supports cultural, academic, diplomatic, sporting, and economic discrimination against a democratic state. It is obvious that the left is critical of Western values and that Israel is a key part of this. It is difficult to believe that the left really is interested in the welfare of Palestinians rather than in hatred of Israel. The left ought to know that boycott will result in Palestinians now working in Israeli enterprises losing their jobs. The concentrated attack by the radical left on Israel can be seen only as expressing their self-hatred for Western values.
Michael Curtis is author of Jews, Antisemitism, and the Middle East.