Are All Boycotters of Israel Anti-Semitic?

It is regrettable but now necessary to ask two questions.  The first: are all those individuals, whatever their religious origin, political beliefs, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or nationality, who are in favor of some form of boycott of Israel, anti-Semites, haters of Jews? The second: are those international bodies, so-called charity organizations, ill-informed academic groups, biased and bigoted mainstream churches, and trade unions who are critical of Israel equally critical of other countries for allegedly similar actions or non-actions?

By now, almost everyone is conscious of the existence of anti-Jewish sentiments and actions for centuries. Sometimes, anti-Semitism has been based on religious considerations, sometimes on supposed biological differences, sometimes on alleged negative attributes or patterns ascribed to Jews. The result has been relentless civic and political discrimination, second-class citizenship, physical attacks, harassment, property losses, persecution, pogroms, and the Holocaust.

In recent years anti-Semitic expressions, in public as well as in private, have substantially increased in a number of European countries. Some emerge from the attribution of economic and political problems to Jews. Some are demands for ethnic purity, of which Jews are devoid, and nationalism as in Hungary and Greece. Others are expressions of discomfort with Jewish adherence to traditional religious rituals and practices. In many countries, as shown most recently in Sweden and France, anti-Semitism is fueled by Islamic authorities, ranting against Jews and against Israel for alleged occupation and oppression of Palestinians. Especially troubling is that this prejudice is being spread in schools and universities of these countries as well as in Arab nations.

To the traditional prejudice and hatred has been added in contemporary times what has been called the “new anti-Semitism,” in essence “anti-Zionism,” expressions of beliefs or physical or political actions directed against Israel and supposedly related to the policies of Israel in relation to Palestinians. This has resulted in countless condemnations of Israel by the “international community,” or in calls for boycott of the State of Israel, its citizens, or its social, economic, or academic institutions.

No doubt some of those who call for a boycott are not or believe they are not anti-Semitic. They may be true believers obsessed by the fallacious Palestinian Narrative of Victimhood, with its one-sided presentation of the nature of the Arab-Israeli conflict.  Thus they appear to observe the Israeli-Palestinian issue as a struggle between good and evil, in which Jews embody the latter, responsible for both the problems encountered by Palestinians and for the failure of any peace process. They accept in unchallenging fashion the imaginary fabricated facts presented to them by Palestinian pressure groups.  The best that can be said of them is that by swallowing this propaganda without serious questioning they are in the words of James Madison (Federalist 62) “monuments of deficient wisdom.”

Let there be no mistake. There is a world of difference between rational, objective criticism of specific actions of Israel, such as checkpoints and roadblocks, or settlements, or the conduct of individual personnel on the one hand, and wholesale criticism of the State of Israel, refusal to acknowledge its legitimacy, dismissal of any Israeli claim to disputed territory, or persistence in calling Israel an “apartheid state” in the manner of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Alice Walker.

The crucial factor in determining the difference, and the genuine goodwill of the observer, is whether double standards are applied in evaluating Israel by requiring of Israel behavior that is not expected or demanded of any other nation, democratic or not. If they are, then, though it is sad to say, there is a moral divide. The proponents, whether they are individuals, groups, or institutions, can be characterized not simply as misguided but as biased and bigoted anti-Semites. They treat Jews in a manner different from all other people.

This rule of thumb can be applied to the advocates of the hollow resolutions in the UN Human Rights Council, trade unions, churches, and academic bodies calling for boycott of Israel, who have issued few, if any, similar resolutions, not just in relation to rogue countries like Syria or Iran, but also to all the other 192 countries of the world. Are they concerned in any way for the sad fate of Christians and discrimination against them in Arab countries, or the practice of “honor killing” of women within them? Does Archbishop Tutu not know that Christians have been forced to flee from Arab countries, but that their number has increased in Israel? Is he, who continually condemns Israel as “apartheid,” unaware that the Palestinian leadership has said it will not allow Jews in a Palestinian state? He surely must realize that the concept of Israel as “apartheid” was a pretense that was invented by Palestinians and their supporters to give credence to the boycott of Israel.

If the boycotters are to disprove these charges of anti-Semitism, they should pass resolutions or issue statements condemning the 130,000 killed in Syria and the nine million rendered homeless there, the Iranian program of ICBMs and nuclear weapons in defiance of the world, the terrorists in the Gaza Strip hurling thousands of rockets against Israeli civilians, the Hizb’allah in Lebanon threatening terror.

When will the boycotters challenge Iran’s determination to develop nuclear weapon when 17 countries in the world have peaceful nuclear programs without enriching uranium or having heavy water facilities? When will they acknowledge that Israel is the state of the Jewish people, and its homeland as proclaimed in the Balfour Declaration, the British Mandate for Palestine, and the UN General Assembly Resolution of November 1947.

A second issue concerns the real intentions of the boycotters. Are they really interested in the welfare of Palestinians, or the solution of the territorial dispute between Israel and the Palestinians and thus eager to help forward a peace process? The answer appears to be in the negative. Perhaps some of the boycotters may believe otherwise but the thrust of the boycott is to deny the legitimacy of the State of Israel and indeed to call for its elimination. That thrust is for the elimination of the state of the Jewish people, an objective reminiscent of the Holocaust that aimed at eliminating the Jewish people.

Moreover, the boycotters, people often on the political left, are in reality reactionaries. They make no proposals for reconciliation, but instead make the Palestinians less willing to enter into negotiations. They ignore what Prime Minister David Cameron in his speech to the Knesset on March 12, 2014 called “the poisonous ideology (Islamism) that fuels terrorism across the region and across the world.”

The boycotters are also wrong in thinking that their actions are accomplishing anything. The world recognizes that Israel is a start-up nation, a high-tech country, and that most countries are eager to do business with it to benefit from innovation and dynamic progress. The call for boycott will do little to change this reality. The boycotters might spend their time more profitably in examining in an objective way the realities of the Middle East and helping solve the conflict that will guarantee the Jewish people the right to live in the land with which it has historical, legal, and physical ties.

Michael Curtis is author of Jews, Antisemitism, and the Middle East.

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