Naming the Bigots

The biased bigots are out again with their attack on Israel during “the apartheid week” in the month of March. What is perpetually amazing is that people and organizations supposedly devoted to the ideals of humanism and humanitarianism such as the officials and members of various religious denominations, teachers, and students in institutions of higher education, and charitable organizations should be so full of hatred against one nation in the world, the Jewish State. It is appropriate that they should be named and called to account for their prejudice, bias, hatred, and possible anti-Semitism.

Not surprisingly, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, a man never modest about his celebrity in parading his moral principles, associates himself in 2014 with “the objectives of the 10th international Israeli Apartheid Week.” One could understand if he made specific detailed criticisms of Israeli actions or policies. Instead, he engages in over-the-top hyperbole. “I have witnessed the racially segregated roads and housing in the Holy Land that reminded me so much of the conditions we experienced in South Africa under Apartheid. I have witnessed the systematic humiliation of Palestinian men, women, and children by members of the Israeli security forces.”

It is difficult to take this absurd statement seriously. Tutu is heralded as a leader in the global movement for morality and peace, but his visual sight and intellectual insight seem hallucinatory. On the one hand, where are the “racially segregated roads” Tutu supposedly witnessed? Where is the systematic humiliation of Palestinian civilians taking place? On the other hand, he is blind to the exodus of Christians from areas of the Holy Land controlled by Palestinians. He is equally blind to the small and diminishing Christian population in Nazareth. He does not see the honor killings by Muslims in the area. He is unaware that Israel is the only country in the Middle East where the number and proportion of Christians in the population has increased, and where Christianity can be freely and fully practiced.

One breathlessly awaits an apology from the Archbishop for his intemperate and inaccurate remarks, his referring to Israel as an “apartheid” state and for his support for the boycott of the Jewish State. One would also hope that students and faculty in the academic institutions of Ireland would expose themselves to accurate information about Israel, and then correct, if not necessarily apologize for, their present bigoted views.

In April 2013 the Teachers’ Union of Ireland became the first educational union in Europe to adopt a boycott of Israeli academic institutions. This action was followed on March 6, 2014 by the passage of a non-binding resolution at the NUI Galway Students Union endorsing the BDS campaign against the State of Israel. The resolution, carried by 64 per cent of the 3,013 valid votes, is the first one to be adopted by a student body in Ireland. The faculty and students have violated principles of the academic process, succumbing to fallacious Palestinian propaganda. They have yet to be tested for their objective command of Middle Eastern affairs.

Mainstream Christian Churches have in recent years for varying, often unaccountable, reasons participated in the BDS movement as well as in continuing condemnations of Israel. In March 2014 the organization known as Christ at the Checkpoint, sponsored by the Bethlehem Bible College, held its third biennial conference in Bethlehem. Its supposed objective is to discuss the role of the church in helping resolve “the conflict and bringing peace, justice, and equality to the Holy Land.” But its opportunities for direct information appeared limited to visits to Jerusalem and Hebron. These visits were supposed to inform the participants of “some of the realities on the ground that are a direct challenge to peacemaking in the land and which set the context for some of the theological discussions.” One does not need to be a fly on the wall to understand that the discussions will be limited to alleged Israeli crimes and misdemeanors in the two municipalities visited.

In more dramatic fashion the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) on March 10, 2014 issued a call to boycott SodaStream because of its factory in Mishor Adumin, an industrial zone in the Israeli settlement of Maale Adumin.  Unfortunately for the Church, its timing was bad, and its decision appears foolish. Just a month earlier in February 2014 SodaStream products had been judged to be one of the 23 “Products of the Year” by Parade Magazine. The Church is probably unhappy that these 23 products are judged to be brands of truly superior innovation, and might reconsider its reactionary behavior in objecting to progress.

The Church, claiming to be working in the area of “Peace with Justice and International Affairs,” points out, as do so many of the organizations and individuals discriminating against Israel, that it is not supporting a boycott of products made in Israel, but only against Israel companies operating in “occupied Palestinian territories.”

This is a specious argument. The Church, like all those other anti-Israel and conceivably anti-Semitic groups and individuals, even when pretending to be “evenhanded” does not hesitate to decide on geopolitical issues by speaking of SodaStream’s “disregard of both international and workers’ rights laws, including those of Israel itself.” It holds that the SodaStream factory in Mishor Adumin is reinforcing the “illegal settlements,” and thus violating international law.

Whatever the Church’s command of spiritual matters, its mastery of international law and workers’ rights is astonishingly uninformed. It is surprising to find the Church referring to international law about which its leaders are naive, if not intentionally distorting that law.  But it is not surprising that its bias and prejudice are evident in that its concern with “Justice” seems confined to one country. In this the Church is hypocritical. In order to justify its boycott of Israel the United Methodist Church passed its resolution 6111 that reinforces its previous resolution 4011, providing guidelines for initiating or joining an economic boycott so that the body boycotted will cease from certain practices judged to be unjust.  Whether or not such guidelines are held to be appropriate for a religious body, in effect they apply and are meant to apply only to Israel.

Even more compellingly, the United Method Church like Oxfam International and Amnesty International, and the list of other groups mentioned by the Church, including American Muslims for Palestine and the Unitarian Universalists for Justice in the Middle East, is ignorant of the facts on the ground. All these anti-Israeli bodies refer to Israeli settlements, including therefore the one in which SodaStream is located, not only as violating international law, but also as promoting systematic discrimination or supporting ongoing military occupation.

Contrary to this mistaken point of view, the SodaStream factory these groups are targeting is one that is well known for its socially conscious employment practices. More than 900 Palestinians work there, earning about $1,200 a month, which is more than double the regular wages paid by Palestinians in the West Bank area, They also receive pensions and medical insurance. The voice of sanity comes from the courageous Scarlett Johansson who after confronting and not yielding to the bias and bigotry of Oxfam which was directed against her personally as well as against the State of Israel remarked,”The closing of the SodaStream factory would leave the Palestinians destitute. That does not sound like a solution.”

The following questions must be asked in all seriousness. The United Methodist Church purports to be concerned with Christian social concerns. Does that Church, and the other groups that make up the Interfaith Boycott Coalition, really have “Christian concerns” about the Palestinians? Is their animus against the Jewish State of Israel so strong that they are willing to harm the Palestinians about whose welfare they profess to be concerned?  Do all these groups really want to add to the unemployment rate of Palestinians in the West Bank which already stands at 35 per cent? Instead of attacking SodaStream and endorsing a boycott would it not be more productive, and a sign of Christian and academic principles if these groups endorse SodaStream’s employment practices as a marker on the road to peace.

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