Tuesday, 22 March 2011
It's not often that I find someone summing up the specific aims and objectives of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions campaign and now that Omar Barghouti, the head of the Palestinian BDS campaign has done just this it's definitely worth taking a look at what he is saying and making an evaluation of whether this campaign should be given any credence or even support for their pro-Palestinian aims.
There tends to be a rather knee jerk response from Jews and certainly Israel when it comes to Pro-Palestinian campaigns though it doesn't necessarily have to be this way. I think that Israel needs a Palestinian State as much as Palestinians do and that we are pretty much sitting right at the tipping point in terms of the time frame for this to happen without too much upheaval to Israeli society to make it possible. As it is it will be very difficult to move or remove a lot of the settlements that currently exist in what would become a Palestinian state roughly based on pre-1967 borders.
So what is the BDS campaign all about? According to Barghouti it is based on a;
"Palestinian civil society call...to boycott, divest from and imposing sanctions on Israel until it ends it's occupation of the 1967 territories, including the wall, settlements and so on, the second demand is to end it's system of racial discrimination against Palestinians living in Israel itself, the third and foremost demand is to recognise and enable the right of return for Palestinian refugees."
Okay so essentially BDS is calling for the same things as the Palestinian Authority, using the BDS as weapons in order to achieve these roles. Although a basic point, even obvious point it's good to hear someone finally spell out exactly what the BDS is. I have heard BDS calls from a very wide range of people and groups calling for less and more extreme things than outlined here by Barghouti. This appears to be the same position as that held by the Palestinian Authority and not much different from Hamas, they simply have a different view of how to achieve the same objective. The really big difference is that the PA have been negotiating with Israel in order to arrive at a shared position acceptable to both sides whereas the BDS movement aren't. I don't think I am going too far when I say that entering into a dialogue with Israel is not their intention.
This is where the path forks, the PA negotiations with Israel were, despite what Palestinian negotiators were saying, progressing. With BDS, by the very nature of what it is, there are no negotiations, no measures that Israel can take that will simply end the campaign other than a complete collapse and a removal of it's borders to allow anyone to come and live there. In short there is no compromise position. The statement that Israel needs to end "it's system of racial discrimination of Palestinians in Israel" is in itself a falsehood, some things are subjective and some aren't, I have no doubt that there is racism in Israel, though state sanctioned? Nope, this isn't a subjective issue, it simply isn't true. Arab Israelis are afforded access to all walks of life as well as all forms of education, it is really a shame that this myth is being perpetuated.
The main thrust of the argument is that the BDS campaign exists due to the failure of the West to impose upon Israel the changes they demand. Not withstanding that it's not really the job of the EU or USA to tell Israel what it can and cannot do, the argument that Israel is, alone, singled out by the West for billions and billions of dollars of aid from a multitude of different countries is a nonsense. Look at the earthquake in the Middle East and count on all fingers and toes the number of Middle Eastern countries that the West gives aid to. When you are finished with that do the same in Africa and then again in Asia to see just how many countries are receiving very direct aid from the USA, UK and many others.
With regards to Israeli military operations it would seem to me to be a very crude double standard indeed for any country in the position of the USA or UK to censure Israel for taking steps to prevent multitudes of rockets and bombs from falling on her territory. After all precisely how many Iraqi mortars hit the UK? How many Afghan missiles hit London? The argument "but these missile haven't killed many people" would not wash in the UK nor the USA were the same situation occurring in their countries. Both of whom have been far less restrained than Israel in the measures they have taken to ensure, no guarantee, the security of their own citizens. The argument that the BDS campaign isn't targeting Israel but is merely acting to redress a wrong is nonsensical, it very deliberately is singling out Israel. That in itself isn't a problem for me though, if Barghouti feels Israel should be targeted then by all means do so but please don't hide behind nonsensical statements like;
"we're not singling out Israel, Western governments, the US, the UK, Western Europe are the ones singling out Israel by providing so much support, unchecked support to Israel, unconditional support in all forms, military, intelligence, economic, academic, cultural, every kind of support to Israel in the tune of billions and billions of dollars every single year and ignoring Israel's massive human rights violations...means that they're singling out Israel as beyond the law of nations."
The irony is that by his own rationale, most countries of the world, including the USA and the UK are also deserving of widespread BDS campaigns rather than just Israel, which therefore has indeed been singled out. Barghouti's argument is, in point of fact, illogical. He also seems to confuse the meaning of the word "aid" with the word "trade" I am not going to go into some kind of justification for the Israeli aid package received from the USA I don't believe that this is what he is referring to when he makes the above quote, perhaps I am wrong on this but to me the above statement essentially covers every type of relationship one country can have with another creating a very loose interpretation of the word aid which stretches it beyond breaking point. In an absurd moment Barghouti goes so far as to claim that the whole Israeli government is very far right which is simply untrue and reflects a quite shocking ignorance at the most basic level, as to the composition of the current government.
It's a credit to Barghouti and the whole BDS movement that he feels the question as to whether their movement is antisemitic justifies so much discussion. What's less creditable is the answer that he comes up with and is worth quoting in full;
"The accusation that BDS is antisemitic somehow is not just totally, categorically false, it itself is an antisemitic statement, because it assumes that any attack on Israel is an attack against world Jewry and this equates Jewish communities in the world with Israel making them all monolithic as if they all have one mind, one ideology and that's a very antisemitic and dangerous statement to make.
Now really this argument doesn't make any sense at all. I am not sure why any claim that BDS is antisemitic assumes that any attack on Israel is by nature antisemitic. That doesn't make sense, people who claim that the BDS campaign is antisemitic are claiming just that. They are not that any attack on Israel full stop is antisemitic and I can't for the life of me understand how he made the leap to claim that BDS attacking Israel is exactly the same as anyone else attacking (presumably also criticising) Israel. Even if we accept that, he adds the line about world Jewry. I don't think that makes sense either. How is calling BDS' stance on Israel antisemitic also arguing that attacking Israel is attacking world Jewry? For example, if someone were to beat me up on the street and shout "I am doing this because you are Jewish" I would take that to be an example of antisemitism. I would not however take it to be an attack on world Jewry as a whole, it's still an attack on me. Similarly BDS attacking Israel can still be antisemitic even if it is not explicitly condemning world Jewry merely for existing.
It would be pointless to deny that the BDS campaign hasn't been effective in terms of creating publicity for itself and it is a worldwide movement with many events and speakers. The fact is that any fair thinking individual would join an organisation that misrepresents and even falsifies the reality to the extent that Barghouti has here. In the same way that Benny Morris criticises Ilan Pappe for his misrepresentation of history, the BDS campaign has misrepresented reality in Israel and in Palestine. There is no doubt that the BDS campaign won't achieve it's fundamental objectives of forcing Israel to cease to exist by accepting any and all Palestinian refugees into her borders. It may well be successful in forcing a worsening of relations between Israel and certain Western countries as a groundswell hatred is fermented by this campaign. Ironically this would strengthen the Israeli right who would argue that "the world is against us" and force a bunker mentality upon us.
The greater tragedy is that there could have been a really good opportunity for Israelis and Palestinians to work together to ensure a brighter future that has now been squandered. BDS has created a 'with us or against us' mentality using very dodgy logic to do so and has, despite what Barghouti says, specifically singled out Israel to be shunned from the international community. The only thing to do is to appeal to people not to be spoon fed their point of view but to take the trouble to read the books and learn for themselves about such things as whether there is systematic racism against Israeli Arabs and to ask themselves as to whether the BDS way is the best way to contribute to the successful resolution of such a intractable conflict.
Wednesday, 2 March 2011
It is often said that much of the ills Israel suffers on the world stage are due to poor Public Relations. Maybe this is true but maybe our ills on the world stage stem from the lack of understanding what acceptable behaviour by our politicians is. There have been numerous examples over the past few days alone that give us real cause to think that perhaps it’s our own politicians who have failed the country when it comes to looking like the responsible democracy that we are.
The way that Israeli politicians have responded to the unfolding unrest in various Arab countries gives a particularly interesting insight into just why it is that we continue to look so awful. Our Prime Minister, Defence Minister and our Foreign Minister have all been consistently warning of the perils of the Muslim Brotherhood as well as reminding anyone who will listen that this is the way the Iranian Revolution began in 1979.
I don’t deny the credibility of any of these or the long list of other statements made by the most powerful people in the country to express them. The question is who on earth are Bibi, Barak and good old Avigdor Lieberman talking to? Sophisticated Western European politicians and White House staff, senators and congressmen not to mention the President himself are surrounded by some of the most intelligent people in the world. They already know and are constantly being updated on the various political forces at play. Surely our high powered politicians are aware of this and aren’t genuinely seeking to educate these people about the perils of a Middle East run by Islamist lunatics. So when the whole democratic world is celebrating the apparent victory of democracy our leaders are making the extremist elements more popular in their native countries by constantly warning of the threat that they pose.
Continuing to back Mubarak even after it was painfully apparent that his reign was over was particularly ill conceived. We have nothing to gain by the government constantly banging the warning drums over what might happen in all the countries currently undergoing monumental change. Whether we worry about what will happen here in Israel and tell the world of our fears or not will have little impact on the ground. We should be embracing the changes that Arab countries from Tunisia to the Yemen as well as Iran are currently undergoing. This is a time of great hope for us and if things don’t go according to the democratic plan then we’ll deal with it in the same way that we always have.