Saturday, 8 March 2014

Why I'm on the side of Bibi's "shameful" "anti-Semites"

Well, it's good to know where you stand.

As someone who supports the tactic of BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions against the State of Israel) I now know, thanks to Benjamin Netanyahu's speech this week to America's pro-Israel lobby group, AIPAC, that I am a "shameful" "anti-Semite", "peddling a farcical, twisted picture of Israel" to the "naive and ignorant". In truth, BDS, according to Bibi, stands for "Bigotry, Dishonesty and Shame". In short, BDS is "morally wrong".

Well, if campaigning peaceably for human rights to be recognised throughout Israel/Palestine is what the Prime Minister of Israel thinks of as morally wrong, then he is certainly living in a different moral universe than the one that I hope most of us inhabit.

It was a great speech by the way - even if I don't agree with a word of it. Bibi has some top writers on his team who know how to push all the right buttons. If you want to understand the neo-Zionist mind-set that continues to present Israel as the eternal, embattled victim, vulnerable to destruction on multiple fronts, then read this. It's the perfect summation of everything that's wrong with politics in Israel today and why a just and lasting settlement with the Palestinians is so unlikely to happen despite all of the air miles that John Kerry has been clocking up since last summer.

Netanyahu is a good public speaker, especially with a warm American audience. His favourite technique is the magician's trick of misdirection. Don't look there, look over here. Don't see this, see that. It's Iran you should be worried about, stupid. And after Iran it's all those pesky anti-Jewish boycotters determined to "delegitimise" the unfairly maligned Jewish State. At which point it is time for Bibi's script writers to call up the really big gun in his oratorical arsenal: The Holocaust.

For Netanyahu, nothing concerning Israel can be understood without reference back to this cataclysmic event in Jewish history. From Bibi's mouth comes a terrible abuse of history and memory that aims to close down debate and frighten critics off with accusations of being the next generation of Hitler's willing executioners. It's just nonsense.

I'm yet to read a speech of Netanyahu's that does not conscript six million murdered Jews into the service of defending Israel's actions. In this worldview, Israel is forever the victim and another Holocaust is permanently in the making. And that paradigm of emotional blackmail, aimed primarily at Europe and America, allows the never-to-be-satisfied demands of Israeli military security to trump all other concerns and the rights of any other people who may also have (a rather convincing) claim to the land from which they were, and continue to be, forcibly evicted.

So is BDS anti-Semitic? Well, if it was truly aimed at all Jews indiscriminately, then yes, it would obviously be shameful, racist and idiotic. But it's not, as Bibi knows all too well.

BDS is a tactic, not an end in itself, and it is clearly aimed, not at Jews, but at the policies and actions of the State of Israel towards the Palestinian people. This is not the same of the Nazis boycotting Jewish shops in Germany. This is not the international version of Kristallnacht.

So will BDS mean the end of the Jewish State as we know it?

Well I certainly hope so. As long as by that you mean the end of an expansionist ethnocentric nation that by definition has to discriminate against its one million non-Jewish citizens and that sees Israeli Palestinian children as nothing more than demographic ticking time bombs.

If BDS leads to equal rights for all the people of Israel/Palestine in a land (two countries, one country or a bi-national state) that can call itself a homeland to more than one people, then count me in. This would not be the end of the world for the Jewish people in Israel or the Jewish diaspora. This is what progress would look like. And even better, it would be a closer alignment to Jewish ethics than what we have now.

So, is BDS unfair? Is it picking on Israel when other countries are surely far more deserving of our righteous anger?

As Netanyahu pointed out, Israel has a free press, is progressive on gay rights and has seen women hold the highest offices. Yes, there are other far more brutal regimes where no citizens enjoy the rule of law. But what Netanyahu fails to mention is that Israel is also responsible for a 47-year occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and an on-going siege of the Gaza Strip. So that's coming up to four million Palestinians who have their lives effectively controlled by Israel (without a vote in Israeli elections) who may consider the constant claim that Israel is the "only democracy in the Middle East" to be a touch misleading. In the 60% of the West Bank known as 'Area C', where most of the Settlement blocks have been built, there is no doubt that a form of apartheid rule is in operation from highways to courtrooms to planning regulations to water distribution.

After 20 years of the post-Oslo 'peace process' with ever-hardening right-wing coalitions governing Israel's actions, the views of half a million Jewish settlers dominating political discourse, and the United States failing to ever be a truly honest broker, it seems reasonable to think that the time is right to change the dynamic. Which is where BDS comes in.

Clearly it is starting to work. Otherwise Netanyahu and the whole Israeli hasbara (propaganda) machinery would not have cranked up to oppose it. Netanyahu mentioned BDS 18 times in his speech. So it's clearly rattling him, along with the entrenched formal Jewish leadership around the world.

In an interview given just ahead of Netanyahu's visit to the United States, President Obama was very clear about where he thinks responsibility lies for blocking an early resolution to this very asymmetrical conflict. It's not in Ramallah with the Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, but in Jerusalem, the city that now boasts an extended name: "Jerusalem - the eternal, undivided capital of Israel and the Jewish people" [cheers and applause from the AIPAC audience]. So that's one possible compromise already taken firmly off the table.

Here's what Obama said in his interview:

"[W]hat I do believe is that if you see no peace deal and continued aggressive settlement construction — and we have seen more aggressive settlement construction over the last couple years than we’ve seen in a very long time — if Palestinians come to believe that the possibility of a contiguous sovereign Palestinian state is no longer within reach, then our ability to manage the international fallout is going to be limited."

What Obama is getting at is that if the Kerry talks hit the rocks, the call for Israel to be economically and culturally isolated will grow and not even its greatest ally, the USA, will be able to stop it.

It all reminds me of the quote from Mahatma Gandhi when describing his non-violent opposition to the British Empire in India: 

"First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."