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Keeping Bad Company: A BDS “What If?”

February 27, 2014 – 3:43 pm5 Comments

bds2Editor’s note: While we usually try to avoid discussions of Israel-related topics, we do occasionally publish on matters regarding the diaspora relationship to Israel.

Among Australian Jewry, there are three distinct camps when it comes to BDS (the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) movement that targets Israeli businesses and organisations:
1) Those vehemently opposed to BDS under all circumstances (we believe a sizable majority of Australian Jews constitute this group);

2) Those who only support BDS targeting settlement organisations;

3) Those who unreservedly support BDS (we believe only a very small minority of the community advocate this position). 

The discussion surrounding BDS has divided our community and the same points are often articulated by all sides leading to both an entrenchment of already held beliefs and general tedium. That’s why, when we saw a very novel question on the topic, posed by Seraphya Berrin on Facebook, we requested permission to republish it here.

By Seraphya Berrin:

When the question comes up “Why does BDS only target Israel, not all the other occupiers and worse human rights abusers?”, it is used as a deflection from Israel’s real problems, but I think the BDS could try a new answer that will bother Israel supporters more.

Just include Iran, Sudan, Eritrea, Zimbabwa, China, Russia and Saudia Arabia as targets of a boycott. It would take away this question, would be morally consistent, and to the chagrin of Zionists it would place Israel in company it doesn’t want to be in.


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  • frosh says:

    That’s a rather limited list of countries.
    I think of many more that, if Israel was to be boycotted, would certainly deserve to be boycotted also.

    Just curious… If one is boycotting Israel, and wishes to be free from hypocrisy, which country in the world wouldn’t deserve to be boycotted?
    Are there any?

  • Sol Salbe says:

    Owing to previous commitments, I cannot respond to this at the moment but I thought reader my be interested in Bernard Avishai’s take on the matter, especially as he does not support the academic boycott.

    But the real issue here is whether MLA critics are right to complain that, simply because the session took place, the MLA was singling-out Israel for actions other countries take as well. Is it right to have a session on Israel and Palestine and not, say, China? The implication is clear, and we hear it routinely. Why focus on Israel when other countries are so much worse? Isn’t this a double standard?

    And the answer (which we need to hear more often) is: No–this is a single standard; the question is whether Israelis really wish to be judged by it. When Chris Christie is caught using the powers of the state to muscle political opponents, you don’t expect him to say, My God, why pick on me when Egypt’s General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is so much worse? You expect him to know he belongs to a world-historical club. You expect him to feel the shame.

    The standard is usually called “Western” (as Fingerhut, Baime and Eden suggest) but given where Athens sits in relation to Jerusalem, Israelis might think of it as Northwestern. For we are speaking about affiliation to a world of liberal-democratic states, what the Israeli orthodox-right rightly calls Hellenism. Most Israelis want to be thought a part of this world: democratic individualism, free enterprise, equality before the law, protected religious and sexual liberty, racial and ethnic tolerance. (Israeli universities are bastions of its Hebrew version.)

    Israelis expect to mingle and compete in the West like citizens of the world. They expect to be visited and invested in like Western states. They expect to be integrated into global markets with free trade agreements. They expect to be defended by NATO states and peace-keepers as custodians of democratic values. They cannot violate their terms and then plead that tyrannies–typically shunned or merely tolerated for tactical reasons–are worse.

    No other Western state is conducting an occupation, nor is Israel’s occupation of Palestine modeled on, say, the US occupation of Germany after WWII. Clearly, the reason why members of the MLA question whether Israel grants appropriate entry to the West Bank of American-Palestinians is two-fold. First, they question whether Israel is permitting the cultural and economic development of Palestine, which depends on the freedom of movement Palestinians lack. But, second, they are probing to see whether Israelis are really committed to liberal-democratic standards.

  • Joe in Australia says:

    Sol, you’re basically arguing that there is a lobby group of people opposed to occupation in general and that they have merely chosen Israel as their target. But we all know this isn’t true: there has never been any suggestion that BDS target any other country. The people behind BDS don’t care about occupation per se; it’s Israel and Israel alone that attracts their attention.

    I think this is sufficient to show the hypocrisy of Avishai’s argument. Israel’s defenders aren’t even asking for Israel to be judged by the standards of other countries; they are asking for it to be judged: i.e., for the attacks made against it to be honest, and reasoned, and to be ones which would be made against other countries. They’re not saying “other countries are worse! hit them first!”; they’re saying that their attackers do not care about the principles they pretend to defend; that they are merely using them as an excuse.

    You then adopt Avishai’s argument that Israel, uniquely, is a “Western state […] conducting an occupation”. To start with, this is begging the question. Why is being Western determinative and not, say, being a member of NATO, or sitting on the UNHRC, or, for goodness’ sakes, being a member of the UN Security Council? Surely it’s to eliminate any suggestion that BDS be applied to Russia, or to China, or to … well, most members of those bodies, which brings me to the great elephant in the room:

    How can he – and you – possibly say that Western states do not conduct occupations? Do you not recall the US occupation of Iraq, and Afghanistan? That Turkey, a member of NATO and EU protege, is presently occupying half of Cyprus? That many EU members have territorial claims against each other? Have you forgotten, for instance, the long and bloody conflict in Northern Ireland and the Falklands War? Surely you have heard of Guantánamo Bay?

    I am frankly amazed that an academic would make such a shabby argument, and one which rests on such thin foundations. I know there has always been a place for Schutzjuden in the courts of the powerful, but surely Avishai should have had taken some care for his academic position. I suppose it demonstrates how far an ingratiating manner can take one.

  • R B says:

    “Some ideas are so stupid that only intellectuals believe them.”

    – George Orwell

  • YK says:

    If people genuinely care about human rights, then this should be the focus of their boycott. From a Pew poll taken not long ago:

    89% of Muslim “Palestinians” want Sharia (Islamic law) to be “the official law of the land” (p. 9)

    40% of Muslim “Palestinians” support suicide bombings or other forms of violence against civilians in the name of Islam (Pp. 10, 70)

    48% of Muslim “Palestinians” see polygamy as morally acceptable (p. 11)

    51% of Muslim “Palestinians” believe that there is only one correct interpretation of Sharia (p. 44)

    95% of Muslim “Palestinians” who pray several times a day and 68% who pray less often believe that Sharia should be the law of the land (p. 47)

    44% of Muslim “Palestinians” believe that Sharia must be enforced upon non-Muslims as well (p.48)

    76% of Muslim “Palestinians” who say Sharia should be the law of the land, favor corporal punishment, like cutting off hands for theft, etc. (p.52)

    84% of Muslim “Palestinians” who say Sharia should be the law of the land, favor stoning as a punishment for adultery (p.54)

    66% of Muslim “Palestinians” who say Sharia should be the law of the land, support the death penalty for one leaving Islam (p. 55)

    40% of Muslim “Palestinians” prefer a strong leader over democracy (p. 60)

    72% of Muslim “Palestinians” believe that religious leaders should have either a large influence or some influence in politics (p. 64)

    65% of “Palestinians say that religious parties are either better or the same as secular parties. Only 29% say that they are worse (p. 66)

    92% of Muslim “Palestinians” say that drinking alcohol is immoral (p. 76)

    87% of Muslim “Palestinians” say that a woman must always obey her husband (p. 93)

    33% of Muslim “Palestinians” say that a woman should be able to divorce her husband (p. 94)

    43% of Muslim “Palestinians” say that sons and daughters should have equal inheritance rights (p. 95)

    44% of “Palestinian” males believe that it is a woman’s right to decide whether to wear a veil (p. 97)

    89% of Muslim “Palestinians” believe that only Islam leads to salvation (p. 110)

    82% of Muslim “Palestinians” believe that it is a religious duty to convert others to Islam (p. 112)


    But let’s be honest: It isn’t really about human rights. At the end of the day, it’s simply anti-Semitism.

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