Jewish Right To Israel

Jewish Right To Israel
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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Boycotts Against Israel Remind Us That Before South Africa, The Nazis Used Them Against Jews

There are false accusations of anti-Semitism - the vast majority of those supporting a cultural boycott are not motivated by anti-Jewish prejudice. But there is also a minority strain of false concern for the Palestinians, whose sufferings are used as cover for anti-Semites.
Fintan O'Toole


No, Fintan O'Toole is not completely opposed to the pressure being applied on Israel by its critics--he takes as a given that most of the supporters for BDS are not driven by prejudice--but he does recognize there are those who claim to support "the Palestinian cause" who in reality are driven purely by Antisemitism.

Along those lines, O'Toole answers his own question Why the cultural boycott of Israel is a blunt and backward instrument. Specifically, Fintan O'Toole notes that the history of the use of boycotts as a political tool precedes South Africa and was used by the Nazis as well:

The anti-apartheid precedent is therefore one that should be treated with caution: it worked very well when it was carefully targeted but very badly when it was crude and general. And this is the first problem with the call to boycott Israel: it is far too sweeping to be either morally justifiable or politically effective. The pledge "not to avail of any invitation to perform or exhibit in Israel" makes no distinction between government-sponsored events and, for example, the courageous Israeli theatre companies that present critical work. Lumping governments and civil societies together is a form of collective punishment. But this crudity has a special dimension. If there's one thing western intellectuals can't afford to be crude about, it's the relationship of their own cultures to Jewish history. The Holocaust doesn't excuse Israeli abuses of human rights, but it does form the context in which collective acts like boycotts have to be set. There is a nasty history of using boycotts to isolate Jewish communities in Europe: Limerick in 1904 is a relatively minor example. In the extreme case of Nazi Germany, boycotting was a prelude to attempted elimination.

This history changes the dynamic of a boycott. In the case of South Africa, the idea was that boycotts might induce shame in white South Africans, causing them to question their support for the system. In the case of Israel, Jewish history means that this effect is impossible.

Boycotts will always be interpreted as an expression of anti-Semitism and as a prelude to worse attacks.
O'Toole realizes that critics of Israel who push the idea of BDS will claim that the Holocaust is merely being used as an excuse to stop the boycotts. This is where he notes the existence of Antisemites who seek the destruction of Israel under the guise of supporting the Palestinian Arabs.

Fintan O'Toole believes those people are in the minority.

Maybe so--but based on the claims made by the proponents of BDS, a case could be made that even the majority is ignorant of the facts.


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