Boycotting Israel damages Palestinian cause
By Gil Troy
The Montreal Gazette
October 23, 2010
Montrealers seeking peace in the Middle East should condemn the "All-Canada BDS Conference" convening here this weekend.
"BDS" stands for "boycott, divestment, and sanctions," a toxic cocktail designed to ostracize Israel. This tactic makes it hard to achieve a two-state solution that respects the national rights of both Jews and Palestinians.
Members of the postal union CUPW and other unions should be ashamed that their dues are subsidizing a conference dedicated to making that volatile region even more unstable. Members of the academic community should regret that the UQAM campus is being used as a forum for demagogy and dishonesty.
Mutual recognition requires mutual respect. Exaggerated attacks on Israel as the world's bogeyman feed a cycle of de-legitimization.
Boycotting Israel economically, academically, and diplomatically assumes that Israel is so reprehensible that it deserves to be quarantined. This punishment is particularly absurd considering that these activists do not advocate boycotting truly repressive dictatorships such as Iran, North Korea, and Saudi Arabia.
Polls show that most Israelis now accept the legitimate national aspirations of the Palestinian people, but Israelis will be less likely to acknowledge those rights if they feel that Palestinians are assailing Jews' national rights and Israel's very right to exist. Nations, like people, stiffen when besieged. Even Israelis who advocate compromise are unlikely to compromise with adversaries calling for their country's destruction.
A peaceful future means nurturing relationships between Palestinians and Israelis, while fostering within the Palestinian national movement a culture of nation-building. But the many posters falsely accusing Israel of being an "apartheid state," and the many sessions promoted on the conference's website perpetuating that lie, suggest that this conference is more dedicated to trying to destroy Israel than to building a future Palestine.
Calling Israel an apartheid state is part of the New Big Lie which singles out only Zionism, Jewish nationalism, as racist. Apartheid was the system of racial segregation of the old racist South African regime. Using that ugly word to characterize Israeli policy and Israel itself suggests that Israel, like the old South African regime, cannot be reformed but must be destroyed.
Again and again, the BDS movement hides its exterminationist agenda behind a smokescreen of human rights rhetoric. Using liberal terms to hide a most illiberal agenda is an increasingly popular technique aiding the world's terrorists and dictators. Those of us living in free, liberal democracies must expose these frauds. Calling for peace while making it ever more elusive; targeting democracies while shielding dictators; and respecting the human or national rights of some but not all -these tactics mock the universal standards for human rights that Canadians helped the world define six decades ago.
Unfortunately, this masquerade has lured some trade unionists in Quebec and elsewhere into supporting a movement which is so busy being anti-Israel it often harms Palestinians. In a world where conflicts abound, union members should ask how a simplified, stick-figure version of the complicated Israeli-Palestinian issue has been catapulted to the forefront of their collective agenda. And in a Middle East where many Israelis and Palestinians are economically interdependent, union leaders must prove that assaulting the Jewish state economically would not harm many Palestinians.
The selective obsession with Israel also makes the BDS movement vulnerable to the charge of anti-Semitism. Of course, not all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic, but too many in the BDS movement too frequently echo traditional anti-Semitism.
On campus today, we tread extra carefully to avoid offending historically disenfranchised groups. In that spirit, I challenge the participants to show equal sensitivity in distancing themselves from the historic anti-Semitism which has marred their movement. In combating prejudice, the burden of proof is on the bigot not the victim to distinguish between legitimate criticism and historic bullying. There is enough extreme anti-Semitism festering among anti-Zionists for true moderates to condemn, while still having much opportunity to criticize Israeli policies they dislike.
This weekend, Quebecers can vote against this destructive distraction by responding to calls for a boycott with a "buycott." Buy one Israeli product -wine, cosmetics, or candy. Send an email to friends encouraging them to do the same.
Let's see a run on Israeli products in Montreal. With these seperate acts by fair-minded individuals, we can show the BDS activists that their destructive campaign against Israel truly is counter-productive.
Gil Troy teaches history at McGill University.
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