The Ridiculous, Self-righteous Israeli Supporters of BDS

On the creeping submission to the fashionable boycott of Israel.

Headshot of Haaretz columnist and literary supplement editor Benny Ziffer, who is artistic director of the poetry festival to be held in Metula.
Benny Ziffer
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Credit: Eran Wolkowski
Headshot of Haaretz columnist and literary supplement editor Benny Ziffer, who is artistic director of the poetry festival to be held in Metula.
Benny Ziffer

The reader will find the most incisive reasons for the boycott clouds that have been gathering over Israel lately in the new novel by the French writer Michel Houellebecq, “Submission,” which has just appeared in Hebrew translation (but not yet in English).

The book describes the cynicism with which official France, and particularly the country’s intellectuals, are using the boycott against Israel to further their own political interests, which are unrelated to the occupation or the Palestinians. These include a young French professor who, at the start of the novel, senses that an academic boycott of Israel and friendship with Islamic student organizations are the current bon ton, and can help him climb the academic ladder.

Thus, Houellebecq shows, this creeping submission to the fashionable will lead France to become anti-Semitic and to stop being ashamed of it, and ultimately, in the next election a Muslim will become president and will revoke the country’s civil freedoms. Amazingly, the people of France, also submitting to the trend, will grow accustomed to having their country run according to sharia laws.

What is the reason for the current bon ton of anti-Semitism that goes by the name of “protest against the Israeli occupation”? The reason, as Houellebecq explains, is related primarily to the chronic weakness of the left in most Western countries, including countries in which the left is formally in power. To fight the extreme right, which is threatening it, the left has no choice but to forge an alliance of friendship with Islam. And one of the ways to win the hearts of the Muslims is to punish Israel and the Jews – in other words, a classic anti-Semitic ploy.

An example played itself out before our eyes a week ago. The CEO of a European cellular phone company wants to promote his business in the Arab countries. He has a ready-made way of tempting the regimes and the people of those countries to purchase his merchandise. All he has to do is declare, “We are fighting against the Israeli occupation.” That’s even cheaper than the colored glass beads with which the European slave traders lured Africans into slavery.

Let’s agree, then, that the use the West is threatening to make of the boycott weapon against Israel reflects a deep contempt for the intelligence of the Arab world. Because the use of a boycott always underscores first and foremost the ostensible righteousness of the boycotter; the boycott’s practical result is always second in importance.

The use of this means of protest by states and organizations in the West is actually like saying: “Look how moral and pure we are, because we will not allow in cucumbers that were grown in the settlements. In return for our being so unblemished – buy our cellular phones.” The obvious implication is that the Europeans think that a primitive package deal like this will please the savages, and that they will dance on the rooftops with schadenfreude directed at Israel.

Here we come to the heart of the matter. Imposing a boycott or sanctions is based on a chain of Pavlovian conditioning that works, we’re told, on mice, but has never been proved to work on people in the manner desired by the imposers of said boycotts or sanctions. For example, the boycott by Israel in its early years of German goods ended with the Jewish state and Germany soon falling into each other’s arms in a love story that continues to intensify to this day.

Another example: the Western sanctions against Iran have led to a situation in which both sides are eager to embrace each other unconditionally. Finally, it’s said that the sanctions against South Africa brought about the end of the apartheid regime there. But if that’s so, the Pavlovian condition is far from being simple, because as long as the West feared the influence of the Soviet Union and communism, it saw apartheid as being quite useful. The cry to abolish it stemmed not from moral reasons but because it was no longer useful.

In short, all those among us who support the imposition of boycotts and other sanctions against Israel, and who naively suppose that this will help end the occupation in the territories, are deluded. To begin with, there is no doubt that the settlements are not non-beneficial in terms of security. And second, any imposition of such protest measures against Israel will always be construed as anti-Semitic.

In keeping with the analogy of the saying “Once bitten, twice shy” – it’s clear that a nation that has been steeled for millennia by a series of totally unjustified types of boycotts and ostracism, will not put its confidence in anyone who tries to persuade it that this time around, a boycott is totally justified.

And always, but always, and this must not be forgotten, a boycott seeks to glorify the boycotter far more than it wishes truly to punish the boycotted. It says, “Look at me, I am moral, so moral that it hurts me physically to see people who are perpetrating immoral acts go unpunished.”

This is the principal feature of the pretty ludicrous self-righteousness of the Israelis who advocate boycotting the settlements. They are so intent on showing the world that they are not like those who live on the other side of the Green Line, that anyone observing them cannot help but smile with contempt. They are so much like the ridiculous portraits of the Jews in the stories by Sholem Aleichem. They demonstratively read the anti-Semitic newspaper on the train journey from Minsk to Pinsk, so that no one will take them for Jews – not knowing that the goyim are well aware that only Jews read the anti-Semitic paper.