A Boycott Is Not anti-Semitic

Israeli intellectuals are Zionism’s best ambassadors, but they represent Israeli society, not the colonialist reality.

zeev sternhell
Zeev Sternhell
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zeev sternhell
Zeev Sternhell

Europe has been experiencing increasing anti-Semitic incidents because anti-Semitism has never disappeared, just as other examples of radical nationalism, racism and xenophobia were not buried in 1945. These phenomena were silenced only by the memory of the war and the economic prosperity of the 30 years that followed it. Although there is in fact is a reciprocal relationship between anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli behavior, and Jews in Europe have long since been aware of this: It is becoming increasingly difficult to separate rejection of the occupation from anti-Israeli or anti-Jewish feelings. Those who reject the occupation find it hard to embrace the occupier.

At the same time, a clear-eyed look at the situation indicates that it is not anti-Semitism that lies at the basis of the boycott of settlements that is developing in Europe. The boycott is first of all a kind of uprising against the colonialism and apartheid that dominate the territories. The Europeans are more familiar with the situation than are the Americans, because they really want to learn about, and are trying to understand, the extreme right-wing ultranationalist viewpoint that shapes Israeli politics. The Europeans have also learned lessons from their colonialist past and the left is ashamed of it, just as it is ashamed of anti-Semitism.

Today it is the left in France that is fighting anti-Semitism and racism to the point of seriously undermining freedom of speech, in order to silence the anti-Semitic entertainer Dieudonne. But that very same left is also unwilling to accept holding an entire nation under conditions of occupation. That is why support for Palestinian independence is growing, because silence on the subject is interpreted as consenting to the occupation and ignoring human rights.

But that opinion is not limited to the European left: Neo-liberal German Chancellor Angela Merkel also believes that all human beings have a right to freedom. U.S. President Barack Obama also seems to be of that opinion, but here in Israel the former social activist is perceived as a political utopian, far inferior to his predecessor, the great conqueror of Iraq and Afghanistan.

To judge by the outburst of Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry shares a similar view, otherwise he would not have been accused of messianism. On the other hand, we consider the Canadian prime minister, an evangelical Christian who believes in the resurrection of the dead, a rational and practical person.

Refusal to cooperate with the occupation is reflected in the economic and cultural boycott against the Israeli settlers’ colony. Among the vast majority of European public opinion the boycott is seen as a justified instrument of pressure to liberate the Palestinians. This opinion is shared by people from the entire political spectrum, including those who despise anti-Semitism and support Israeli wholeheartedly.

Among the educated public in Europe, Israeli culture and science enjoy a unique status that is not shared by any other small or medium-sized country. Israeli scientists, writers and artists have thus far been able to counterbalance the religious-nationalist fanaticism that is spreading here, and they are the ones who are preventing the attempts at an overall boycott. But for the most part they despise Israeli colonialism, which is symbolized today more than anything else by Ariel “University.”

Israeli intellectuals are Zionism’s best ambassadors, but they represent Israeli society, not the colonialist reality. They believe that trampling the rights of the Palestinians in the name of our exclusive right to the country and by dint of a divine decree is an ineradicable stain on Jewish history. Anyone who becomes entrenched in these views will end up bringing about the international ostracism of all of Israel, and if that happens, it won’t be anti-Semitism.

Ariel UniversityCredit: AP

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