It’s been clear for quite some time that "progressive" spaces have a problem with "Zionists"and their "offensive" symbols – including any flags with the most recognizable Jewish symbol, the Star of David, on them.
That must be why, when progressive protesters countered a small Ku Klux Klan demonstration in Dayton, Ohio they tried to burn an Israeli flag. Their passionate "anti-Zionism" must have prompted burning the Jewish state's flag to equate it with KKK white supremacy.
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But it's increasingly clear that a similar antipathy for "Zios" energizes the far right. Last weekend, a neo-Nazi, who had come with his buddies to protest the Detroit Pride parade, felt the urge to demonstrate that Jew-haters can also be anti-Zionists when he urinated on an Israeli flag. And the small neo-Nazi German party Die Rechte campaigned for the recent EU elections with the slogan: "Israel is our misfortune."
That’s quite the common denominator. If, as a progressive, you claim to take the fight against the oldest hatred seriously and find yourself on the same side as neo-Nazis, it’s arguably time to reconsider your views.
Which leads to the critical question: what has facilitated this meeting of minds, rhetoric and action? My answer: the tireless efforts of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.
BDS supporters on the far left and far right are only too happy to support the claim that anti-Zionism has nothing whatsoever to do with anti-Semitism – and to assert that in fact it is Zionism that equals racism. But if you insist on treating Israel as the Jew of the nations, don’t feign outrage when that is considered anti-Semitic.
- Berlin Jewish Museum director resigns after tweet supporting BDS freedom of speech
- Armed Neo-Nazis disrupt Detroit Pride Parade, appear to urinate on Israeli flag
- Disturbed’s singer David Draiman slams Roger Waters and ‘his Nazi comrades’ for boycotting Israel
- Israel lobbies German government to enforce motion defining BDS as anti-Semitic
This dynamic is playing out clearly in Germany today.
The German parliament recently voted for a non-binding motion denouncing BDS as anti-Semitic. The motion pointed out the undeniable similarity between the BDS movement’s "Don’t Buy" stickers on Israeli products and the "Don’t buy from Jews" slogan of the Nazis.
Cue the "progressive" backlash, most clearly expressed by the Hamas-friendly Electronic Intifada, which bitterly complained that the German parliament had "smeared" the "quest for Palestinian rights as anti-Semitic."
When the Jewish Museum in Berlin shared on Twitter a petition calling BDS "a legitimate and nonviolent tool of resistance," Israel’s Ambassador to Germany called it "shameful," and The Central Council of Jews in Germany asked whether the museum can even "continue to claim to be a "Jewish" museum at all," in light of its opposition to a move aimed to end discrimination against Jews. Days later, the director of the museum resigned "to prevent further damage to the museum."
So when Germany’s far-right "Die Rechte" party chose its "Israel is our misfortune" slogan, they were not only well aware that it mirrored the Nazi-era "Der Stürmer" rallying cry: "The Jews are our misfortune." They were obviously also well aware of the determined efforts to deny that demonizing Israel is anti-Semitic - and felt emboldened to freely advertise this new "acceptable" face of hate.
Posters with the "Israel is our misfortune" slogan in bold print, framed by calls in smaller print to "Stop Zionism" and to "Put an end to it!" were proudly displayed wherever the party campaigned in the EU elections.
The party’s poor showing in the elections (0.1 percent of the total vote) shouldn’t overshadow its activists’ sense of achievement in managing to attach one of their "Israel is our misfortune" posters to a signpost marking the location of the synagogue destroyed by the Nazis in the German town of Gelsenkirchen.
The party also used its "Israel is our misfortune" poster in "mainstream" social media campaigns calling for a boycott of this year’s Eurovision song contest in Tel Aviv. Party leader Sascha Krolzig expressed appreciation for everyone who opposed "the Zionist aggressor" and subtly hinted that the BDS movement was just an imitation, whereas his party was "the anti-Israel original."
I’ve long argued that if one had to summarize the message conveyed by BDS activism in one sentence, "The Jewish state is our misfortune" would get it just right. "Die Rechte" has come to the same conclusion.
Don’t think that the neo-Nazi party’s support for BDS is merely tactical lip-service. Yes, they’re neo-Nazis, and looking for outlets for Jew-hatred they can express in ways that won’t get them so easily in trouble for anti-Semitic incitement.
But "Die Rechte" clearly feels connected to the BDS movement. The party has linked to the German BDS website, and suggested an auction to benefit it, noting that BDS is dedicated to efforts "to isolate the Zionist aggressor state" politically, economically and culturally in defense of "the rights of the Palestinian people."
And another crucial connection they feel is with BDS’ relentless efforts to fight against the widely accepted definition of anti-Semitism put forward by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. Since the IHRA definition cites the demonization of Israel as an example of contemporary anti-Semitism, BDS supporters, including the UK’s Corbyn cult, oppose this definition just as bitterly as neo-Nazis, who want to promote the slogan "Israel is our misfortune."
If your activism focuses laser-like on casting the world’s only Jewish state as the despicable "Jew of the nations" – an illegitimate and irredeemably racist "settler colonial" entity that is guilty of monstrous war crimes including "apartheid" and "genocide" – you can’t really feign surprise and disdain when old-fashioned Jew-haters hear tunes that sound pleasantly familiar to their ears.
The phenomenon of supposedly progressive "Israel critics" being hailed by the far-right is amply documented, whether it’s the celebrated Israel-hating academic Shlomo Sand attracting praise from a "diverse spectrum of anti-Semites," or BDS rock star Roger Waters being featured on "The Daily Stormer," under the helpfully explanatory headline: "Roger Waters Condems the Jews " or other prominent BDS supporters winning endorsements from David Duke.
And it is by no means a one-way street: some BDS activists promote views that are hard to distinguish from material that is popular on far-right sites, while others don’t mind publishing on sites that feature blatantly anti-Semitic writings.
Moreover, as the endless revelations about anti-Semitism in the UK Labour party as well as other reporting shows, Holocaust deniers, white supremacists, and peddlers of assorted antisemitic conspiracy theories can be cherished members of "pro-Palestinian" pro-BDS Facebook groups. David Duke’s followers surely appreciate his fairly frequent "Free Palestine" tweets.
Given that there are by now not only countless articles but also several excellent books that document and analyze the anti-Semitism that is an inevitable part of BDS campaigns, it is almost pathetic that the critics of the recent German motion against BDS repeat well-worn claims that the movement only opposes Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and advocates for "justice" and legitimate Palestinian rights.
Apparently it doesn’t matter how often activists chant "From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free"; it doesn’t matter how often they whitewash Palestinian terrorism, and how often they explain that "The ‘Occupation’ of #Palestine is not an entity that is separate from #Israel - it IS Israel. There is no israel that is not occupied, colonized, Palestinian land."
It is hard to believe that those who are always eager to defend BDS as a legitimate "pro-Palestinian" movement are acting in good faith. As Cary Nelson shows in depressing detail in his new book "Israel Denial," BDS supporters on campus have done a lot to promote blatant anti-Semitism and a polarized and poisoned discourse.
But when it comes to promoting peaceful co-existence and a negotiated two-state solution, BDS supporters will only show up to protest and disrupt. After all, as Nelson rightly emphasizes, "the BDS movement is about two things only: demonizing and punishing Israel. It is no accident that the terms that give it a name - boycott, divestment, and sanctions - are all punitive."
If you really believe it is not anti-Semitic to demonize Israel, you presumably also agree with "Die Rechte" that there’s nothing wrong with the "Israel is our misfortune" poster. Indeed, replace the party’s name with a pro-BDS organization, and it could easily "pass" as as a reasonable, inoffensive pro-Palestine, pro-BDS messaging you might see at any protest or rally, despite so obviously echoing "Der Stürmer."
You might also think it's reasonable for "progressives" to keep daubing graffiti lauding the BDS movement on the walls of the Warsaw Ghetto - equating Israel with the Nazis, and dishonoring and exploiting the Jews who died there.
As long as the academics who are so eager to shield BDS from well-deserved accusations of anti-Semitism are unable to quote even one leading BDS activist who campaigns for a negotiated two-state solution that would ensure peaceful co-existence by neutralizing Islamist terror groups, like Hamas and Islamic Jihad, who are dedicated to murdering Jews, they cannot claim to be serious about fighting anti-Semitism.
And the next time you hear a BDS supporter claiming they’re talking about Israel, it’s not about Jews, just think how the the same words would sound coming out of the mouth of a neo-Nazi. In a way, we should be grateful to the far right, from Detroit to Dortmund: they’ve stripped away the illusion that BDS can be dissociated from the most basic, grotesque tenets of anti-Semitism.
Petra Marquardt-Bigman is a German-Israeli researcher and writer with a Ph.D. in contemporary history. Twitter: @WarpedMirrorPMB