Israel boycotters: La Trahison des clercs
Part 2. of a 3 part series on the whys and wherefores of Israel boycotters
A piano recital at a campus hall in Johannesburg was invaded for no better reason than the artist was born in Israel. A boycott mob burst onto the stage and blew football hooligan horns, forcing Yossie Reshef to flee and patrons to go home shocked. At a theme park outside Johannesburg a jamboree to mark Israel Independence Day turned chaotic when boycotters threw stink bombs, clashed with security, and contrived a bomb scare.
Clearly, not merely the events were violated but freedoms and principles. And, lest we forget, Jews fell on both sides of the evil; they were the victims and also among the perpetrators.
The human rights violated are simple – security, gathering, equality and so forth. But they open no window into the mind and soul of a boycotter, except for one. Rights allow another peep at the perfidy tucked into the depths of that kabbalistic mission (Part 1 of this series) The boycott campaign, we were told, “is a global movement which works in peaceful ways..”
So here is the principle to be plucked from the rights Jews were denied at the campus and theme park. Boycotters know it well, but let’s have it down in black and white so it’s there when we need it. “Any statement that suits the public face of the boycott campaign is true.”
Generally, principles are the tricky ones, and only to be coaxed out by some careful spade work and artful delving. A pair of questions will make the initial indent:
A) After the outrages on Jewish events did any boycott figure condemn the mob behaviour publicly?
B) Did any boycott figure stand up and say that Jews have the same rights as everybody else -- the rights boycotters insist on for themselves?
They may look simple questions, yet are only approachable through a swampland infested by a hundred coiled vipers. Academics, never the easiest of people to pin down, are also involved. And waiting for a clear cut response could be in vain if academics are steeped in a cultish broth. Thankfully, facts ease the burden, a little, and are helped further along by first hand experience and even a confession or two.
On the frontline, varsity types wage the fight they fight best. In 1927 Frenchman, Julien Benda, wrote a book titled, ‘La Trahison des clercs’ (Treason of the Intellectuals). Academies, says Benda, were once guardians of the truth until they got drawn into politics.
After that, the campus would never be the same: “Arena for the intellectual organization of political hatreds,” Benda described it. He was prescient; a decade later academies were stirring up political hatreds for Hitler. That’s where Jews were first boycotted and forced out.
Before long the boycotts led to violence, on campus and off. …Worse than violence. The Einsatzgruppen were Nazi execution squads that roamed Russia to exterminate Jewish populations. In their ranks were intellectuals, and even lawyers. One commander, Otto Ohlendorf, had degrees from three universities and a doctorate in jurisprudence.
We don’t therefore raise eyebrows too high when a student mob invades a Jewish event. We don’t gasp at finding a course in Israel demonization at a seat of learning in Grahamstown, SA. We don’t blindly suppose that a professor of law who forsakes varsity gown and corridors and decamps to Palestine packs his scholarly habits. We don’t expect him by force of habit to apply law and not boycott ideology; not after UN servant Richard Falk posted a slavering mongrel wearing Jewish symbols.
So, when the curtain goes up on varsity types don’t expect to find them acting on a stage of higher learning. Yes, they may wear faculty robes, but don’t assume that communicates their frame of mind; and watch for the company they keep.
Remember, when academics visit Nazi-like sins on the people of Israel they are acting in another, time-honoured role. Not the spirit of Falk the rational lawman but of Falk the boycotter looms over Part 2.
The boycotters’ faith
Boycotters believe in Israel the monster. The faithful, like Mrs Micawber, never will desert their partner – in their case ‘the faith.’ Without those colonizing Jews the Middle East would be just dandy, is a part of it. In a belief system facts are never apposite, they’re more a threat.
Hence a boycott mob shouts down opponents. Hence on the Grahamstown campus one dare not make a pro-Israel statement. Hence a professor told me to “stop attacking BDS” when boycotters on her side, figures she would look up to, condemn BDS roundly. They call it “a dishonest cult;” “hypocritical;” “false in claiming to represent the Palestinian people,” and anti-Semitic for “targeting Israel alone.” (Part 1 of series)
Naturally, facts will be a problem when they pose a threat to an academic career. Naturally, truth is an enemy when promotion is contingent on fighting in the boycott brigade. “Stop attacking BDS” sounds like a cry of alarm.
A student body soon picks up fear and insecurity in lecturers. On the Grahamstown campus pro-Israel statements bring down abuse. Racist, supporter of apartheid, “problem to be gotten rid of” are hurled at the few who dare voice another opinion. And student leaders press management into disciplinary action against anyone who dares oppose Israel Apartheid Week.
In this climate of fear, to this intellectual rot, dialogue and discourse are as welcome as a cold east wind.
As it is on campus so it is, from top to bottom, in the boycotting cult. Norman Finkelstein the Israel curser was right on the nail. (Part 1 of series)
Cults, we know, look gravely upon members who communicate with outsiders. Cults thrive on obedience and intimidation. Cults batten down the hatch when light is turned on them.
So is it any wonder that a boycott panel forbade me to put questions from the floor. Well let me do so now – the questions I tried asking on that afternoon at the Old Fort, Johannesburg, where the boycotting faithful gathered to observe the Holocaust and comingle it with Israel’s ‘brutality.’
Q1. Taking all Palestinian Intifadas and the IDF’s two big ops (Defensive Shield and Cast Lead), Israel killed how many Palestinians over nearly a quarter century?
Q2) In peaceful SA over a shorter period, violent crime claimed how many victims?
I have tabled the numbers at the end. If boycotters have different numbers they’ll be certain to let us know. But the likes of B’Tselem and Wikipedia are good enough for now. So here’s the picture:
So, to get the real picture we must remove killers from the toll. They who live by the sword shall die by it. What remains are some 100 innocent Palestinians killed by Israel yearly, between 1988 and 2011. Too many, of course; but also too many innocent Israelis killed by suicidal militants.
Yet, in another way there are too few Palestinians in the toll. For the comfort of boycotters there should be tens of thousands more, if they want to be right and the IDF is a brutal military machine.
For such purposes the toll is far too low for comfort, and the comparison with South Africa (not at war with anyone) is quite devastating. With a fatality toll fifty times lower than the toll in peaceful South Africa the people of Gaza and West Bank, warring against a mighty IDF machine, inflict a mortal wound on the boycott brigade.
The boycotter in extremis
So much for dressing up Israel as the brutal oppressor and Palestinians as the oppressed victim. We now have to respond to boycotters on a different plane. There is more to them than promoting the narrative, ‘Palestinians are victims.’ By ‘more’ I don’t mean something which excludes that aspect, nor something which embraces it. I mean a human condition -- the raising of blindness and hatred to such a power that mere boycotting can no longer contain them.
We must still attend to the boycotter’s state of mind and the language he chooses; but we may neglect as far as we can problems of common sense.
As far as we can: for blind hatred must latch onto something or someone. But rather than condemn the boycotter for his distortions, we gain new insight by following his gaze. Yes, he will trash Israel at any given opportunity, but there are times when he’s not looking at what Israel gets up to at all.
That is why the panel’s effort to link the Palestinian predicament to the Holocaust may seem absurd. To comprehend such a thing it is necessary to look through or beyond the boycotter. He could even be Norman Finkelstein and Jewish. Or a score like him.
What could a Jewish intellectual possibly be thinking to mingle a wholesale program of murder, a brutality never devised before or since to rid the world of a people; how could he mingle this with an emotive claim of Israel’s brutality?
Six million Jews burnt, executed, gassed, buried alive, worked to death, drowned at birth, processed into usable products. The boycotter on the other hand will know that the Palestinian population under occupation has spiralled, reaching 4.4 million in 2012 – up from 1.9 million in 1990.
A growth rate of 132 percent in a short twelve years -- unheard of! Even BDS mouthpiece, Electronic Intifada crowed over the Palestinians beating Israelis in the procreation stakes. Perhaps it’s indicative of a force in nature hitherto unknown. The more brutally people are oppressed the faster they reproduce?
Now if the boycotter sees fit to denounce or even trash the state of Israel that’s one thing. If he wants to remember the Holocaust, that’s well and good. But link the two? Why connect Jewish behaviour with the rawest acts of barbarism in the annals of humankind?
One might say that he is only being figurative. When denouncing Israeli occupation through Nazi–like adjectives (brutal, cruel, criminal) the intellectual may feel that Israel has given the world cause for hating its ‘Nazi-like’ behaviour.
But he vilified Israel at a Holocaust event, remember. Here’s an altogether different thing. Here’s populism of the lowest order.
Gutter politics seemed to have reached a nadir when President Zuma’s cabinet baited its hook with Jews in order to catch Muslim votes. But the BDS panel plumbed a new depth. It lent the gutter a new meaning when it held a Holocaust event to entice more Jews into the cult. And who better to give the event a kosher stamp than a very Jewish professor?
Steve Apfel is director of the School of Management Accounting, Johannesburg. He is the author of the book,'Hadrian's Echo: The whys and wherefores of Israel's critics' (2012) and a contributor to, "War by other means." (Israel Affairs, Special Issue. July 2012)
Appendix: Questions to the BDS panel
Q1) Taking all Palestinian Intifadas and the IDF’s two big ops (Def Shield and Cast
Lead), Israel killed how many Palestinians over nearly a quarter century?
Q2) Over a shorter period violent crime in peaceful SA claimed how many victims?
1988 – 2011 1994 – 2012
Palestinians killed Israelis killed South Africans killed
(Militants + Civil) (IDF + Civil) Crime Victims
1st Intifada 1 549 *
2nd Intifada 3 196 *
3rd Intifada 1 290 *
Def Shield 240 **
Cast Lead 1 385 **
Total 7 660 1 496 * 300 000 +
+ Ilana Mercer: ‘Into the cannibal’s pot'
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