Too Good to Check
I know a country that is so racist it has public holidays associated with one religious faith, thus excluding and marginalising those who follow other religions or no religion. It is so racist that it has a symbol of one religious faith on its flag. Furthermore, in this country, the main calendar used by government is one that is mostly associated with a specific religious faith. It is so racist it provides special benefits and pensions to individuals who served in the armed forces – thus effectively discriminating against those minorities who are less likely to choose to serve in the armed forces. Plus, this racist country even prohibits interaction with enemy states during wartime, which clearly discriminates against members of the community originating in those enemy states.
Hopefully the alert reader will have spotted two things by now: 1. These supposed examples of racism are nothing of the sort; 2. They all apply to many if not most Western democracies, including Australia.
Nonetheless these are the sorts of claims that lie behind a key and frequently heard allegation coming from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement which targets Israel. Thus, pro-BDS activist Kolin Thumbadoo wrote in New Matilda on Nov. 13, “There are currently 50 laws in Israel that entrenches this obscene discrimination of the Palestinians [sic].” Similarly, another pro-BDS activist, Vivienne Porzsolt, wrote in Green Left Weekly (July 25) that in Israel, “A whole raft of legislation enshrines Jewish rights at the expense of Palestinian rights.”
These claims about Israel’s supposedly racist laws largely originate from a database of “more than 50” supposedly “discriminatory laws” in Israel compiled by Adalah: The Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel – a mostly European-funded Israeli NGO with a very extreme record and agenda. But more important than the source is the fact that the assertions in the database fail to stand up to the barest scrutiny in terms of its judgements about what constitutes a “racist” or “discriminatory” law, as NGO Monitor (www.ngo-monitor.org) has shown in a recent report.
Many are of the ridiculous sort suggested above – laws establishing the Israeli flag are discriminatory because it has a Jewish star on it, laws establishing Jewish holidays as public holidays are discriminatory, laws encouraging use of the Jewish calendar in government correspondence are discriminatory, laws rewarding soldiers are discriminatory because most Arabs do not serve, laws forbidding trade with enemy states are discriminatory because most of Israel’s enemies are Muslim or Arab.
Meanwhile, some Adalah claims are even more bizarre. Adalah claims that two laws that establish an institute to study the history of Middle Eastern Jews and an agricultural school that admits both Jews and non-Jews are discriminatory because they somehow promote “Jewish culture and education at the expense of minority goals.” Adalah even claims a law requiring vaccination of children to receive child allowances is discriminatory because some Bedouin might lack adequate access to health care. (In actual fact, Israeli Arabs have a higher vaccination rate than Israeli Jews).
Adalah for some reason also claims as discriminatory a law which allows the Israel Prison Service to forbid prisoners involved in security crimes from meeting their lawyers if it is suspected they plan to pass on information to a terrorist organisation. Then there is the claim that Israel’s “Second Authority for Television and Radio Law (1990)” is discriminatory because it calls for the state broadcaster to make broadcasts “promoting understanding and peace with the neighboring states in accordance with the basic goals of the state.” Huh?
And finally some Adalah claims involve just plain untruths about what laws say. It says that a 1965 broadcast law calls for “broadcasting programs ‘to reinforce the Zionist identity of the state of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.'” There is no such language in the law. It says that a 1958 law calling for the reading of sections of Israel’s Declaration of Independence at the opening of the Knesset is discriminatory because the excerpts “emphasise the exclusive connection of the state to the Jewish people.” Actually the excerpts contain no such language, but they do call for Israel to “ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex.”
My point is not simply to note that the claims about discriminatory laws in Israel are untrue. It is also that most of these assertions are simply ridiculous on their face yet are widely passed on as gospel in dedicated anti-Israel circles. There, it seems, many are so devoted to repeating any argument that reinforces their cause, that they cannot be bothered even to do the most basic checking or apply the most elementary logic to claims like the one about Israel’s 50 supposedly “discriminatory laws.” There, virtually any claim that allows point scoring against Israel appears to be simply “too good to check”.
The same sort of “any justification, no matter how ridiculous, will do” tendency is also often apparent in the reasons given for boycotting Israeli companies by BDS types.
For example, the BDS movement has long made the home soft-drink company SodaStream a target because it has a factory in the West Bank (which makes it the largest commercial employer of Palestinians in the world under conditions no one has been able to credibly charge are discriminatory.)
Now SodaStream has announced it will be closing its West Bank factory and operating wholly inside the pre-1967 armistice lines – costing many Palestinians much-needed jobs. Yet BDS leaders insist they will still target it for boycotts. Why? Because the new factory will be near, but not in, a Negev town Israel is developing to house Bedouins and provide them with social services. According to the BDS movement, the mere proximity to this town makes SodaStream complicit in “the displacement of Palestinians.”
They appear to be so sure the members of their movement will be unquestioning, they only need the barest pretence, not a real argument.