During my student days, I had a number of discussions with those in the vanguard of anti-Israel activism.
Generally they had no ethnic, national or family ties to the Middle East and would have rarely, if ever, met an Israeli or Palestinian. They had not travelled to the area nor indicated a particular interest in any in-depth knowledge of the geo-strategic situation and even less of the human beings who lived in Israel, the territories then administered by Israel, or the wider region.
Motivations varied, but most often were driven by a world view which cast Israel as an agent of a demonic “West” and the Palestinians (if not all Arabs) as righteous victims.
There were variations, with some driven by a commitment to the Soviet Union, the most fanatical by a wild-eyed fervour for world revolution, while a handful of others maintained that their Christian faith committed them to support “the weak”.
What struck me then, and continues to strike me, was their complete lack of concern, sometimes even contempt, for the human beings they claimed to champion and the hatred for the human beings on the other side of the political divide.
There was no regard for Palestinians who sought co-existence with Israelis, just uncritical support for the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).
The idea of institution building, self-determination of individuals or developing any paradigm which could lead to a win-win outcome were simply not on the agenda.
The PLO Covenant, with its demands for an end to Israel’s existence, was pointedly ignored publicly and, more pointedly, endorsed privately.
While the pro-Israel students included a large contingent who genuinely and passionately wanted a better, just, peaceful future for Palestinians as well as Israelis, their opponents seemed to care more about ideas than real people. For them Palestinians were simply pawns.
Fast forward to 2010, where debates continue, with passions just as high but circumstances very different.
Vocal anti-Israel campaigners these days ignore not only written documents guiding Hamas (and to a lesser extent Fatah and others) but also brutal, oppressive behaviour and public rhetoric.
Murders of political or social dissenters, intimidation, ostracism or worse of any individuals seeking peaceful coexistence with Israel, terrorism and other acts which bring further hardship to the people they allegedly represent are either supported or viewed as irrelevant. Meanwhile, every Israeli misstep is magnified, amplified and broadcast.
The loudest, least principled and most malevolent outside participants in public deliberations over the future of the Palestinians and Israelis are those who call for “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” (BDS) against Israel.
In contrast with serious peace-builders or even those with only passive involvement but genuine commitment to human rights and human development, the BDS proponents act to materially harm Palestinians, chip away at Israeli enthusiasm for compromise, and reinforce the bloody-mindedness of Hamas and their supporters. They misrepresent situations such as that in Gaza to bolster their own egos and political agendas and undermine agents for social change amongst the Palestinians.
Some who do not overtly support BDS make their unhelpful contributions with calls for Israel to take unilateral steps to change circumstances which, to put it simply, did not arise due to Israel’s unilateral actions.
So often this is sourced in a belief that Israel is always wrong, which is deep-seated and cannot be influenced by objective evidence.
Despite the triumphalism of the type which passes as journalism in Green Left Weekly and the abuse of process which has seen some civil society organisations temporarily hijacked, the BDS movement and other anti-Israeli campaigns have been generally unsuccessful in gaining real traction in Australia.
But the fanaticism and callous disregard for truth which is the hallmark of their artificial and feigned interest in improving the lot of any of the peoples of the Middle East need to be constantly exposed and opposed by all concerned for the future of Palestinians, let alone of Israelis.