IN THE MEDIA

Israel boycott bandwagon fails to see functioning democracy

Jan 13, 2022 | Jamie Hyams

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

An edited version of this article appeared in The Mercury, 13 January 2022

 

It’s no surprise to see Greg Barns back on the Boycott Israel bandwagon, making false and easily disprovable claims of Israel being an Apartheid state to justify his support for the insidious Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against the Sydney Festival.

Israel, as anyone who has been there will attest, is a vibrant democracy. All of its citizens, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity or background, have equal, democratic rights. There is currently an Islamic party – Ra’am – in the governing coalition, and Arabs have been ministers, the parliamentary speaker, Supreme Court justices and senior army officers, and are well represented in all professions.

In the West Bank, different laws do apply to Israelis and Palestinians. This is a requirement of international law, as for Israel to apply its own laws to Palestinians there would amount to annexation. Instead, Israel applies the law in force at the time it took control of the West Bank in a defensive war in 1967.

In any event, all Palestinians in Gaza and the vast majority in the West Bank live in areas where their day-to-day lives are ruled by their fellow Palestinians, Hamas in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank. There are security measures that impinge on Palestinians’ lives, such as the security barrier and checkpoints, but these are to prevent further Palestinian terrorism, of the sort that killed more than 1,000 Israelis during the Second Intifada between 2000 and 2005, not out of any doctrine of racial superiority.

It is true that fringe Israeli groups, such as the largely foreign-funded B’Tselem, perpetuate the fiction of Israeli apartheid, but that only proves Israel is a democracy with freedom of speech. All democracies have groups strongly critical of government policies, so it’s only to be expected that would be even more so in a state that needs to constantly make difficult security decisions. That may make them quotable, but doesn’t make them right.

The BDS campaign leaders claim, publicly at least, that their aim is to end Israel’s “occupation”. However, if that was really the aim, the movement would be urging the Palestinian Authority leadership to make peace with Israel, rather than blaming and attacking Israel.

The Palestinian leadership has rebuffed various Israeli peace initiatives, including three offers of statehood. The most recent, in 2008, included land equivalent to the entirety of the West Bank and Gaza, a capital in east Jerusalem and a land bridge connecting the West Bank and Gaza. Yet, as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas later said, he rejected it “out of hand”, without even negotiating further.

In 2014, the US again tried to facilitate a peace deal but, according to US mediator Martin Indyk, while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was “sweating bullets” to make a deal, Abbas “walked away.” Till last month, Abbas had refused to even talk since then.

The BDS movement is detrimental to the cause of peace. It discourages the contacts that could help bring about peace, and it also encourages the intransigence shown by the PA, in the belief time is on its side.

But this is no great surprise, because the true aim of the BDS movement, as shown by many statements from its leaders, is not the end of Israel’s occupation; it’s the end of Israel. To give just one example, Omar Barghouti, the founder of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, stated, “Definitely, most definitely, we oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine. No Palestinian, rational Palestinian, not a sell-out Palestinian, will ever accept a Jewish state in Palestine.”

The movement, therefore, denies for Jews the right to a state in the Jewish homeland, where Jews are indigenous and have lived for thousands of years, while demanding that right for others. This is one reason it has been widely described as antisemitic. Casual observers may wonder why, when there are so many states that are genuine human rights abusers and do illegitimately occupy other people’s land without ever offering to withdraw, it is only the Jewish state that is subject to this type of campaign.

Many acts associated with the Sydney Festival, or targeted by other BDS campaigns, have reported relentless pressure and bullying. Barns states that other arts festivals should be on notice, and he is right. The decision they will need to make is whether they succumb to a BDS campaign, which Nick Cave accurately described as “cowardly and shameful”, to the detriment of their audiences, or whether they stand up to it, as they would to any other bullying campaign founded on bigotry and discrimination.

Jamie Hyams is a Senior Policy Analyst at the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

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