Our panellists battle it outby Alan Johnson, Jonathan Rosenhead / June 16, 2016 / Leave a comment
Published in July 2016 issue of Prospect Magazine
The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement calls for an economic, academic and cultural boycott of Israel over its policies towards the Palestinians. The UK, United States and other governments have criticised BDS as anti-Semitic and tried to prevent organisations, such as local authorities and student unions, from supporting it.
This is the most protean of racisms and it has shape-shifted again. Old-fashioned Jew hatred still exists, but anti-Semitism today is often found—as the Labour Party is discovering—in the smelly borderlands where an anti-Israeli sentiment of a particularly excessive, demented kind, commingles with and updates—often unthinkingly—older anti-Semitic tropes, images and assumptions.
I call this “anti-Semitic anti-Zionism” and I think it has a programme. It intends the destruction of one nation state in the world—the little Jewish one. And the core of the BDS movement does seek to eliminate Israel. Norman Finkelstein, a high-profile critic of Israel, has railed against the “duplicity and disingenuousness” of the BDS movement, which claims to be agnostic on Israel. Finkelstein argues, “At least be honest with what you want: ‘We want to abolish Israel, and this is our strategy for doing it.’” Whether you marched with the Anti-Nazi League in the 1970s or not, if you want to destroy the world’s only Jewish homeland, you’ve wandered into those borderlands.
Its discourse is not “criticism”—and there is much to criticise—but something much darker. It bends the meaning of Israel and Zionism out of shape until both become receptacles for the tropes and ideas of classic anti-Semitism. In short, that which the demonological Jew once was, demonological Israel now is: uniquely malevolent, full of bloodlust, all-controlling, the hidden hand, tricksy, always acting in bad faith, the obstacle to a better, purer, more spiritual world, uniquely deserving of punishment, and so on. And then there is the spreading filth of Holocaust inversion: Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, is Adolf Hitler, the Israeli Defence Force is the SS, Israelis are Nazis. The BDS movement has taken this demonising discourse into every nook and cranny of civil society and has poisoned all it comes into contact with, from the churches to the trades unions to the Labour Party.