Cape Town, South Africa – The global center of the world BDS movement is, when you think about it, South Africa. BDS, in an attempt to sound more reasonable and less hateful, rarely compares Israel to Nazi, Germany, the way, say, arch-anti-Semite Roger Waters of Pink Floyd does. No, BDS argues that Israel practices apartheid the way that pre-Nelson Mandela South Africa did.
You can imagine, therefore, that it’s not all that easy being a proud lover of Israel in South Africa. That the Jewish community here pulls it off, remaining staunch Zionists, is impressive. But there are fissures in the support. Israel is under constant assault by some ANC ministers who make the false and erroneous comparison of Israel’s existential war against Islamic terrorists to the ANC’s struggle against white apartheid rule. Last week I responded to this ridiculous comparison. This week I want to focus on what it’s like to be subject to it.
It’s impossible for world Jewry to be the brunt of so much hatred, and to constantly be on the defensive about Israel, without some of that bile and poison seeping in. The constant attacks start playing with your head. Maybe there is something wrong with us Jews. With Christianity saying for 2000 years that Jesus is loving while the God of the Old Testament is vengeful, maybe Judaism is too rigid. Maybe in Israel we’re overdoing it. With the Palestinians saying they’re humiliated by checkpoints, perhaps Israel is purposely trying to degrade them as opposed to instituting security measures to stop buses filled with children from being blown up. And maybe, just maybe, we Jews who live outside of Israel are simply giving Israel too much mindless support.
I remember twice visiting Dakar, Senegal, one of the poorest countries on earth, and being struck by the advertisements all over the city for skin bleaching agents. But maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised. Gorie island in the city is where millions of African slaves departed through ‘the gate of no return’ to a life of chains in the Americas and Caribbean. When you’re brutalized with that kind of hatred just for the color of your skin you don’t always see beauty when you peer in the mirror.
The gradual trickle of self-hatred into the Jewish soul is evidencing itself in the growing American Jewish call for Israel-hating speakers to be hosted by Jewish organizations at Jewish venues in order to demonstrate our open-mindedness. We first saw this with Swarthmore Hillel when it bizarrely announced its “Open Hillel” policy, opening their doors to anti-Zionist speakers. Asking people who wish to destroy Israel to come and address Jewish audiences – and make no mistake about it, BDS is only about destroying Israel – would be the equivalent of the ANC inviting white bigots to argue that apartheid should be reinstated. I am all for inviting Israel’s opponents to open, rules-based debates, where they are forced to rationally defend their positions in the marketplace of ideas, and indeed, our organization, This World: The Values Network, will be sponsoring debates along these lines across the United States, beginning at Columbia University on 31 March. I believe strongly in freedom of speech and fair and intelligent exchange. And if it’s a credible opponent but who has the intention of obliterating your very home it can only be a debate format and on neutral ground. But what fool would allow poisonous, anti-Israel, anti-Semitic propaganda offered to impressionable Jewish minds without a retort? To invite people who want to malign and defame Israel to address Jewish audiences is proof of the old adage that there is no hatred like Jewish self-hatred.
The latest example was Ramaz High School students in New York inviting Columbia Professor Rashid Khalidi to lecture to them. The New York Times reported that Khalidi had been suggested to the students by Peter Beinart and that did not surprise me. Peter, whom I was kind to and hosted several times 20 years ago at the University of Oxford, has become the Jewish legitimizer of BDS. Peter feels he can get away with joining the calls for boycotts against Israel because, he says, he only wants to boycott all goods from Judea and Samaria in the West Bank. Of course, this would destroy mainstream Israeli companies that provide jobs for thousands of Israelis and Palestinians like Soda Stream, Ahava cosmetics, and even Victoria’s Secret, to name but a few. Peter claims to be a Zionist but by being not just in league but a leader of those seeking to destroy Israel economically he is clearly pushing the term to its absolute limit.
My reward for my friendship to Peter was his column last summer where he libeled me with the nauseating and revolting claim that my stances on the Israeli-Arab conflict “borders on racism”. Personal insults and name-calling are what often passed for journalism on Open Zion, and it’s not surprising that The Daily Beast canceled it, though whether the cause was widespread disinterest or shoddy journalism was never made clear.
I immediately challenged Peter on Twitter and he took the cowardly route of blaming a low-level editor of inserting the racism charge, even though he was the editor-in-Chief of Open Zion and clearly the buck stopped with him. I have invited Peter into our 31 March debate and he has accepted.
Khalidi is a respected academic. But in the PBS documentary, “Anti-Semitism in the 21st Century: The Resurgence,” he throws out a blood libel against Israel, accusing it of “killing children” and “old people.” He does not mention that Israel has lost thousands of civilians to Palestinian terror attack. He also makes the absurd claim that peace between Israel and the Palestinians will end the virulent anti-Semitism so often seen in the Islamic world. One can only surmise that Iran’s calls for the extermination of Israel and its holocaust denial will magically cease just as soon as Israel signs away Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Martin Solomon pointed out that in a 2006 appearance on PBS’s “NewsHour with Margaret Warner,” Khalidi claimed that neither Hezbollah nor Hamas is a “direct threat to the United States.” This was an astonishing claim given Hezbollah’s 1983 Beirut bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut which murdered 241 American marines. Khalidi seemed to believe that that U.S. peacekeeping forces, as an army of occupation, were fair game.
Of Khalidi’s book The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood,” New York Times columnist Clyde Haberman wrote, “When he talks about repressive Israeli measures having been ‘sometimes imposed on the pretext of security,’ critics are bound to ask: What pretext? How many suicide bombings of cafes and pizza shops does it take before a country has a right to end them by any method that seems to work?”
But while Khalidi’s opposition to Israel is not appropriate for High School students, it is perfectly appropriate for our Columbia University debate, to which I publicly invited him and where I can assure him he will be treated with the respect and courtesy he deserves.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach