Stephen Marche, a columnist at Esquire, is earning high praise for his New York TImes oped pointing out the hypocrisy of pro-Palestinian activists who are calling for a boycott of an Israeli troupe’s performance of “The Merchant of Venice” during the London Olympiad.
Israel, uniquely among nations, suffers from being turned into a synecdoche — of the part being taken for the whole. The other theater companies involved in the Globe’s program — whether from China, Zimbabwe or the United States — are simply not subject to the same scrutiny of their nation’s politics. No one would think of boycotting the English theater because Britain had been involved in the bloody occupation of two countries in recent memory. That would be absurd. Yet it is not absurd when it comes to Israel.
I am not sure this is the devastating argument-winner that opponents of the anti-Israel boycott think it is.
First of all, why should the pro-Palestinian/anti-Israel crowd necessarily be interested in what goes on in China or Zimbabwe? If the boycott were being arranged by Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International, the hypocrisy charge would stick. But the group in question, Boycott From Within, says it was founded “by Israeli activists.” They are entitled to their narrow interest the same way that, l’havdil, the Soviet Jewry movement focused on Soviet cultural exports and not apartheid in South Africa or segregation in the south.
And while it may be absurd to boycott an English theater because Britain had been involved in bloody occupations, would it be “absurd” for a Tibetan group to call for a boycott of a Chinese troupe? Would we be applauding an oped that condemned a Tibetan group’s anti-Chinese protest at the U.N.?
Because I do think the anti-Israel boycotts are odious, I’d be happy to have someone point out the flaws in my logic, and would welcome a counter argument to what I’ve written above.
In the meantime, I think there are a number of arguments that are more effective in combating BDS. Nearly all the proponents of BDS I’ve encountered are not “peace activists” and don’t seem interested in a just, two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Indeed, “Boycott from Within” calls for:
a. putting an end to Israel’s occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and to dismantling the Separation Wall; for
b. Israeli recognition of the fundamental right of the Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and for
c. Israeli respect, protection, and promotion of the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.
That “all Arab lands,” combined with the endorsement of the Right of Return, is the tip-off. The BDS movement’s definition of justice for the Palestinians is the dissolution of a sovereign Jewish state in Palestine. Thus, their goal is not to pressure Israel on negotiations, but delegitimize it in the eyes of the world. When an Israeli leader like Ehud Barak invokes “apartheid,” he means that he worries that Israel will be in permanent control of a population that can’t vote or control its own destiny. When the BDS movement uses the term, they mean they want the solution that followed apartheid — one state, where the disenfranchised population is given all rights of citizenship in a single Palestine, from the “river to the sea.”
There are other reasons to oppose the BDS movement, but to me this is the strongest argument: The BDS movement is not out to remedy injustice or bring about a workable solution for all peoples. They are anti-Zionists who are struggling to first delegitimize, then ultimately dismantle, Israel.