Opinions of Peter Belmont
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Does BDS Cause Antisemitism or Cure it?

by Peter A. Belmont / 2015-01-27
© 2015 Peter Belmont


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Does BDS cause antisemitism or cure it? A bit of both, perhaps, as we will see, but the cure would eclipse the cause and be a wonderful thing: what’s required is a massive and very well publicized Jewish enthusiasm for BDS.

On January 25, Mondoweiss.net published an essay titled Phila Inquirer publishes a lie: ‘Anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are one and the same’.

The article examined the proposition that anti-Zionism was an example of antisemitism—and concluded that it’s not.

I agree and go a bit farther. I ask whether BDS is an instance of antisemitism.

BDS is the Palestinian-initiated movement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel which seeks, by these means, to bring pressure on Israel to cause Israel to end the occupation, to end discrimination within Israel against non-Jews, and to allow the Palestinian exiles of 1948 and their progeny to return to their own country—the country from which they were exiled in 1948—now called Israel.

I got to thinking and realized that BDS is often described by Zionists as an antisemitic program. Following the conclusion of the Mondoweiss piece, I conclude that BDS is not an example of antisemitism but may, in circumstances to be described below, be either a cause of or a cure for some antisemitism.

Antisemitism, be it recalled, is irrational or ideological hatred of Jews. It is different from a hatred of these Jews or those Jews for good cause. Palestinians have good cause to hate Israeli Jews because of the vast harm that Israeli Jews have done them since the creation of Israel in 1948. Which is not to say that all Palestinians hate all Israeli Jews. Only to say they have good cause to do so. Palestinian hatred of Israeli Jews, where it may appear, is not unjustified and is not antisemitism. It is akin to anti-Zionism.

Anti-Zionism is repugnance for Zionism, the governing philosophy of Israel.

Zionism is the philosophy which: justified the seizure (for the benefit of the world’s Jews) of most of Palestine’s land in the 1948 war; justified the seizure of the rest in the 1967 war; justifies Israel’s (internationally) illegal settlements project now in its 48th year in the occupied West Bank and Israel’s project of permanently seizing Palestinian land (contrary to the UN Charter and UNSC Res. 242) since the 1967 war, also in the West Bank (and in the Syrian Golan); justifies the constant exclusion from Israel of the Palestinian refugees (exiles) from the 1948 war; justifies dreadful repression and suppression and cruelty toward Palestinians on a daily basis in Gaza and the West Bank and slaughter from time to time such as Israel’s slaughter in Gaza in 2014.

BDS is opposed to so many aspects of Zionist dogma that it might be considered anti-Zionist. But it is not antisemitic.

Why is BDS not antisemitic? That’s simple. BDS is a human rights movement for the human rights of the Palestinian people which have been trampled by Israel since 1947. It is not against anything other than the denial of Palestinian human rights. It is not against Jews generally, as antisemitism is. It is not even against Israeli Jews. Many Jews, including some in Israel, adhere to the BDS program. Furthermore, if BDS were successful and Palestinians were restored to their land as citizens with full rights—along with Jewish citizens also with full rights—the BDS movement would have no further purpose and would end.

By contrast, antisemitism will never end until there are no more antisemites or no more Jews for them to hate.

Now, of course, it is a tenet of Zionism that Israel’s Jews have a right to a country with a predominantly Jewish population, Jewish political control, etc. No-one could object to that, right? But Zionism also holds firmly that that country must be located exactly upon the land that was called Palestine in 1947, a land then well-populated by Palestinian Arabs. And placing a Jewish-majority country there necessarily entailed expelling and thereafter refusing to re-admit a majority of the Palestinian population—as was done in 1948 and thereafter-- and further human rights violations against Palestinians. Thus, Zionism intrinsically violates Palestinian human rights.

(One “plank” of Zionism’s program does not clearly violate Palestinian human and national rights: the Zionist ambition to provide a safe haven for the Jews of the world in times of trouble for them. And this plank is consistent with the three demands of BDS. A BDS-friendly Israel could allow immigration of Jews as long as it also and in a non-discriminatory manner allowed immigration of Palestinians.)

BDS asks Israel to abandon some parts of the Zionist program: to make Israel non-discriminatory against non-Jews, to end the occupation, and to re-admit the refugees of 1948. Israel could do it. Zionists don’t want to do it and have stalled on these points since 1967 (or 1948). There you have it.

Some people are unable to see the Zionist project from the eyes of anyone but those of the Jews of the 1940s, many of them refugees from Germany’s holocaust. Zionism was good for the Jews, they say, who could legitimately complain? Of course the Palestinian Arabs needed to be pushed out of the way to make way for the Jews!

If you find yourself agreeing with that really rather remarkable proposition, imagine that 10 million Syrian refugees from ISIS aggression in Syria somehow landed, well-armed, in New York City, and expelled most New Yorkers from the city and declared the land and the property thereafter theirs, the expelled New Yorkers never thereafter to be allowed to return. Hadn’t these refugees from ISIS suffered? And didn’t that give them the right to own all of New York City? And to expel 85% of the non-Syrian occupants of New York City?

No? Well think again about Israel in Palestine. It is precisely parallel. Other than that no Syrian Bible mentioned New York City.

OK, returning to our earlier questions, is BDS antisemitic? No, because it is not “against” Jews generally or against Israeli Jews in particular. It is for Palestinian human rights and national rights in Palestine (also called Israel).

Here’s another difference. Antisemitism does not end as long as there are Jews to hate and antisemites to hate them.

BDS will end its program against Israel when Israel has reformed itself according to BDS’s demands. At that point the Jews of Israel could continue to live in Israel—if they wanted to live in a multi-ethnic democracy (like, you know, the USA).

What About the Recent Upsurge in Antisemitism?

What about the recent (claimed) upsurge in antisemitic events?

Some antisemitism has been with us forever, it seems, but the near-term increase in antisemitic events in Europe and elsewhere, as also the increase in public anti-Zionism, coincides with the increasingly widespread perception of Israel’s over-the-top day-to-day practice of war crimes and oppression against the Palestinian people. (If you do not know about this, just read current or back issues of Mondoweiss.net for any month. Sadly, you won’t learn much from the New York Times or hear much on NPR. America’s mainstream media, like most of its politicians, do not wish Americans to learn these inconvenient truths.)

Anti-Zionism is a rational and well-justified political reaction to what Israel is doing and has done in the past. It is not antisemitism; it is an ethical expression of ethics-based political opinion.

However, the increase in public anti-Zionist expression, including public manifestations of support for the BDS program, doubtless encourages public expressions (or actions) of antisemitism. After all, antisemitic actions have become unfashionable or even illegal in many places. Antisemitic feeling did not thereby disappear. And when criticism of Israel rises up, as it is doing nowadays, and especially when most of the world’s Jews appear either to actively support Israel (and by implication, to support all its actions) or appear to fail to criticize them, ill-educated antisemites can be forgiven for supposing that criticism of Israel and criticism of all Jews is about the same thing.

Why do I emphasize “appear”? In part because no-one knows the truth of large matters, and in part because the mainstream media (at least in the Anglophone world) manipulate opinion precisely to create such an impression.

How and among which people does anti-Zionist expression encourage antisemitism? We might also ask how and among whom does Zionism itself encourage antisemitism.

Zionism Encourages Antisemitism

Israel claims to have sprung into existence in 1948 in order to make Jews safer. But by its actions, consistently from 1947 until today, Israel has made and increasingly continues to make Palestinians its victims and thereby encourages violent reprisal. And then it retaliates for that reprisal and generates further reprisal. All of this seems most predictable and purposeful. And the anti-Zionism generated outside Israel as a response to Israel’s human-rights violations makes enemies of Israel (and sometimes enemies of Jews) outside Israel.

Now Israel not only routinely engages in human rights violations but also claims (falsely) to be the State of the Jewish People. It is small wonder that people who are not trained to fine logical distinctions confound Israel’s Jews for the Jewish People everywhere.

And if that were not enough, the mainstream media in most Anglophone countries encourages this confusion, reporting Israeli actions as it they were approved by all Jews.

It is thus small wonder that hatred of Israeli Jews becomes, so easily, hatred of Jews generally. It becomes antisemitism.

Zionism itself (with some help from the Western media) encourages antisemitism.

I am convinced that the Zionist movement (or, at any rate, each government of Israel led by whatever party) desires and promotes antisemitism intentionally—by its oppression of Palestinians—so that it can present Israel as a much needed safe haven for Jews. It needs Jews to feel unsafe outside Israel so that they will support Israel and, perhaps, move to Israel, as PM Netanyahu recently urged French Jews to do.

I am convinced that Israel’s horrible military onslaughts against Palestinians, Lebanese, and other neighbors are (among other things) aimed at promoting hatred of Israel. Such actions take place, often, just before Israeli elections and are acts of terrorism initiated by Israeli politicians seeking to keep Israelis feeling fearful, and to persuade Israeli voters that they are consistently hated and endangered. And these very military actions enrage Israel’s neighbors and incite further military responses (called terrorism) from those neighbors. Israel’s leaders are not fools. They are, however, Zionists.

The deliberate cruelties of Zionist leaders are purely voluntary, and not by any means necessary,[1] but can reliably be expected to generate anti-Zionism (which is, of course, not itself antisemitism) and also to create and promote antisemitism among those who do not separate Israeli Jews from Jews more generally.

Anti-Zionism Encourages Antisemitism Among the Uneducated and Ill-Informed

Broadly-anti-Jewish feeling is often, and sometimes incorrectly, regarded as “antisemitism”. We really need two words: [1] “antisemitism” as a name for irrational and ideological hatred of all Jews, and [2] “anti-all-Jews-as-Zionists” as a description of hatred of all Jews upon the (incorrect) belief that all Jews are Zionists and equally guilty of Zionist crimes.

Sadly, the Zionist-influenced mainstream media (MSM) in the USA and elsewhere tend to conflate Jewish interests with Israeli interests, thus persuading the ill-informed and uneducated that Israeli crimes are in fact Jewish crimes—and thereby, arguably, increasing antisemitism (or what seems to be antisemitism, but is actually hatred-for perceived-good-cause rather than irrational hatred) among uneducated and ill-informed people who detest Israeli barbarity and do not know enough to distinguish Israeli Jews from Jews more generally.

And Israel knows that many uneducated and ill-informed people are unaware that the Jews of Israel are not representative of the Jews of the world. Israel knows, that is, that anti-Zionism will often bleed into antisemitism (or, as mentioned, into broadly-anti-Jewish-hatred-for-perceived-good-cause).

Not only can Israel call this Israeli-generated hatred of Israel “antisemitism” (falsely, of course) but the knee-jerk support for Israel among many (or most) of those Jews (“Israel Firsters”) around the world whose voices manage to be widely heard — in the USA this notably includes AIPAC and other wealthy Jewish movers and shakers—together with Israel’s claim to be the state of the Jewish people — makes it seem to many observers — and not only in the middle east — that hatred of Israel or its crimes might as well be or become hatred of “the Jews” for these crimes because, after all, they’re all in it together (as it is falsely made to seem by the industrious confounding of Israel with the Jewish People carried out by Israelis and by their Zionist allies outside Israel).

So, whereas anti-Israelism (anti-Zionism) makes sense to many on the actual facts, so does anti-Jew-ism (antisemitism, or so it falsely seems, as mentioned above) make sense, although only on the deliberately falsified “facts”— because almost every representation of international Jewish opinion (fueled by the Zionist echo machine including much of the mainstream press) makes it seem to all the world that the Jewish people of the world are of one mind on the subject of Israel and also of one mind on the subject of denying the rights of and otherwise oppressing the Palestinian people.

This suggestion that the Jewish People are of one mind on anything is, of course, preposterous and also false; it also neatly reverses the oldest Jewish prayer: Hear, O Israel [meaning: Jewish people as a whole], the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” The prayer imagines a plural and perhaps divided Jewish People and tries to pull them together by saying that there is but one God. The Zionist program by contrast says nothing about God but pretends that the Jewish people are of one mind on Jewish terrorism against and oppression of the Palestinians.

Lastly, to reiterate, when thoughtful people properly express anti-Zionist outrage, the old out-from-under-the-rocks ideological and irrational antisemites are encouraged to express (or act out) their antisemitism.

It seems to me that all this is rather dangerous than otherwise to Jews.

Jewish Anti-Zionism and Support for BDS can Oppose Antisemitism

The perception of widespread Jewish support of Israel is bad for Jews both because it suggests that Jews generally support Israel’s terrorism and oppression aimed at Palestinians, which should be ethically intolerable to Jews; and also because it encourages antisemitism as a response to Israel’s bad behavior.

It seems to me that one thing Jews outside Israel can do to reduce antisemitism is for many, many Jews to make a great fanfare of opposing Israel’s human rights abuses and to join all three points of the call to BDS. This means Jews calling on Israel to end the occupation, Jews calling on Israel to reform its society until it is non-discriminatory against non-Jews, and Jews calling on Israel to allow the return to Israel as full citizens the exiles forced out of Palestine by Israel in the war of 1948, exiles (often called refugees) whose right to return to their homeland has been repeatedly asserted by the UNGA and well expressed in a paragraph 13(2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “ Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.” (italics added)

This means—to be clear—for many Jews to publicly renounce support for most of Zionism as practiced since 1947 by Israel.

BDS need not be the cause of antisemitism but its cure. A publicly visible outpouring of Jewish support for BDS will tend to make even the least well-informed people realize that there is a difference between the Jewish people as a whole and the Jewish people of Israel.

Moreover, a majority of Jews world-wide joining the BDS movement would be consistent with Jewish morality and ethics. Many Jews support BDS today, but not enough do so and not enough fanfare attends it. We do not, for example, see it either reported or celebrated on Page 1 of the New York Times.

Finally, an outpouring of pro-BDS expression from Jews outside Israel might have beneficial results “on the ground” by encouraging pro-BDS expression from non-Jews and also persuading Israel to comply with the three BDS demands.

Compare Antisemitism with Islamophobia

It is interesting to compare and contrast the calls upon Muslims to decry Islamic terrorism and extremism, on the one hand, with the general absence of calls upon Jews to decry Jewish terrorism and extremism—almost entirely carried out by Israel—on the other.

The accusation of Islamophobists that all Muslims are terrorists or terrorist sympathizers is loudly denied again and again by most Muslims, so that most Muslims seek to distinguish themselves from Al Qaeda and ISIS; by contrast, most Jews (at least those who control the megaphone) claim to be pro-Israel and notably fail to condemn either the occupation, the settlements movement, or the ethnic cleansing of 1948 upon which Israel was based—and the long-continuing Israeli refusal to re-admit into Israel the exiles of 1948.

It is sometimes said that what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

Since Muslims condemn terrorism conducted in the name of the Muslim People, Jews must condemn terrorism conducted in the name of the Jewish People.

I recommend that Jews join the BDS movement and do so emphatically and publicly—and do so for all the reasons that many Jews joined the Civil Rights Movement in America in the 1960s—because it is right and not to do so is a great wrong.

I also believe that a showing of human feeling by Jews for the terrible plight of the Palestinians will greatly speed up the peaceful and just resolution of the conflict which began in 1948; and will also reduce the incidence of antisemitism.


[1] There is a clear alternative that Israel has consistently refused to consider—proposing a just and lasting and acceptable peace with the Palestinians. Or acceding to the demands of the BDS program. The PLO proposed peace in 1988 and Israel refused. The Arab League proposed the Saudi peace plan of 2002 and Israel has ignored it. Neither the Palestinians nor the Arab states can make peace if Israel will not do so.


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