“There’s no bigotry in the boycott” By Henry Siegman


The American Studies Association has come under withering criticism for having singled out the State of Israel for a boycott of its universities because of their government’s human rights violations against Palestinians in the West Bank.

The critics charge that not one of the many countries whose record on human rights is no better, or even far worse, than Israel’s has been subjected to a boycott by this organization or by other anti-Israel Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) organizations. Consequently, as argued by Alan Dershowitz in Haaretz and by others, their real motivation must be anti-Semitism.

While I have questions about the wisdom of boycotting Israeli universities some of whose faculties are often among the most vigorous critics of their government’s policies towards the Palestinians, the accusation of anti-Semitism is groundless. Of course, it is possible that anti-Semites can be found among BDS supporters. But just as the fact that Zionists can also be racists (as many unfortunately are, including government ministers and leading rabbis who have publicly urged that Israeli Jews bar Israeli Arabs from their neighborhoods) does not mean that Zionism is racism, a charge made by the UN General Assembly in 1975 that was subsequently retracted, so the BDS movement is not anti-Semitic because some of its supporters may be.

The charge that the BDS movement is guilty of applying a double standard to Israel is equally groundless. For the opponents of Israel’s half-a-century-long occupation of the Palestinians and its denial of the Palestinians’ individual and national rights would not be conducting BDS campaigns against Israel if, to begin with, Israel had not been singled out for special treatment that no other country with equal or even far better human rights records has received.

I challenge critics of the BDS movement to identify another democracy from among those that do not hold another people under near-permanent occupation (no other democracy does) that receives the massive economic, military and diplomatic support lavished on Israel. I challenge them to identify another country, no matter how spotless its human rights record, about which America’s leaders—its president, vice president and secretary of state—repeatedly declare “there is no daylight between our countries,” even as they warn—virtually in the same breath—that Israel’s policies are leading the Jewish state to apartheid.

Yes, there was a time when Israel needed and deserved that assistance because it was uniquely exposed to existential threats from its neighbors, but that time is long gone. Today, Israel is the regional hegemon, while its neighbors are in a state of radical upheaval or disintegration. Neither individually nor collectively, in the judgment of former heads of Israel’s Shin Bet, Mossad, and Military Intelligence, do these neighbors pose an existential threat to Israel. And every living former head of the Shin Bet, as well as former heads of Israel’s other security organizations, have insisted that Israel’s failure to strike a fair peace agreement with Palestinians constitutes a far greater existential threat to the country than Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

As to Israel’s democratic credentials, there is no more egregious violation of elementary democratic norms than a predatory occupation that denies an entire people all individual and national rights, confiscates their properties, bulldozes their homes and dispossesses them from their internationally recognized patrimony east of the 1967-border.

Even worse are the democratic pretensions by which Israel seeks to justify this behavior. Even Tzipi Livni, who has been a faithful advocate of a two-state solution, told Mahmoud Abbas in 2009 that there could be no Israeli compromise over the status of Jerusalem, for Israel’s decision to deny a Palestinian state its capital in any part of East Jerusalem “is within the Israel consensus.”

One might have thought that a democracy understands that a consensus of its own citizens cannot determine what it is free to do to a foreign population. After all, Germany’s eliminationist policies against the Jews in the 1930’s and 1940’s may have been within the German consensus, but that did not constitute a democratic mandate.

There is something particularly offensive about such attempts to give outrageously undemocratic behavior the gloss of democratic legitimacy. It is precisely such phony pretensions of democratic behavior that the BDS movement objects to. Countries that make no bones about their despotism and their contempt for human rights do not require that kind of exposure. They also do not require it because none is a beneficiary of the largesse that the State of Israel receives, which makes the donors accessories to the beneficiary’s bad behavior.

The reason for that largesse, as explained repeatedly by America’s political leaders, is supposedly not an efficient pro-Israel lobbying operation, but “deeply shared values.” It is an explanation that becomes increasingly embarrassing when it comes from political leaders who also warn that Israel’s policies are creating an apartheid society.

Those who have not challenged the singling out of Israel for the unprecedented support it is receiving from the United States have no ground for their challenge of the BDS movement’s singling out of Israel for its treatment of the Palestinians. BDS supporters would have had no reason for their initiative if Israel had not been favored for that support even as it disenfranchises and dispossesses another people under its occupation.

It is the critics of BDS who have been applying a double standard.  

Henry Siegman is the president of the U.S./Middle East Project. He served as a Senior Fellow on the Middle East at the Council on Foreign Relations and as a non-resident research professor at the Sir Joseph Hotung Middle East Program, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. 


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13 Responses to “There’s no bigotry in the boycott” By Henry Siegman

  1. Don Bacon says:

    The US government’s position, which mirrors Israel’s position (surprise!), is that anti-Israel sentiments are anti-Semitic because Israel is a Jewish state.

  2. Bandolero says:

    Apropos bigotry:
    Israeli ministers demand U.S. to end spying

    “Now the secret is out,” said Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz in a statement, “The U.S. is systematically spying on the defense and diplomatic leadership here in Israel. Is this how friends treat each other?”


  3. patrick lang says:

    Henry Siegman is European by birth, born in Germany and then raised in France until he was a teenager. His family came to the US in the later 1930s. He is an ordained rabbi and served as a chaplain in the US Army in the Korean War. This oped was printed in Ha’aretz. pl

  4. ISL says:

    To re-phrase Chomsky, the horror visited by the Martians on their dispossed Venutian minorities (okay, or by the Lord’s Resistance Army – almost fingered Uzbekistan and its deep fried dissidents as a disinterested example, my BAD) is less ethically problematic than those we finance directly.
    Ethics aside, Israeli apartheid (or any based on demographics absent genocide) is unsustainable, and IMO any true friend of Israel would push the message hard enough for it to be heard. When words are worthless, money talks, LOUD!

  5. With the exception of the 55 colleges and universities largely funded by DoD in the USA at what point does funding by any nation-state make any college or university anywhere in reality the organ of that nation-state?

  6. turcopolier says:

    The four service academies, the Merchant Marine Academy, the Naval Postgraduate School. that makes six. What other schools are you talking about? pl

  7. LeaNder says:

    Happy holidays to your and your family, Pat, and as time will pass a wonderful start into 2014, as we say over here.
    Henry is one of the minds that Germany has lost. Great man. I didn’t know he was a rabbi. I guess he would object to the idea I encountered a couple of days ago on Mondoweiss that Judaism today is identical with Zionism.
    An important helper of Max Blumenthal in Israel David Sheen:
    In spite of the fact that the passage by Max about the treatment of African asylum seekers made me feel uncomfortable, are we that much better, I sponsored David Sheen’s project. Interestingly the focus of his work even made it into the news over here yesterday.
    This I cannot judge:
    “If you are an American mainstream reporter in Israel, you have a real challenge, just about every day. You have to willfully ignore much of the news that is happening right around you. ‘Goliath’ is indispensable to understanding the real Israel in 2013”

  8. turcopolier says:

    Henry is a Zionist, but a Zionist who believes that the only path to long range survival for Israel is a deal with the Palestinians. pl

  9. Matthew says:

    Col: The obverse is also true. As a Palestinian-ist, I recognize that the only path for the long range survival for Palestinians is a deal with the Israelis.
    To my mind, Max Blumenthal is a national treasure. Many good people like MJ Rosenberg criticize Max, but Max Blumenthal has the courage to present reality in its unfiltered form.
    Our media is not ready for this discussion. Which is why they are eager to interview Avi Shavit, but not Max Blumenthal, Henry Siegman, or Phillip Weiss.

  10. Try the Staff Colleges and NPGS for a start!

  11. I count NDU as several institutions so you can one more at least for the record!
    Extract from Wikipedia:
    For other national defense universities which use the British spelling, see National Defence University (disambiguation).
    National Defense University
    National Defense University emblem
    Location Fort Lesley McNair, Washington, United States
    Website http://www.ndu.edu
    The National Defense University (NDU) is an institution of higher education funded by the United States Department of Defense, intended to facilitate high-level training, education, and the development of national security strategy. It is chartered by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, with Major General Gregg F. Martin as president.[1] It is located on the grounds of Fort Lesley McNair in Washington, D.C.
    The university’s mission is to prepare military and civilian leaders from the United States and other countries to better address national and international security challenges through multidisciplinary educational programs, research, professional exchanges and outreach. The school’s master’s program is a one-year intensive study program.[2]
    Most students are officers and selected civilians in Washington. Students take classes in advanced strategic methods and diplomacy. Several institutes serve the university in developing policies of the government, while also creating simulations and war games to help keep the military current with specific concerns.
    Contents [hide]
    1 History
    2 Colleges and centers
    2.1 National War College
    2.2 College of International Security Affairs
    2.3 Institute for National Strategic Studies
    2.4 Special programs
    3 See also
    4 References

  12. turcopolier says:

    The staff colleges and war colleges, to include the various parts of the NDU are not academic institutions. They are and were officially until recently service schools. You could also have included the Joint Intelligence College or whatever they call it now. It is true that they have deans and give accredited degrees but that does not change what they really are. They are training institutions not places of higher learning. The relentless American desire for certification of everything as well as the bureaucratic requirement for successful officers to have an advanced degree for promotion above lieutenant colonel have led to the application of a veneer of faux academic “coating” to these places. In order to be accredited these service schools have acquired faculties that are at best second rate and often less than that. Nevertheless the convenience of being able to give a promising officer an MA while he is at the staff or war college has been just too tempting to “pass up” because in this way the training time out of an officer’s career is shortened by years. The resulting degrees are largely worthless except in the promotion process. I have no idea why the navy maintains the PG School. It must be very expensive and sending people to civilian universities would be more effective. The whole business of claiming that service schools are academic institutions is ridiculous. pl

  13. PL! Could not agree more!

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