Opponents of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement have long complained that it unfairly singles out Israel and that its advocates are hypocrites because they don’t work equally diligently – in a 24-hour day – on all other social justice issues.
This convenient argument is also applied to Palestinians who are unashamedly told they must work equally on other social justice issues before their own liberation.
Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz asserted in 2016 that “If there were such a thing as a BDS movement, if it sought to boycott, divest and sanction – generally – and sought to apply these death penalty economic penalties, it would be across the board to all countries in the world.”
Yet after BDS advocates worked in New Orleans with other community groups to pass a resolution – not referencing Palestine – that called for the city to review its contracts and investments to make certain they don’t support companies violating human, civil or labor rights, these same BDS opponents called foul. They then successfully pressed for the measure to be rescinded.
Retreat from human rights
This wide-ranging effort in New Orleans leads to what can be called Dershowitz’s addendum: Advocates, he maintains, must “always go after the worst offenders first.” And, in his view, Israel – notwithstanding myriad human rights violations – would rank “196th on the list” of violators.
One must remain frozen into inaction unless the problems of 195 other countries have been addressed first; one cannot even embrace general human rights standards because Israel would be included with other offenders.
Upon the rescinding of the resolution, The Electronic Intifada’s Ali Abunimah tweeted about the absurdity of losing out on “nice things,” such as human rights, because of the misplaced desire to protect Israel in the court of international opinion from the consequences of its own actions.This is a very serious criticism. Israel is dragging down human rights standards because organizers cannot even pass neutrally worded resolutions for fear they will hurt Israel which must, it seems, be allowed at all costs to continue oppressing Palestinians.
Coalitions are confronting the nauseating question of whether Palestinian rights should or should not be openly mentioned because of widespread anti-Palestinian bigotry in government circles.
New Orleans council member Susan Guidry stated before the resolution was rescinded, “On its face, this resolution speaks to social justice and equity.” But, she added: “I believe it has been marred by being attached to this controversy. I think we should rescind it, do a motion to reconsider, vote it down, and then let’s get together and come up with a resolution that everyone can feel is for our good and is not pointed at anyone.”
In other words, including Israeli human rights violations – along with those of other countries – is enough to “mar” how we think about a human rights resolution.
But rather than “get together” to come up with new language, Guidry and her colleagues voted the whole thing down. Human rights lost out because of the insistence on an Israel exception.
This makes one frequent claim by anti-BDS opponents correct: Israel is singled out and a double standard does apply. But it is a double standard that favors Israel, allowing it to get away with human rights violations.
Intercept journalist Aída Chávez rightly points out, “Israel’s most fierce defenders have staked out a position in which no criticisms of any human rights violations are possible so long as the avenues for criticism might ensnare Israel.”
Perhaps the most telling moment in the whole race to protect Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights came when David Hammer of WWLTV reported that “the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans acknowledged that it supported the language of the resolution itself.” Nevertheless, it was one of the groups pushing for the measure to be overturned.
Anna Baltzer, advocacy director for the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, who was present in New Orleans, told The Electronic Intifada that such organizations “smear BDS precisely because they know they cannot successfully debate its true merits and goals in a court of public opinion.”
US media repeatedly muddied the waters with the New Orleans resolution rather than clarify for readers the goals of the BDS movement and the history of the region.
Hammer is correct in his 19 January article in calling BDS a nonviolent movement. But he errs when describing the 1967 war, in which, he claims, “Israel gained the West Bank and other territories while defending itself from a simultaneous attack by six Arab countries.”
In fact, Israel initiated the attack against Egypt, seizing the Sinai Peninsula, and occupied the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Syria’s Golan Heights – lands it quickly began to settle in violation of international law.
This was no defensive war but rather a war of choice, as Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin admitted in 1982.
Yet in a video that accompanies Hammer’s written report, the journalist calls it “an all-out attack” against Israel “by six of its neighbors.”
In Twitter posts he refers to “anti-Israel activists” and an “anti-Israel group,” rather than allowing activists to define themselves as, say, pro-Palestinian freedom. Instead, he uses the defining terminology of the resolution’s opponents.
Hammer does say that BDS seeks to punish Israel financially for the 50-year occupation of the West Bank, but makes no mention of its other goals: equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel and guaranteeing the right of return for Palestinian refugees forced from their homes.
Hammer does at least mention Amnesty International’s support for the resolution in a 24 January article.
Writing for The Times-Picayune, Kevin Litten is a rubber stamp for Bill Cassidy, a conservative US senator from Louisiana who used the vote to raise funds.
Litten quotes Cassidy claiming that “anti-Semites around the nation rejoiced” at the resolution’s success. He adds, “As your senator, I will always stand with Israel and work to protect Jewish-Americans from the harm that BDS causes, this I promise you.”
Litten simply regurgitates Cassidy. He fails to note that organizations such as Jewish Voice for Peace supported the New Orleans resolution. Cassidy seems to think the Jewish community is monolithic and Litten does nothing to correct that impression.
Most egregiously, there is not one word describing the Palestinian-led BDS movement’s goals. Litten did not respond to The Electronic Intifada when asked to comment on his omissions.
Kevin McGill, writing for the Associated Press, largely framed the resolution as an anti-Semitic undertaking.
His first paragraph reports that “approval of the seemingly benign measure sparked accusations that [council] members had unwittingly played into the hands of international anti-Israel extremists and anti-Semites.”
At no point does the report mention the unambiguous opposition of BDS movement leaders to all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism.
The AP journalist does quote the BDS movement as saying it “works to end international support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians” and to “pressure Israel to comply with international law.” He immediately follows that up by writing, “Critics call its efforts anti-Semitic.”
This coverage is as journalistically lazy and galling as saying that “Martin Luther King Jr. led a movement against systematic racial segregation in the United States, while critics called his efforts anti-white.”
The specific goals of the BDS movement once again received no attention.
McGill’s and AP’s tweets on the resolution are no better, limiting the scope of support for the resolution – which he dubs a “Palestinian-backed measure” – and putting the anti-Semitism charge front and center.By contrast, no word appears at any point in McGill’s 25 January article to make plain the legally sanctioned Israeli racism against Palestinians, or how for decades human rights organizations have slammed Israel’s violence including extrajudicial killings, torture, home demolitions and arbitrary detention, among countless other abuses against millions of Palestinians living under military occupation.