BDS on the march and under fire
The witch hunt against those who campaign against Israeli settler-colonialism is unlikely to end any time soon, observes Paul Demarty
As Donald Trump cranks up tensions with Iran, he must necessarily cast the spotlight on other regimes than that of the ayatollahs.
The United States - far more for such a war than it was for the conquests of Iraq and Afghanistan, troublesome enough as they were - will be reliant on its allies in the region. None more so, of course, than Israel - whose governing class has been screaming for Iran’s downfall for at least as long as Binyamin Netanyahu has been in office, and possesses the necessary munitions and guile to stage a provocation that will get the little crusade of Trump and national security advisor John Bolton started. One option among many, but a very attractive one from the American point of view.
Israel probably ought to be in the news for that - now that Netanyahu’s relentless sabre-rattling is bearing fruit. Instead, other matters arise.
We might as well begin with the more serious of them. The German federal parliament, the Bundestag, passed a Kafkaesque motion entitled “Resisting the BDS movement decisively - fighting anti-Semitism”, which called on the government to refuse to “provide premises and facilities under the administration of the Bundestag to organisations that express themselves in anti-Semitic terms or question Israel’s right to exist.”
It later emerged that dozens of Israeli academics had written to urge that the motion be not passed; but such squeaks of protest from people who dare to have a conscience could never compete with Netanyahu’s chums and various Atlanticist creeps in the major parties.
This builds on the same offensive in the United States itself, where over half the states have now legislated against boycott, divestment and sanctions (so much for the First Amendment …). A particularly ugly flashpoint has been the repeated slurs directed against Ilhan Omar, a leftish Democrat congresswoman and lukewarm BDS supporter, who is now officially public enemy number one for the American right; she is repeatedly accused of supporting terrorism and is the number one assassination target for white supremacist fruitcakes.
If there is a silver lining to morally perverse pronouncements like that of the Bundestag, the monstering of Ilhan Omar and the wider American state offensive against BDS, it is that it tells us something encouraging about the real level of support for the Israeli state in the western general population.
The overt moral claim of Israel to support from the enlightened populations of the great powers was always based on two matters - restitution due to the Jews after their near-extermination in Europe; and Israel’s apparently democratic internal norms. In both cases, there was a bit of prestidigitation going on - Israel’s claim to be the state of all Jews is bogus; and its democracy had definite limits when it came to those Israelis who opposed Zionism outright (never mind its Arab residents). Secondly, such sentiments functioned as an ideological fig leaf for Israel’s willingness to act as an attack dog for the ‘free world’ in an important theatre of global strategy.
Yet it was convincing enough to do the job in practice. When the Palestinian national movement stepped up its resistance after 1967, there was at least enough drama - plane hijackings and whatnot - to set up a superficial ‘Israel versus the terrorists’ narrative. Its interventions in Lebanon and elsewhere in the 1980s threatened this somewhat, but not absolutely, and the theatrical ‘peace process’ repaired some of that damage in the 1990s. The next decade, however, placed the Middle East much further up the American order of priorities - the Palestinians could thus be redefined as part of a hostile Muslim horde, surrounding an agreeably ‘western’ Israel.
Inexorably, this turned the chauvinist right in the west into the most fanatical supporters of Israel, and pushed anti-war and war-weary liberals away. What remained of the liberal Zionist milieux were reduced to a resentful tail of the openly Islamophobic spokespeople of the new ‘populist’ right. There are enough left over to fill newspaper comment pages with contemptible apologetics, and to staff the imperialist wing of social democracy; but little else.
Liberals and the left today are faced not with a quasi-‘socialist’ Israel administered by the heirs of Ben Gurion, but an increasingly militarised society led by a corrupt sociopath, whose political parties compete merely on the basis of who has killed or displaced the most Palestinians; which bombs hospitals and power plants without meaningful provocation; and which pals around, as Sarah Palin would put it, with similarly ugly nationalists around the world. The close friendship between Trump and ‘Bibi’ is emblematic, but, of course, this phenomenon even extends to those happy to promote anti-Semitism, as in the case of Fidesz in Hungary.
Legislative action against the BDS movement must be seen in this context. It is a tacit admission that, so far as the broadly defined left is concerned, Israel is a write-off. It is seen for what it is - not a plucky little underdog, but a monstrous colonial oppressor, armed to the teeth with conventional and nuclear weapons, and governed by a shifting coalition of religious fanatics, racists and scoundrels. Thus, a broad consensus in favour of a US-led hegemonic alliance, of which Israel is the pointy end, cannot be maintained with appeals to fair play and liberal values, but only - like the occupation itself - by force, lies and witch hunting demonisation.
A US ‘shock and awe’ bombing campaign against Iran is easy to envisage. Especially if Israel first stages a provocation on its border with Syria or Lebanon, or annexes territory on the West Bank, or ... If Iran can be pictured as being behind or involved in any such events, the US could act in the name of saving Israel. One could imagine a post-Brexit Britain, under prime minister Boris Johnson, responding positively to US appeals for a token number of strike aircraft and war ships.
There would, of course, be considerable opposition. There are the usual suspects: Stop the War Coalition, leftwing trade unions, secular and religious Muslims, Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour left, Quakers, communists, international socialists and assorted pacifists and peaceniks ... and protests will attract hundreds of thousands.
They will, on this occasion, however not just be accused of being naive, of being in receipt of Iranian money, of being unpatriotic. They will be accused of anti-Semitism. Indeed the whole anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism campaign is ultimately about war in the Middle East. That is why the Altanticist ruling class want rid of Corbyn and rid of the entire Labour Party membership that supports him.
The less superficially serious piece of Israel news this last week rather underlines the case. The Eurovision song contest took place in Tel Aviv on May 18, and understandably the BDS movement made a target of it. All artists and general worthies were urged to boycott the event; the special celebrity guest singer, Madonna, came in for particular criticism, and presumably a stage show that nodded gloopily in the direction of ‘peace, maan’ will have satisfied nobody. Protests have dogged the contest since its earlier rounds that select acts, and the Icelandic entry - a leftwing band by the name of Hatari - repeatedly took the opportunity to express solidarity with the Palestinians, as a result of which the Icelandic broadcasting authorities are to be sanctioned by the Eurovision powers-that-be. Quelle horreur …
Opponents of BDS managed to get together a letter from 100 celebrities of varying levels of importance to oppose a boycott, citing the power of music to “help bridge cultural divides”. Madonna herself stressed how music (including the type of boring stuff heard at Eurovision, presumably) brings people together internationally. As with all such sentiments, it is entirely off the point; the idea that what is at issue in Palestine is a cultural division healable by dancing to the same pop songs is utterly risible, already mocked by Art Brut back in the days of Ariel Sharon’s premiership (“We’re gonna be the band that writes the song that makes Israel and Palestine get along”). By rendering the underlying problem in soft focus, the refusal of various worthies to take a moral stand becomes - as if by magic - part of the solution.
In reality, we know why these things happen. Israel hosts Eurovision for the same reason Qatar hosts the World Cup - to launder its reputation. A night of pop music that discreetly places Israel at the heart of Europe is just the sort of message its PR people would like to send. This, however, turns out to be exactly the sort of thing which empowers a boycott campaign. In the case of Qatar 2022, it is the wounded pride of potential hosts spurned in a flagrantly corrupt process that led to greater scrutiny being placed on the preparations; and the average British football fan knows a great deal more about the appalling conditions of migrant labourers in the tiny Gulf state than they did before. Likewise, it matters little that no contestant actually pulled out of Eurovision (although it would have been nice); the fact that there has been a controversy about it has exposed what a shabby arrangement the whole thing is, and how hollow attempts to ‘put differences aside with music’ (or football) actually are.
The limit of the boycott is that it cannot substitute for a material change in the balance of forces - the boycott of South Africa could not have brought down apartheid. That was the work of a mass movement, combined with geostrategic changes. However, the American empire is not about to collapse, and it cannot yet dispense with its Israeli pet. Which means that the witch-hunting of supporters of the Palestinian cause is only likely to get worse.