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Boycott and anti-Semitism

The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calls an economic and financial boycott of his country due to the lack of an agreement with the Palestinians, ‘anti-Semitic’. Is that an automatic reaction to the behavior of those who dare to differ with his political opinion? Or is he right in saying this? An attempt to create some clarity.

IN AMSTERDAM Sam and Moos (Shmuel and Moshe) traditionally play the leading roles in Jewish jokes.

For example:

Moos walks past the radio studio. A piece of paper is hanging on the door: ‘Broadcaster wanted’. “W-w-w-ait a m-m-m-minute,” stammers Moos and disappears inside. After a minute he’s back outside. “And?” asks Sam. “F-f-f-ilthy a-a-a-anti-Semites,” says Moos angrily.

The joke shows that the use of the term anti-Semitism is susceptible to inflation. So it needs to be handled carefully.

In a speech to the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, the influential pro-Israel lobby, in Washington this month the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that that anyone who supported boycotting his country should “be exposed and condemned” and “treated exactly as we treat any anti-Semite or bigot”. The use of the word ‘bigot’ may not be the zenith of eloquence. But it is only a word. However, why is a boycotter an anti-Semite?

To me, an anti-Semite is someone who hates Jews, for the simple reason that they are Jews. Just like a racist, who is someone who hates other people simply because of their racial background. But reasons to boycott Israel often have nothing to do with hating Jews. I, for example, have been very carefully boycotting all food and drink that comes from Israel and out of the occupied territories for nearly 2 months now. I no longer trust that stuff since I read in an article by Thomas Friedman in The International New York Times of 8 February:

Who knew that when you flush the toilet in your hotel in the eastern half of Jerusalem the wastewater likely ends up in the Dead Sea — untreated? It flows from Jerusalem’s sewers into the Kidron Stream. If you can stand the stench, you can watch it all rush by about a mile east and downhill from Jerusalem. Germany offered to pay for a treatment plant, but for the past 20 years Israel and the Palestinian Authority have not been able to agree on how to split the treated water — which originates in both Jewish and Arab drains, so nothing has happened. As a result, Mother Nature alone does her best to filter it as it flows down to the Jordan Valley, where Jewish settlers use some of this water to irrigate their date palms. The rest ends up in the Dead Sea. Good thing it’s already dead.

Friedman wrote his article having been taken on a tour by Friends of the Earth, which is represented in this area by Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian activists, who pay no attention to each other’s passports – nature and pollution pay no attention after all to the borders, separation walls and settlements that people put up. And the Israeli authorities may well now give assurances that the example quoted by Friedman is an exception, but I don’t trust any authorities that permit such pollution. And that is why I am boycotting Israeli agriculture. I do not believe that I am anti-Semitic. I don’t hate Jews. I hate polluted food. That is what I am scared of.

Netanyahu and co. speculate that Europeans, given that the Holocaust occurred on their continent, are still waiting to receive their punishment in silence, whenever they are accused yet again by the Israelis of being anti-Semitic. But for more and more Europeans, the Holocaust is a thing of the past. Certainly, it is a part of European history. And we must never forget it. But by far the majority of Europeans were born after 1945. And as said, the term anti-Semitism has been suffering from inflation for a while now. It is used as a platitude, also at moments when you would not expect it.

When in 1992, now more than 20 years ago, a freight aircraft belonging to El Al crashed into an apartment building in Amsterdam, the Netherlands authorities wanted to know exactly what was in the aircraft. A lot of the cargo was burned, and this led to a lot of toxic materials escaping. The question was therefore not so silly. Furthermore the Netherlands and Israel were close allies. Dutch military had protected Jerusalem against the Scuds of Saddam Hussein the year before.

But director Y. Feldshuh of El Al attempted at all costs to keep the cargo manifest out of reach from the Netherlands authorities. It had to remain secret. At that time the West European center of the Israeli secret service Mossad was based in the West European freight center of El Al at Amsterdam airport. Did this situation have anything to do with the secrecy? When an Israeli parliamentary commission questioned Feldshuh about the disaster, he called the Dutch behavior ‘anti-Semitic’ in a final attempt to get his own way.

Because of these sorts of statements, the word anti-Semitism is losing its original meaning. The use of it is becoming an automatic reaction for some Israelis, if they don’t get their own way. Is Netanyahu also such a person?

The Israeli Prime Minister may well therefore call those who wish to boycott his country because of the continued occupation ‘anti-Semitic’, but their motives have nothing to do with hating Jews. Their principal concern is the Palestinians. They don’t understand why one person must suffer, because another person believes that its security demands that. They don’t understand why Israel will not follow the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, even though the country, as member of the United Nations, has also signed the Declaration. Surely the word ‘Universal’ does not mean: for everyone except for Palestinians.

And the fact that more and more Europeans feel this, and are not sensitive to the accusation that in doing so they are flocking together under the flag of anti-Semitism, is the reason that the boycott of Israeli products threatens to grow to such an extent that it has now gained the attention of the Israeli cabinet.

We no longer live in the time when politicians could decide what was morally acceptable and what was not. Users of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and of all the other possibilities that the World Wide Web offers, are not impressed by what the Erdogans, the Putins, the Xi Jinpings, the Maduros or the Khameneis think is right for them. Netanyahu should give that some thought, before he compares decent people with ‘anti-Semites’.

Frans Peeters

Frans Peeters

Frans Peeters is senior editor at IQNA. Previously he was editor at the Dutch weekly Vrij Nederland and foreign editor and military reporter at the Dutch daily Het Parool. He published Gezworen Vrienden, het geheime bondgenootschap tussen Nederland en Israël (Sworn Friends, the Secret Alliance between the Netherlands and Israel).


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