Introductory, Further Comments on Ahmadinejad, Against a Complete Boycott

I thought I’d get a blog where I can pontificate on issues unrelated to Israel and Palestine (though I will likely continue to do so on that topic too).

Ahmadinejad: Yes, he is an ignorant bigot

Anyway, I wanted to update. Yesterday, I wrote about the raving lunatic who stole Iran’s elections. I noted that he denied the Holocaust and engaged in anti-Semitic lunacy (such as “Zionist” responsibility for all colonialism). I took this from Iranian media. Juan Cole commented further.

I’ll quote at some length I think

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gave a sermon on Friday for “Jerusalem Day” that is full of the most vile crackpot anti-Semitism that can be imagined.

Elsewhere he says, “My dear ones, the pretext used to establish the Zionist regime was a lie and a corrupt act. It was a lie based on a fabricated claim that cannot be proven. The occupation of the Palestinian land had no connection with the issue of holocaust. The claim, the pretext, and the masterminds are all fraudulent and corrupt. They are all historical criminals. They are responsible for plundering and colonizing the world for the past 500 years.” I need to examine the Persian text more carefully, but Ahmadinejad seems to be blaming Jews for the European age of sea-borne empires– an age that began when Jews were still excluded from many European countries, or had been forcibly converted to Catholicism by the Inquisition! (I looked again and he actually says that both the perpetrators and the ‘protectors’ (hamiyan) are corrupt; if he means by ‘protectors’ the Western powers, then his reference to 500 years of colonialism may be to the Europeans; but it is still a weird allegation, since, when they began their colonial endeavors, most European great powers were riddled with anti-Semitism–what I said above still holds. And it is possible that the referent for the colonialists of 500 years is in fact the ‘Zionists.’)

He also appears to blame Jews for the Nazi crimes against them, saying that the Zionists spread around anti-Semitic books and films in Europe so as to make Jews hated and so as to cause them to be expelled to Palestine.

In other words, he is saying, all of modern history (possibly from the Portuguese conquest of Goa) and certainly the British conquests during WW I, the Nazi persecution of Jews, and last year’s American presidential race, has been the unfolding of a secret Jewish plot, wherein “Zionists” control everything that happens.

You wonder why he holds out any hope of Palestinians prevailing in the face of such a long-lived and all-powerful conspiracy! It is sort of like The Highlander meets the Protocols of the Elders of Zion!

The US press coverage of the speech has focused on Ahmadinejad’s denial of the Holocaust, which seems more complete than before (he has in the past said that the number of dead, 6 million, has been ‘exaggerated’). He said this time, “Four or five years after the Second World War, all of a sudden they claimed that during this war, the Holocaust had occurred. They claimed that a few million Jews had been burned in the crematorium furnaces. They institutionalized two slogans. One was the innocence of the Jews. They used lies and very sophisticated propaganda and psychological ploys and created the illusion that they (the Jews) are innocent. The second goal was that they created the illusion that the Jews needed an independent state and government. They were so persuasive and convincing that many of the world’s politicians and intellectuals were deceived and persuaded.” Elsewhere he called this ‘pretext’ a “lie” and a “myth” (afsaneh).

He then went on to repeat his bizarre claim that researchers are prevented from researching the Holocaust. Surely no event in history has been better documented by historians from primary sources.

I just felt a chill, and frankly then nausea, as I read this sewage.

Angry Arab commented similarly.

Ahmadinajad was usual self: an anti-Semitic demagogue. There is no place anywhere for a debate whether Ahmadinajad is or is not anti-Semitic. He clearly is. But what was surprising to me yesterday was the speech by Hasan Nasrallah. I never heard him in private or in public speak in anti-Jewish terms (although Zionist groups in Canada invented something anti-Semitic and attributed to him, and this was promoted heavily in the US but Charles Glass, if I am not mistaken, was the one who exposed the fraud). But yesterday, Nasrallah spoke in terms that were rather offensive and disrespectful to Jewish people. Is that the influence of Ahmadinajad?

The Boycott:

I’ve written and spoken repeatedly against the boycott. Here, I’ll repost what I’ve written before, not addressing again the controversy with the article by Mendes and Dryenfurth.

News of boycotting Israel is back in the air. Universities, academics, film festivals, governments. Israel is subject to increasing international scrutiny and pressure.

One of the most instantly well known examples was Neve Gordon, professor of politics at Ben-Gurion University, calling for a boycott of Israel in the op ed pages of the LA Times. His reasons are simple enough. “The most accurate way to describe Israel today is as an apartheid state. For more than 42 years, Israel has controlled the land between the Jordan Valley and the Mediterranean Sea. Within this region about 6 million Jews and close to 5 million Palestinians reside. Out of this population, 3.5 million Palestinians and almost half a million Jews live in the areas Israel occupied in 1967, and yet while these two groups live in the same area, they are subjected to totally different legal systems. The Palestinians are stateless and lack many of the most basic human rights. By sharp contrast, all Jews — whether they live in the occupied territories or in Israel — are citizens of the state of Israel.” The Israeli peace camp is “almost nonexistent,” so the only way to end this situation is “massive international pressure”, and Gordon thinks this can best be done through the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign. Gordon thinks the boycott should focus on Israeli firms in the occupied territories, and then against those who support the occupation.

The backlash was swift and vitriolic. Israel’s education minister called the article “repugnant and deplorable”. Israel’s Consul General in Los Angeles complained to the President of Ben-Gurion University, Rivka Carmi. She too was “appalled” by Gordon’s “irresponsible remarks”, his “disastrous views” and his “cynical exploitation of the freedom of speech in Israel and the university.” Funny, that expressing political opinions is an exploitation of freedom of speech. Carmi was so outraged by this “vile and audacious criticism of the state of Israel”, that she explained in the LA Times that his views should not be covered by the cloak of academic freedom: “Academic freedom exists to ensure that there is an unfettered and free discussion of ideas relating to research and teaching and to provide a forum for the debate of complicated ideas that may challenge accepted norms. Gordon, however, used his pulpit as a university faculty member to advocate a personal opinion, which is really demagoguery cloaked in academic theory.”

The comical thing in the midst of all this outrage over the idea of boycotting Israel, is the simple fact that Israel is the first to demand boycotts of others. Gideon Levy noted in Ha’aretz that Israelis boycotted Turkey after their prime minister criticised Israel’s government, and that Israeli patriots are calling for a boycott of Sweden because of a silly article making wild accusations against the Israeli government. Israel is imposing a siege on Gaza, which is more serious than a boycott, though it also leads in the boycott of Hamas, whilst demanding boycotts, divestments and sanctions against Iran. Not so long ago, it was casually reported that Israel was urging Russia not to sell anti-aircraft missiles to Iran. Obviously, these would be defensive – and there’s little wonder about who Iran would need to defend itself from.

Advocates of a boycott have seen other successes. One of the most famous recent recruits to the cause is the Canadian Jewish Naomi Klein, who has written two international bestsellers, The Shock Doctrine, and No Logo (which are both outstanding). After coming under pressure from BDS advocates, Amnesty International withdrew from supporting a Leonard Cohen concert in Tel Aviv. The World Council of Churches, representing 560 million Christians around the world, has urged a boycott of Israeli products from West Bank settlements. Ken Loach withdrew from the Melbourne International Film Festival over the issue of Israeli state funding. In Canada, various well known figures, such as Danny Glover, Eve Ensler and Jane Fonda, have called for a boycott of the Toronto film festival’s support for Tel Aviv.

Perhaps the biggest blow to Israel, however, came from Norway’s decision to divest from Israeli arms firm Elbit, because it is involved in constructing the West Bank wall.

How should we feel about all this?

Firstly, it is very important that international public opinion awaken to Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians. These are increasing signs of this, and they are important. Gordon is right that Israel is an apartheid state, and he is also right that there needs to be international pressure on Israel to achieve a withdrawal from the occupied territories. However, is a boycott the way to achieve this?

Yes and no. I am sympathetic to the position of Gush Shalom. Uri Avnery recently spoke to Desmond Tutu, who does advocate a boycott of Israel. Avnery admires Tutu, but holds that, rather than a blanket boycott, a boycott of the occupied territories is likely to be effective. (For a list, see here )

In Australia, most prominent supporters of Palestinian rights support the whole BDS program. Opponents tend to be those who do not support Palestinian rights anyway. However, a coherent attempt to address the issues was made by Australian Jewish Democratic Society Larry Stillman, writing in his personal capacity.  Stillman makes the point, which is true, that if the boycott is of Israel as a whole, most Jews will see it as an attack on them, rather than the Israeli government.  The BDS will thus push Israeli Jews into a nationalistic fervour, rather than towards a more humane perspective.

In this sense, the position of Gush Shalom is sensible, because it creates a wedge between ordinary Israelis and the occupation. Of course, the Gush Shalom approach makes sense only so long as one supports a two state solution. This is an important point: public opinion in Israel can become an ally in the struggle for a two state solution: it will not support a one-state solution unless and until Palestinians constitute a majority of the population within Green Line Israel.

Of course, some of Stillman’s objections belong in the frivolous basket. He trots out the old Zionist workhorse: what about other governments in the region? Why are Muslim theocracies “ignored by many western secularists on the left”? Who ignores them? Most obviously, proponents of BDS tend to be Jewish or Palestinian, so they speak on an issue that directly relates to them. However, if we speak of leftists from Muslim and Arab countries, they are hardly sympathetic to these countries. Lebanese born political scientist As’ad AbuKhalil, for example, is about as strong a proponent of BDS as it gets, yet he is also a scathing (and funny) critic of every government in the region, particularly Saudi Arabia (and, of course, Israel). Or the case of Tariq Ali, whose secularist advocacy for Pakistan is well known, besides his opposition to Mubarak, the House of Saud and so on. Or Hamid Dabashi, one of the leading scholars on Iranian history, and a prominent voice supporting the recent uprising in Iran. Leftists do not ignore governments in the region: it is conventional leftist wisdom that almost all of them are puppets of the US. It is not the left that ignores these regimes: it is conservatives, Obama and his supporters who do so.

To me, a reasonable perspective on BDS would note the following. Firstly, that Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians are severe enough that its proponents should not face hysteria for it, and we should defend proponents from the inevitable bullying. Secondly, that a blanket boycott probably will not be helpful, but a targeted boycott campaign should be. Thirdly, we should use this news as an opportunity: to discuss Israel’s crimes, so that people understand why the boycott is growing.

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