It still works: yelling ‘Antisemitism!’ as soon as the Israeli apartheid regime is being criticized. It works in Germany, it works in France, and most of all it works in the United States. One of the recent cases involves the City Council of Seattle. They voted down 5-4 a bill that would have prohibited the city’s police department from conducting training with Israel’s military or police forces. Up till now more than a thousand senior US police officers have participated in such a training, hoping to see what the Israeli counterterrorism and security practices can teach them for the repression at home.
According to Forward (Forverts) the initial idea of banning the Seattle police from training by Israeli forces “was later modified to ban training with the military or police of any country that is not party to certain international human rights treaties, or that has been found by an international court or the United Nations to have violated human rights conventions.
Human rights groups as well as the United Nations General Assembly have accused Israel of violating the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states that ‘the Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.’”
Jewish Voice for Peace, an anti-Zionist group that has campaigned against the police exchanges, supported the legislation. The local Jewish federation as well as the Anti-Defamation League, which runs police delegations to Israel, opposed it. As happens so often in similar cases, the Zionist supporters succeeded in turning the debate in the City Council to the question whether the proposal was antisemitic or not – and you all know: there’s no stronger discursive weapon in North America or Western Europe than the accusation of antisemitism.
Forward also mentions two other recently failed initiatives against Israeli apartheid and colonialism: “Two weeks ago, the Burlington, Vermont, city council voted to withdraw a resolution to boycott Israel. Last week, the teachers union in Los Angeles voted to “indefinitely” delay a boycott vote.” But the good news is that these initiatives have been taken at all. And in fact, not a week passes without Forward (top title: Jewish. Fearless. Since 1897.) mentioning initiatives of Jewish US citizens to criticize the Israeli occupation and colonisation of Palestinian territory and the apartheid regime it imposes.
This may suggest that finally cracks and fissures are appearing in the for a long time overwhelming consensus in the US American hearts and minds that it is OK for Israel to chase and kill Palestinians. Opposing the apartheid system necessarily involves decolonising the mind. The success of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement against the South African apartheid regime in the 1980’s could be a source of inspiration. In the US, as in many other countries, the coalitions of (African-American) grassroots movements, college students, NGO’s, churches and political organisations eventually forced politicians and governments to impose economic and cultural sanctions and to cut ties with companies and institutions that held interests and partnerships in South Africa. And this could happen, Mohammad Shabangu writes in The possibility of thought, because “although initially a tough sell to a certain generation of white Americans, BDS eventually managed to position itself not only as a legitimate response to human rights violations in South Africa, but also as a moral obligation to ‘decent Americans.’”
Mohammad Shabangu is a South African academic who currently teaches contemporary world literature at an elite liberal arts college in Maine, USA. He acknowledges that a significant number of his students – although they might be sympathetic towards the South African BDS movement that they themselves have never known – would consider BDS in relation to Israel to be anti-semitically inflected. “The ultimate task would be to get them to be confident with the notion that denouncing Israel or Zionism and their own country’s endorsement of Israeli policies cannot be equated with disfavoring or hating Jews/Judaism, …”. But at the same time, he realizes that “many Americans simply do not know—and indeed how could they, given the navel-gazing posture of US news networks—that in reality the actual victims of the Israeli state’s aggression are the five million Palestinians who are violently evicted from their homes twice and thrice over decades; who are rendered stateless; who have lived through a lifetime of collective punishment, afflicted by merciless killings of innocent civilians like flies to wanton boys; affected by checkpoints that impede freedom of movement; relegated to what amounts to crowded bantustans, permanently walled in and encircled by an Israeli military that hunts them down and periodically airstrikes them while they sleep, destroying swaths of residential units in the process. They don’t really know about Israel’s targeted destruction of economic and administrative infrastructure such as water and electricity supplies; they surely must not know about the pleasure and sense of accomplishment Israel derives from that, just so a few hundred settlers can claim their share of yet more illegally occupied territory. And through all of this, Israel can count on unconditional subsidy from US taxes. They cannot begin to imagine the scale of the crimes against humanity that this silence has upheld for decades.”
As far as I can see, the informational situation in Western Europe is but slightly better than in the US. The mainstream media only pay attention to the occupation and colonisation when something visually attractive happens in the ‘conflict’ between Israel and the Palestinians: some violence, some destruction, some sympathetic victim. That’s why, when it comes to Palestine and Israel, BDS still has to work on the decolonisation of the minds, on making Israel and its propaganda machine lose grip on public opinion, on trying to understand the complexity and complicacy of the Palestinian situation, … in short, “to think of BDS as an invitation to think, and think again”, as Shabangu calls it. The BDS movement may be under fire from the state apparatus in several Western European countries, but on the other hand, the millions of dollars yearly spent by the Israeli government to counter it, have not been able to stop it yet.
At the end of the 1970’s I distributed through the trade union where I did my civilian service a huge poster ‘No to Outspan Oranges from South Africa’, showing a black boy’s head squeezed upon a juicer.
And look what happened! A few years later apartheid in South Africa was (officially) over – partially thanks to international solidarity and the efforts of BDS in the rest of the world. What was possible then, should be possible now. The basic continuous effort this requires is countering the allegation that critique on Israeli colonisation and apartheid amounts to Jew hatred.