A Stupid Question

Zionist Jews have, predictably, taken umbrage to the vote of American Studies Association to boycott Israeli universities. David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, contends that the vote casts a “long shadow” on the American Studies Association.1

A Stupid Question

“After all,” Harris writes, “how else to explain the fact that no other country in the world — not Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Syria, Sudan or any other serial human rights violator — has been the object of such a boycott by the group?”

Anyone aware of the occupation and oppression wreaked by the Jewish state against Palestinians must assume that Harris is either ignorant or lying. Harris ostensibly cannot fathom why Israel would be targeted.

How to explain? Unlike in Israel,

1. Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Syria, and Sudan are not engaged in the occupation and annexation of the territory of another people.2

2. Minorities in Iran, North Korea, Cuba, Syria, and Sudan do not suffer under an official state-sanctioned system of apartheid.3

3. Iran, North Korea, Cuba, and Syria are not waging war upon neighbor states. Sudan, a recently severed country, still has border hostilities with South Sudan.

4. Iran, North Korea, Cuba, and Syria do not practice genocide.4 Given the complex situation that existed in the Darfur region of Sudan, I’ll exclude Sudan again from the conversation.

It is important to emphasize that Harris, in his letter, does not deny that Israel is guilty of the crimes that has made it a target of the boycott. Instead he argues tu quoque. In other words, others do it too, so why pick only on Israel? This is a morally vacuous defense. Whether or not Sudan, for example, engages in the same morally reprehensible behaviors as Israel does not lessen Israel’s own crimes. People of conscience have a duty to speak out against violations of human rights wherever they may be occurring.

Nonetheless, a moral tenet would posit that one’s own state would, first and foremost, be held to an equal or higher standard of conduct when criticizing other states. Since Canada and the United States are, like Israel, founded on the genocide and dispossession of Indigenous people, any criticism directed at Israel while silent on the crimes in one’s own backyard would ring of hypocrisy. To the extent that the American Studies Association does not address a similar level of immorality in its own country would be of concern.

In attempting to defend Israel, one lie that Harris trots out is the trope of Israel being “the one truly democratic state [sic] in the Middle East …” It is a lie, but even if it were true, why should being a democracy exculpate war crimes, crimes against humanity, and crimes against peace?

Shlomo Sand wrote a section, “’Jewish and Democratic’ – an Oxymoron?” in his book, The Invention of the Jewish People. Sand concluded:

The essentialist outlook that depends on the definitions of Jew and non-Jew, and the definition of the state by way of this outlook, together with the stubborn public refusal to allow Israel to be a republic of all Israeli citizens, constitute a deep-rooted barrier to any kind of democracy. (307)

Sand sees Israel as “a Jewish ethnocracy … a state whose main purpose is to serve not a civil-egalitarian demos but a biological-religious ethnos that is wholly fictitious historically, but dynamic, exclusive and discriminatory in its political manifestation.” (307)

Harris also pleaded that Israel “is engaged in an intensive and complex peace process with the Palestinians…”

This is an appeal to the ignorance or moral incompetence of members of the general public. Who with a iota of critical-thinking ability would fall for the canard of a peaceful intent on Israel’s behalf while it continues building Jew-only “settlements” in the Occupied Territories? After all, Jews would have to be stupid (and they aren’t) to invest money and labor to build “settlements” only to knowingly have to abandon them to a so-called peace process.

Harris asks, “If Israel is so anathema to the majority of the association’s members, then presumably they will extend the boycott beyond Israeli universities to everything Israeli.” Harris twists the situation. The notion of a Jewish state that discriminates openly against non-Jews is anathema. Any state that discriminates against groups within the state is engaged in behavior that is anathema. However, leaving aside anarchist arguments, it is not the state, per se, that is anathema, but the actions of the state.

Consequently, when Harris chides the American Studies Association social justice orientation as “regrettable behavior,” he should be encouraged to look in the mirror and confront, what can only most euphemistically be called, Israel’s own regrettable behavior.

Harris is correct in that there are other nation-states that are deserving of the opprobrium that a boycott evokes. Canada is surely deserving for its crimes against its Original Peoples. Canada also deserves criticism for its staunch support of Zionism. There are plenty of states whose citizens need to confront the crimes of their state. This does not absolve Israel of its crimes or the censure conferred by a boycott; it merely means that there are other states deserving of censure.

  1. David Harris, “Parsing an Academic Boycott of Israel,” Letters to the New York Times, 17 December 2013. []
  2. Some may point to the Kurdish areas in Iran, but these areas are internationally recognized as part of Iran. []
  3. In Sudan, Black-Arab violence has been reported, but there are not, e.g., Arab-only roads in Sudan. []
  4. Or as many euphemistically put it: ethnic cleansing. For an elaboration see Kim Petersen, “Bleaching the Atrocities of Genocide,” Dissident Voice, 7 June 2007. []

Kim Petersen is co-editor of Dissident Voice. He can be reached at: kim@dissidentvoice.org. Read other articles by Kim.