‘What about Iran and China?’ attack on BDS draws boos from the commenting crowd

on 14 Comments

I was alerted by Glenn Greenwald’s column yesterday to this extraordinary short piece at Left Foot Forward entitled “So why did Stephen Hawking think it was ok to visit Iran and China?” The author’s accusation of hypocrisy that we have heard so often is nothing new, but the sophistication of the numerous commenters who destroy the “What about X?” argument is very encouraging. A small sample (many others worth reading as well):

Whose land is Iran occupying? What indigenous people is Iranian govt ethnically cleansing to make way for some colonial fantasy? Iran is subject to sanctions, has been for years. There’s nobody writing op-eds excusing its behaviour in western MSM. Iran doesn’t have a well funded and well oiled lobby machine in the west to excuse each and every human rights violation its guilty of. Israel is shielded from sanctions by Uncle Sam, so its really only BDS that can in any way put pressure on Israel, pressure that the international community should be putting on it, but for some reason refuses to. Not so with Iran, its been sanctioned up the gazoo. So its important that ppl like Hawking involve themselves where they can help to exert pressure that governments should be exerting. Its quite simple really, just not for the foaming mouth breathers who want Israel a free rein unlike any other nation in tyjhe world.

Unsurprisingly, James’ post makes no mention of the views of the Palestinians themselves. Instead of noting that the call for boycott originated with hundreds of Palestinian civil society organisations (trade unions, professional groups, community groups) he presents the pressure as being from “pro-Palestinian campaigners”: http://www.bdsmovement.net/cal… The case being put here is that Hawking should ignore the clear call from Palestinian civil society. If there was a widespread view amongst Iranians that a boycott would be effective, then there’d be a strong case for respecting that, just as was the case in South Africa. This ‘what aboutary’ (should one not criticise Saudi because Iraq carries out more executions etc.) results in support for the status quo and upholding the control of the powerful. If one takes the view that only states can selectively impose sanctions, but that pressure from individual citizens is unacceptable unless applied against all ‘bad people’, then fine. It is just a relief to millions of people who have gained their liberty from such boycotts, that when states refused, or only latterly took action against injustice, many ordinary people did do what they could.

The answer on why Israel and not Iran or China is pretty simple– effectiveness and consequences of a boycott. Precisely because Israel is internally democratic in its procedures (as opposed to anti-democratic in its occupation), a boycott can effect the government through pressure by its citizens. (Same theory on South Africa back in the day). Political action is not a mere abstraction or about symbolism; the question is whether the boycott is tied to active strategy that may be effective. A symbolic boycott of China or Iran has little meaning if there is no theory of how it could change the regime’s behavior. Political action often targets “less bad” targets precisely because they are more subject to pressure, but a demand that no pressure can be put on such targets until the absolute worst targets change their behavior is basically a “get out of jail free” pass for all lesser offenders from political pressure.

About David Samel

David Samel is an attorney in New York City.

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14 Responses

  1. traintosiberia
    May 10, 2013, 9:50 am

    The brain- dead pseudo conscious citizen coil have easily been riled up and energized on MSNBC. FOX. WSJ. NYT. NY Daily. Evn if they said ” what about Saddam or what about. Stalin ‘”
    This cabal wants us to believe Iran is benefitting from billions of free booties in dollars and merchandise. While occupying. Kabul and while attacking Dubai. and sending death squad to kill US citizen in the sea

  2. Reds
    May 10, 2013, 10:13 am

    Now the Simon wiesenthal center is attacking stephen hawking with the help of fox news of course.


    • Woody Tanaka
      May 10, 2013, 12:06 pm

      “Now the Simon wiesenthal center is attacking stephen hawking with the help of fox news of course.”

      Of course it is. The SWC has devolved into a PR assault and terror squad for the Apartheid state occupying Palestine.

    • K Renner
      May 10, 2013, 1:32 pm

      the simon wiesenthal centre is a joke.

      Joke organizations will go hand in hand with each other, as is proven by their collaboration of whining with the fox news crowd.

  3. George Smith
    May 10, 2013, 10:37 am

    I’m registered for Advanced Outrage Calculus III next semester. We’ll cover partial moral differentials and Jacobean transformations. The Honors Section may get to the chapter on specification of global atrocity extrema.

    • Danaa
      May 10, 2013, 2:20 pm

      George, sounds like a great course. Do you think the course might cover non-Abellian dynamics that have been shown to be so useful in deriving the critical quotients of tyrant badness that result in phase transformations of thuggish militia into freedom loving resistance fighters? if so, I would be very interested, since as you know, this is a highly controversial formulation, as seen most recently in Syria. In fact, there were (unconfirmed) reports that prior derivations of the badness quotients, attributed for example to great moral mathematicians such as Tom Friedman and Bill Keller, may have been manipulated through questionable wmd renormalizations, which, as you may know, have now been summarily refuted.

      Do you happen to know whether the course will be offered through on-line extension? can one use it towards credit for a degree in the field of Moral Hazards? i was told that this is an increasingly popular sub-division of behavioral economics and am seriously contemplating making it my major.

    • Hostage
      May 10, 2013, 5:09 pm

      @ George Smith:

      Good one ;-)

  4. Shmuel
    May 10, 2013, 10:46 am

    Thanks David.

    I especially liked this bit:

    Political action is not a mere abstraction or about symbolism; the question is whether the boycott is tied to active strategy that may be effective.

    This addresses both the issue of “singling Israel out” and the nonsense about Intel chips. It’s a political strategy, for God’s sake, not a religious taboo or fear of “infection”?

  5. pabelmont
    May 10, 2013, 11:18 am

    Great subject and column. And another thing — Israel is a very good democracy, or so we are taught, (I’d amend with “for Jewish Israelis and ignoring the exile of 750,000 potential voters in 1948”) and we are taught that China and Iran are, as democracies, considerably imperfect. What this means to people is different.

    To some enthusiasts of “no sunlight between Israel and the USA”, the idea that “Israel is a democracy” means that sanctions are impermissible, because democracy is such a wonderful means of governance (forgetting the “democratic” USA’s banks nearly destroying the world economic order) that democracies can do no wrong and sanctions are therefore unfair, immoral, and fattening.

    To me, sanctions are licit only against democracies, because dictators and oligarchies are rich and can survive sanctions. In other words, sanctions against democracies are an invitation to the voters to change national policy. Won’t necessarily work, but could. And the targets of the sanctions are the people who are (nominally) in charge.

    Some people think that terrorism against USA targets — when responsive to USA’s armed presence and terror attacks in the Muslim world — are a form of violent sanctions against the USA by mostly powerless people. Intended to get the attention of the American people. There has in fact been some re-thinking about drone attacks. Such re-thinking might be regarded as a proof (or at least a suggestion) that sanctions against democracies might work — and be valuable morally.

  6. Justpassingby
    May 10, 2013, 11:22 am

    Israeli apologists always use diversion when confronted with criticism.
    On another note Greenwald is terribly underrated.

  7. MK_Ultra
    May 11, 2013, 10:41 am

    The article addresses part of the diversion tactic of pointing to Iran and China by comparing the situation with Isrealn vs that in Iran. However, no one touched on China so I will do it, simply. It appears that Isreal itself is not terribly concerned about China after all. And this, of course, doesn’t include the weapons deals. Hypocrisy, hypocrisy and more hypocrisy:

    Israel and China ink $400 million trade agreement

    Netanyahu meets with Beijing counterpart Li Keqiang, holds live video chat with millions of Chinese web surfers


    Israel and China signed a $400 million trade agreement on Wednesday, which expands the already existing financial protocol between the two countries to more than $2 billion.

    The deal was signed by Finance Ministry Accountant-General Michal Abadi-Boiangiu and officials from China’s Finance Ministry, in the presence of Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is on a five-day trip to China that began on Sunday.

    “This is a very important agreement for expanding bilateral cooperation. China is a vast market and if we even slightly increase our market share here it will significantly help the Israeli economy,” Netanyahu said.

    Netanyahu said that Israeli-Chinese trade amounted to some $8 billion each year, and the two countries were constantly working to increase that amount. ”The potential for bilateral trade is vast,” he said.

    According to the Prime Minister’s Office, “the protocol is a bilateral financial agreement that allows for the growth of Israeli exports to China by means of state guarantees in support of long-term export deals.”

    Since the signing of the initial financial protocols, Israel has exported a total of some $771 million worth of goods and services to China, according to the Prime Minister’s office.

    Earlier in the day, the prime minister met with his Chinese counterpart at a formal ceremony, complete with honor guard, in Beijing. During the meeting, the two leaders agreed to establish a joint team which will work on expanding technological cooperation.

    In the afternoon, Netanyahu participated in a live video chat with millions of Chinese Internet users, hosted by the popular government-sponsored Xinhua News Agency.
    Most of the questions revolved around Israel-Chinese relations. Netanyahu, who visited China 15 years ago during his first term as prime minister in 1998, said that he was impressed by the “development, progress and tremendous growth” he saw in China.

  8. iResistDe4iAm
    May 11, 2013, 12:05 pm

    Just one of many reasons why apologists for Israeli occupation have lost credibility:

    – They indignantly denounce any BDS action against Israel as punishing civilians, while they lobby for more crippling sanctions against Iran, and justify the barbaric collective punishment meted out to 1.6 million Palestinian civilians in the besieged Gaza Strip and 2.6 million civilians in the walled-in, segregated West Bank and East Jerusalem.

  9. iResistDe4iAm
    May 12, 2013, 10:49 am

    And… ‘what about China?’

    Although China illegally and brutally occupies Tibet,
    – at least it does not ethnically cleanse the indigenous Tibetans from their homes/land in order to replace them with imported Chinese colonial settlers.
    – at least it does not execute Tibetan suspects without trial by warplane, by bombing them in public areas or in their homes, killing many innocent bystanders.
    – at least it does not use its state-of-the-art warplanes, warships and artillery to blitzkrieg, cluster and phosphorus bomb its defenceless Tibetan victims.

    Although China runs a brutal police state in occupied Tibet,
    – at least it does not build impenetrable walls and fences around its Tibetan victims, and a myriad of checkpoints and roadblocks between them.
    – at least it does not impose ~6 year sieges against the defenceless Tibetans, in ruthless acts of collective punishment.

    Although China shoots escaping Tibetans as they try to escape across the border,
    – at least it does not shoot unarmed Tibetan civilians carrying white flags as they try to flee dangerous war zones.
    – at least it does not murder international humanitarian activists in international waters.
    – at least it does not use Tibetan children as human shields and booby-trap bomb detectors.

    Israel, the most immoral occupier in the world.

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