Richard Cohen has a piece up at the Washington Post titled, “The ugly effort to boycott Israel,” accusing those leading the boycott movement of anti-semitism because they have a double standard, ignoring human rights abuses in Egypt, including genital mutilation.
Israel somehow produces intemperate snits in otherwise gentle people.
Cohen’s argument recalls the most exciting exchange between Peter Beinart and Yousef Munayyer at last week’s debate at the New America Foundation in New York. Beinart said BDS is guilty of a double standard; Munayyer defended the campaign. Here we go:
I’m not in general a fan of double standards arguments. And I have made that point at length and in Jewish audiences where it’s not very popular. But I do have to say, there is a certain level of double standard at which things become absurd. If you’re talking about boycotting Israeli behavior in the West Bank and Gaza, because of the fundamental oppression that exists there, but not boycott anything else in the Arab Middle East, I’m with you. But if you say you’re gong to boycott Israel inside the Green Line, where Palestinians have the right to vote, are represented in the Knesset, live under the same legal system, are represented on the Supreme Court, but you have no problem with a whole series of states where everyone has far fewer rights than that, that seems to me genuinely problematic.
We hear this all the time, oh Palestinian citizens are in the Knesset, and Palestinian judges and all that. Well I’ll have you know that during the time of Jim Crow, there were African American members of Congress. And there were also African American judges.
The reality is you can point to anecdotes within Israel, but that doesn’t mean there’s no systematic discrimination.
And the reality is there is a double standard, but that double standard also exists for Israel. In many situations around the world where you have human rights abuses, you have an international state system actually attempting to do something about that to a far greater extent than they’re attempting to do something when it comes to Israel. In many other cases, when you have human rights abusers, you have sanctions slapped on those regimes. You don’t have that in Israel.
The reason BDS is stepping up to the plate as a civil society movement to play that role is precisely because the state system has failed to do that. Instead, the state system at large, led of course by the United States through its influence over the United Nations has only acted as a cover for Israel’s actions in the occupied territories, has prevented any further action by the international community at the UN Security Council, and continues to subsidize this to the single largest foreign military financing expense in the Untied States’s budget.
So if we want to talk about double standards, let’s talk about those double standards. BDS exists to fill a void that the state system has created because of its inability to do what needs to be done when it comes to pressuring Israel.
There are certainly countries where there is some international effort at addressing human rights abuses. But there is absolutely no such effort going on in Saudi Arabia or any of the Gulf States for instance. To suggest that only in Israel is the state system turning a blind eye– I mean, many, many countries with I would argue even more profound human rights abuses, certainly more profound human rights abuses than Israel inside the Green Line– there is absolutely no pressure at all, from the United States nor from the international community. While what you’re saying may be true in certain cases, it’s not true in many many other cases.
Peter, if you want to start a boycott Saudi Arabia movement, I’m happy to sign up as your first member. I have plenty of problems with the Saudi regime, but the Saudi regime isn’t the one that doesn’t permit me to live in the town where I was born…
This is a personal experience for many Palestinians. It’s not just about what’s right and what’s wrong. It’s about how do we gain justice for ourselves and dignity for ourselves. So let’s start that movement. I’m happy to join. By the way, plenty of people within the BDS movement are very, very critical of these regimes and are active in a variety of different efforts for human rights across a number of different borders. It’s not as you describe.
If you have the right to see this from the prism of your experience, Jews also have the right to see it from the prism of their experience. You’re talking about boycotting inside the Green Line. But I’ve never seen a big protest about what’s happening in Saudi Arabia, and Jews have the right to be concerned about that, seeing it though their prism of their experience of victimization by a world that has been very, very historically often not interested in Jewish welfare and in fact treated Jews by a different standard.
You see it from your experience, Jews will also naturally see it through the prism of our own experience.