The big news now is the draconian anti-BDS legislation in US Congress, threatening to make support of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions a federal crime, entailing a possible maximum criminal penalty of $1 million and 20 years in prison, which Glenn Greenwald and Ryan Grim have brought to the forefront of attention yesterday in their article at The Intercept.
But there are other machinations at work, beyond the legislative ones. These involve the grand ideological campaigns of demonization, meant to manufacture moral consent to this onslaught which threatens to rip the American constitution and its 1st Amendment apart – all in the name of Israeli exceptionalism.
Last Monday, Senate minority leader, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who is also a major supporter of the anti-BDS legislation, diverted from his Senate speech on health care, to address anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and BDS.
Schumer, whom the Forward regards as “currently the highest ranking Jew in government”, repeatedly plays on his own last name, which in Hebrew means ‘guardian’ (more accurately phonetically spelled SHOMER), calling himself a ‘guardian of Israel’. As Rabbi Avi Weiss wrote in The Hill in 2015:
Over and over he’d say he will always be a guardian of Israel.
Schumer’s focus on his name and its relevance to Israel refers indirectly to Psalms 121:4: “Indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep”.
So what did this divine ‘guardian of Israel’ actually say on the Senate floor?
Schumer presented a three-stage rhetorical rocket, ultimately aimed at stifling critique of Israel. It started out with a historical summation of anti-Semitism:
“Anti-Semitism is a word that has been used throughout history when Jewish people are judged and measured by one standard and the rest by another. When everyone else was allowed to farm and Jews could not; when anyone else could live in Moscow and Jews could not; when others could become academics or tradesmen and Jews could not. The word to describe all of these acts is anti-Semitism.”
Let’s pause there. Anyone who is but slightly aware of the US double standard in favor of Israel, would already realize just how problematic his opening statement is. Measured on the face of it, one could immediately conclude that Schumer, an ardent proponent of Israeli protectionism, is either an anti-Semite himself, or that when the double standard goes in favor of Israel, it simply doesn’t matter. Then, if we apply the word ‘Palestinians’ instead of ‘Jews’, we actually get a frighteningly relevant (even if not totally precise) description of discrimination by Jews against non-Jews – Palestinians for the most, in the name of the Jewish state.
So where is Schumer taking this? Indeed, to address anti-Zionism:
“So it is with anti-Zionism; the idea that all other peoples can seek and defend their right to self-determination but Jews cannot; that other nations have a right to exist, but the Jewish state of Israel does not”, he said.
Once again, put ‘Palestinians’ instead of Jews, ‘Palestine’ instead of ‘Israel’, and you have another frightening description.
But there’s a whole lot of rhetorical mish-mash here. Yes, ‘people’ have a ‘right to self determination’, but that does not equal statehood. So is Schumer talking about ‘people’, a ‘nation’ or a ‘state’? Indeed, Schumer is throwing in all three. This is a problem not only because of the aforementioned self-determination issue. When Schumer says ‘nations’, we have to remember that Israel does not recognize an Israeli nationality. By Israeli internal and official definitions, there is no such thing as an ‘Israeli nation’. For Israel, there is a Jewish ‘nation’, and it is a Jewish State, but not an ‘Israeli nation’.
So how does Schumer get through this notion to make it applicable to Israel as a state? He says “the Jewish State of Israel”. Thus the ‘guardian of Israel’ pays tribute to the ‘Nation State of the Jewish People’, a concept that Israel is currently arduously working to cement as one of its quasi-constitutional ‘basic laws’. The bill on this one is just another form of Apartheid with a veil, meant to cement Israel’s institutionally criminal policies, just as the basic law concerning Jerusalem cemented the unilateral and illegal annexation of East-Jerusalem. So Schumer uses the conflation of ‘people’, ‘nation’ and ‘state’ to arrive at the famous claim concerning denial of ‘Israel’s right to exist’.
The question is not about an absolute right to exist, because no such right exists. (As Ben White has noted.) The question is ‘exist as what?’ Schumer’s conflation takes the Jewish ‘self-determination’, translating it to ‘nation’ (which is a Zionist notion that many Jews vehemently contest – see for example the late British minister Edwin Montagu). The extraterritorial ‘nation’ is then compared to other ‘nations’ (generally meaning states), and then we arrive at “the Jewish State of Israel”.
The upshot of all this is, that Israel should ostensibly have a ‘right to exist’ as a Jewish State, come what may. Even if Israel’s policies are discriminatory, even if it enacts crimes against humanity (such as Apartheid) in the name of this ‘right to exist’ – any opposition to the basic construct or to the state policy is deemed discriminatory.
This leads to the ‘ground zero’, towards which Schumer’s rhetorical missile is aimed – BDS:
“The global BDS movement is a deeply biased campaign that I would say, in similar words to Mr. Macron, is a ‘reinvented form of anti-Semitism’ because it seeks to impose boycotts on Israel and not on any other nation”, Schumer said.
It’s interesting to see what it is exactly that Schumer is referring to. He is referring to France’s Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron, who said on Sunday, during a visit by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, that
“we will not surrender to anti-Zionism because it is a reinvention of anti-Semitism”.
He did not say anything about BDS in this particular context, although he has earlier expressed his opposition to BDS as a form of anti-Semitism.
Schumer is not far off the mark with Macron, but he does exploit the statement somewhat disingenuously. Yet refined or not, it’s all fuel for Schumer’s rocket against BDS. This is the aim, this is the target, and we should not miss it in our awareness. All of this rhetoric conflating anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism is ultimately construed in order to avert popular, peaceful and democratic grassroots protest against Israel’s discriminatory policies and multiple violations of international law.
Two days ago, Professor Katherine Franke of Columbia Law School, published an exquisite piece in the Boston Globe, titled “Boycotts are an essential form of democratic protest — don’t ban them”. Here she is referring specifically to a hearing set for this week by the Massachusetts legislature, on a bill that aims to punish supporters of political boycotts.
“What’s really behind this measure is a desire to punish people or groups that have endorsed a boycott of Israel or of companies that profit from Israel’s denial of Palestinians’ human rights.”
In her analysis, Franke provides a historical appraisal of US boycotts tracing back to 1760’s (even pertaining to Massachusetts), noting how in more recent history, the Supreme Court found bans on political boycotts unconstitutional. In other words, Franke shows how the Massachusetts legislature is singling Israel out, in order to protect it from boycotts, and in so doing eroding its own constitutional tradition. By Schumer’s first mentioned statement, this could be said to be rather anti-Semitic…
So Schumer takes his cue from Macron, who also conflated anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. Who did Macron take his cue from? It is hard to tell if it came directly from Israel’s anti-BDS task-force, the efforts of which were particularly upped last year, with officials regarding it as a kind of military operation, or whether he just came up with it from his own volition. But Macron doesn’t really need to be threatened. France is after all a global leader and model in legislation against BDS, and Macron has made himself very clear on this, saying that
“France has already condemned boycotting Israel, and I have no intention of changing this position.”
There is perhaps a significance here in regard to the fact that both Macron and Schumer represent certain centrist-liberal politics, as opposed to right-wing. They are the ‘centrists’ who are very important for Israel to have defend them and fight BDS, so that protectionism of Israel does not appear to be a mere pet project of far-right politicians and ideologues, as it has increasingly become. Because the fact that Israel’s far right government is aligning with far right and sometimes downright anti-Semitic forces is becoming somewhat of a challenge to its narrative that it is a kind of national shield against anti-Semitism.
When looking at huge Christian-Zionist organisations such as John Hagee’s Christian United for Israel (CUFI), we are talking about a firmly anti-Semitic ideology. As Ben Norton summed it up,
“the reason CUFI so obsessively and blindly defends Israel is not because they care about Jews (who, in their mind, will face eternal damnation unless they renounce their religion and become Christians) but rather because they genuinely believe the world is on the verge of total annihilation and the Bible supposedly tells them they must do so.”
Prime Minister Netanyahu has enthusiastically supported the group, and has spoken at several of their annual summits.
On Tuesday, Netanyahu arrived in Hungary to meet Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has recently praised the Nazi-collaborator Hungarian leader Miklos Horthy, and ran a massive campaign against Jewish Hungarian-born billionaire Georg Soros, with anti-Semitic undertones serving an anti-immigrant agenda. At first, Israel’s ambassador to Hungary, Yossi Amrani, condemned the billboard campaign, saying it invoked “sad memories but also sows hatred and fear.” But a day later, the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem issued a “clarification,” reportedly at Netanyahu’s behest, which states that while Israel deplores anti-Semitism and supports Jewish communities in confronting this hatred, criticism of Soros was legitimate:
“In no way was the statement meant to delegitimize criticism of George Soros, who continuously undermines Israel’s democratically elected governments by funding organizations that defame the Jewish state and seek to deny it the right to defend itself,” the Foreign Ministry stated.
So yes, Soros is Jewish and there’s that anti-Semitism thing, but more importantly, he’s critical of Israel, and thus guilty of ‘defaming it’. ‘Denying’ Israel the ‘right to protect itself’ is a kind of military jargon version of ‘challenging Israel’s right to exist’. So that’s the cardinal sin, really – being critical of Israeli policy.
But now everything is alright again. Orban promised to take down the Soros campaign before Netanyahu arrived, and Netanyahu gave him the signal that in the end, what’s important is that they were seeing eye to eye on Soros and his ilk, and that’s a message about BDS too. Now Orban is also paying the necessary lip tax, saying that Hungary will, after all, protect Hungary’s Jews. Orban also promises “Zero tolerance towards Anti-Semitism”. On a good day, that is.
As Chemi Shalev wrote in Haaretz, “in Netanyahu’s World, George Soros’ Politics Justify Throwing Him to Hungary’s anti-Semitic Dogs”.
It seems that for Israel, it’s not really that important if the good-old-fashioned anti-Semitism exists. It’s not about what people say about this or that Jew. If that Jew represents a view that is critical of Israeli policy, opposes it or God forbid even dares to question its Zionist essence, then that’s the big ‘anti-Semitism’.
Those Jews are thus self-haters, because they challenge the Jewish State. And as David Ben-Gurion said in 1938,
”If I knew that it was possible to save all the children of Germany by transporting them to England, and only half by transferring them to the Land of Israel, I would choose the latter, for before us lies not only the numbers of these children but the historical reckoning of the people of Israel.”
So if we could sacrifice half of the children of Germany for the Jewish state, what’s the big deal with sacrificing a Soros here or some other ‘self-hating Jew’ there? What’s the big deal if we rip up the 1st Amendment for the sake of Israel? It’s all for the greater good. And there’s always a Schumer there to keep watch and guard Israel. But will Schumer also guard his own country’s constitution? Or is that perhaps not part of the mission that was bestowed upon him by God the almighty?