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After Paris, Whither the BDS Movement?

Showing no empathy and spinning crazy theories, Israel’s fiercest critics show that it’s Jews, not the Jewish state, they despise

Liel Leibovitz
January 14, 2015
(Gali Tibbon/AFP/Getty Images)
(Gali Tibbon/AFP/Getty Images)

Let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that you belong to a group committed to ending the Israeli presence in the West Bank and erecting a Palestinian state. In the face of repeated criticism, you’ve insisted that you have no problem with Jews, that it’s Israeli policy that you abhor. Maybe you advocate an immediate Israeli return to the 1967 borders. Maybe you’re more hardened and believe that the Jewish state should give way to a multiethnic one stretching from the river to the sea. Whatever the case may be, you insist that you’re committed to reconciliation, to justice, to peace.

Now let’s assume—hypothetically, of course—that terrorists run rampant in a European capital far removed from Jerusalem and Ramallah. In one case, they single out one woman and shoot her for being Jewish. In another, they attack a kosher supermarket, executing four shoppers. How do you react?

If you’re smart, if you’re compassionate, if you’re truly interested in human rights, you simply condemn the attacks. You do it not because it’s the right thing to do—standing up to terrorism is every civilized person’s duty—but also because you realize that your ability to attract allies hinges on convincing them that you harbor no anti-Jewish sentiments, no matter how fiery your anti-Israeli rhetoric may get. This is especially true when, in the aftermath of the violence in Paris, kooks of all stripes rose to decry the massacres as “false flag” attacks perpetrated by the Mossad in order to foment anti-Muslim outrage. It would have been good, even essential, to have heard the pro-Palestinian camp stand up to such nonsense, decry the murder of innocents, and pledge their commitment to a peaceful resolution.

We’ve had no such luck.

Instead of the sort of empathy you’d expect any sane person to express at a moment like this, the most vocal proponents of the BDS movement took radically different paths. Jewish Voice for Peace, for example, one of the leading radical leftist organizations focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, published a blog post that indicated precisely where its priorities lay. Entitled “The Paris Murders & the Islamophobic Backlash,” it contained many wise observations like the one alerting readers that “Muslims are at greatly heightened risk from the forces of bigotry,” but almost nothing about the fact that other forces, no less bigoted, had just taken the lives of 17 people, many of them Jewish. Even if you subscribe to the moronic theory that believes the concrete threat to be not the men with the semiautomatic weapons but some future affront to somebody’s feelings, you can still take more than half a sentence to express genuine sadness at the thought of so many wasted lives. JVP had no time for such normal, human sentiments; nor did many others who make assailing Israel their cause. Writing in Mondoweiss, for example, and never once mentioning Jews—quite a feat, considering that one of the attacks took place in a kosher supermarket—Chloe Patton argued that we westerners needed to embrace “the ways in which the historical traumas of the global south continue to haunt the postcolonial present.” Even without judging the intellectual merit of such an argument, it’s not too hard to see that one thing that makes it particularly vile is that it assumes that only one side has any right to a hearing, while the other, even when slaughtered, ought to do nothing but listen and empathize.

Such uncaring, coming at this particular moment from anyone professing to be an activist working on behalf of universal values is deafening. As it happens, however, it beats the alternative.

That would be the attempt to hurry past the actual killings of actual human beings and milk the situation for every possible drop of bilious propaganda. Enter Ali Abunimah, one of the most vocal—and noxious—opponents of Israel and the co-founder of a website called The Electronic Intifada, a name that does very little to distance the site’s writers from the memory of the two violent Palestinian uprisings that claimed the lives of nearly a thousand Israeli civilians.

Observing the situation in France, Abunimah promoted a novel theory: Because the gravest danger we face is Islamophobia, and because Islamophobia feeds on a false belief that European Muslims aren’t trying hard enough to fit in, French Jews rushing to leave France in the wake of the Paris attacks are the real and unsung villains.

“[I]mmigrants and their European-born descendants from Muslim-majority countries are routinely accused by those who hate and fear them of ‘refusing to integrate’ in Europe,” Abunimah wrote, and therefore “those who say that Jews must leave Europe for their own safety are saying in effect that it is impossible for Jews to integrate and ever be safe in their home countries.” And that, Abunimah triumphantly concludes, is “a fundamentally anti-Semitic” idea.

In other words, when the victims scurry for safety, they’re really only digging their hole deeper and are therefore to blame for making a bad situation worse. And, of course, it’s all Israel’s fault: The title of Abunimah’s piece is “Israel Moves Quickly To Exploit Paris Attacks.”

To those among us unfortunate enough to follow the BDS movement closely, such vitriol is no news. But cataclysmic events have a way of rattling people into sudden awakenings. And so here’s a simple suggestion: before you engage in conversation with critics of Israel, take a moment and check their digital footprint from the past week. If they’ve taken the time and the trouble to condemn these horrific murders without equivocation, if they sound genuinely remorseful, proceed. But if all they can muster are musty cliches or steely dogmas, if they can’t take a moment away from their politics to be ordinary, feeling humans, and if they can’t miss an opportunity to see even this tragedy as yet another proof of the exceptional nefariousness of the Israeli regime, then they’ve proven that the true object of their vitriol is not the Jewish state but the Jewish people.


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Liel Leibovitz is a senior writer for Tablet Magazine and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.

Liel Leibovitz is editor-at-large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One. He is the editor of Zionism: The Tablet Guide.