Monday, 29 November 2021 09:25 GMT

The standard Israeli charge against anyone who dares criticise Israel


(MENAFN- Jordan Times) The Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) movement has hit the headlines again because popular Irish novelist Sally Rooney has refused a bid from an Israeli publishing house to translate and launch her latest best seller in that country.

Rooney, 30, sold the Hebrew rights to her first and second books to Israel's Modan which publishes military manuals for Israeli troops occupying the West Bank and East Jerusalem, but not to highly acclaimed "Beautiful World, Where Are You?" She explained her decision, taken after Israel's devastating onslaught on Gaza in May, by saying that she had chosen to support BDS after Israel's B'Tselem civil rights organisation and Human Rights Watch characterised Israeli policy in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) as the internationally recognised crime of "apartheid". She compared BDS with South Africa's "apartheid" regime, which was brought down by a campaign very similar to BDS, and pointed out that she would be happy to sell Hebrew rights to a publisher outside Israel.

Israel and its friends have, predictably, responded with fury. The Israeli government urged supporters to lodge posts on social networks "saying that her decision reflects her antisemitic behaviour!" This is, of course, the standard Israeli charge against anyone who dares criticise Israel. Pro-Israeli commentators argued that Rooney is a hypocrite because she has not banned from publishing her book firms in authoritarian countries which violate human rights.

Rooney's strong stand followed the mid-year decision by global ice cream maker Ben and Jerry's to terminate sales in the OPT.

Ben and Jerry's took this decision because the firm decided that licensing an Israeli company to manufacture and sell its ice cream in the OPT was, at they put it, "inconsistent with our values". Consequently, they will "not renew the licence agreement when it expires at the end of next year". A different arrangement will be made for sales in Israel. Although they sold the firm to a disapproving Unilever 21 years ago, the founders retained the right to continue their social mission. This stipulates, inter alia, that the firm treats its cows well and employees fairly and does not harm the environment. This mission statement provides the former owners with leeway to adopt causes important to them, including the OPT.

The firm's Jewish co-founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield explained their decision in an opinion piece published by The New York Times: "The company's stated decision to more fully align its operations with its values is not a rejection of Israel. It is a rejection of Israeli policy, which perpetuates an illegal occupation that is an illegal barrier to peace and violates the basic human rights of the Palestinian people who live under the occupation. As Jewish supporters of the State of Israel, we fundamentally reject the notion that it is antisemitic to question the policies of the State of Israel."

Israel feared a far more important BDS boycott shock when this month, the sports good giant Nike announced it will be terminating sales in its stores at the end of May 2022. Although the firm explained that this was a marketing rather then a political decision, there is some suspicion that BDS has had an impact on Nike's behaviour.

BDS is a Palestinian campaign founded in 2005 by Omar Barghouti and Ramy Shaath who has been imprisoned in Egypt since mid-2019 and is the son of former Palestinian foreign minister Nabil Shaath. Modelled on the anti-apartheid movement targeting South Africa, BDS aims to put pressure on Israel to withdraw from the OPT, remove the West Bank barrier, grant equality to Palestinian citizens of Israel, and enable Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties.

While the US Anti-Defamation League which counters anti-Jewish activities and speech and the German parliament have accused BDS of antisemitism, the 2021 Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism stated, "Boycott, divestment and sanctions are commonplace, non-violent forms of political protest against states," and that taking such action against Israel is not antisemitic. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and several Israeli rights organisations agree.

Universities, academic institutions and scholars have been particularly receptive to BDS which focuses on boycotting cultural bodies rather than individuals. Thousands of authors, musicians and other artists have joined this boycott, while in the US the United Church of Christ, the Episcopal (Anglican) Church and the Mennonite Church have divested from Israeli and multinational enterprises working in the West Bank.

While BDS has had no serious impact on Israel's economy, the movement has undermined its political and moral standing by bringing to the attention of the international community Israel's bad behaviour towards the 5 million Palestinians living in the OPT and its 1.9 million Palestinian citizens who comprise 21 per cent of the total population.

Critics of BDS argue that Israel is not the only country occupying another people and their country should not be singled out. However, the examples commonly cited are autocracies while Israel claims to be the only truce democracy in the region and deserving of global support.

Israel is a unique case which has never been a "normal" state, as it has been sustained financially, politically and militarily since birth by democratic Western powers. They also protect Israel from punishment for violent transgressions of international law while pro-Israeli politicians and commentators castigate and smear Israel's critics.

Being classified as a "very special state" enables Israel to treat its Palestinian citizens as an under-class, hang onto the OPT, plant colonies there in defiance of international law, repress stateless Palestinian residents of the OPT, and carry out military operations against antagonists whenever Israeli leaders see fit to mount offensives.

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