How is that highly schooled people, those who have risen to positions of authority and influence within the west’s higher education systems, so often behave as if the bit of their brain governing rational thought has turned to mush whenever the issue of Israel is raised?
Let’s take the case of Richard Carver, a senior lecturer in human rights and governance at Oxford Brookes University. He has just published a letter in the London Review of Books in which he seeks to discredit support for BDS – boycott, divestment and sanctions – as evidence of what he (like Israel’s supporters) terms “the new anti-semitism”.
In short, he presents the BDS campaign’s positive support for Palestinian rights as if it were intended to be a negative campaign to harm Jews. The illogic of that ought to be obvious to all.
But let’s dig deeper. Here’s Carver in the LRB:
I would be more inclined to respect the bona fides of the BDS movement if it were equally exercised about China, Morocco, Turkey or any other country engaged in long-term illegal occupations – or, for that matter, war in Syria, torture in Egypt or suppression of dissent in Iran. But the Jewish state is judged by a different standard, which is precisely the phenomenon described by the concept of the ‘new anti-Semitism’.
How derisively would we have treated an academic – an expert in human rights, no less – who argued back in the 1980s that those who supported a boycott of apartheid South Africa must have been secretly anti-white or anti-Christian because they did not equally prioritise a boycott of Israel?
Carver can get away with his intellectually risible logic – and get his letter published in the LRB – only because the combination of words “Israel” and “anti-semitism” make otherwise sensible people become gibbering idiots.
In fact, if we apply some proper logic to Carver’s position, we find that even my counter-proposition above is too kind to him.
Apartheid South Africa was, and Israel still is, a product of western political, diplomatic and economic patronage. Grassroots campaigns like boycott movements can make, and have made, a difference to the viability of these European-originated settler colonial regimes. South Africa was, and Israel is, vulnerable to sanctions from western allies.
Much harder to make the same case for western activism against China, Iran and Syria, for example, which are official “enemies” of the west.
After all, grassroots action in the west is designed to discomfit not just Israel, or before it apartheid South Africa, but the western elites who prop up these regimes. Activism in the west was / is targeted chiefly against the complicity of western elites in these colonial offshoots.
None of that is true of China, Syria or Iran. Western governments are only too ready to harm these states – and the civilians in them – if they think they can get away with it. They don’t need our encouragement. Any grassroots activism directed against Syria or Iran is, at best, doomed to be wasted energy and, at worst, likely to be exploited to justify intensifying the west’s hostile manoeuvres against official enemies.
Those are deductions a schoolchild could make. And yet, for some reason, they elude our esteemed professor of human rights.