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Don’t ignore the anti-Israel movement, Part II

Prince Arthur Herald, 16 April 2014


There are a couple of threads from the topic of campus anti-Israel activism which I would like to note as an addendum to my column from last week of the same title. To be clear, I don’t think that the article by Robyn Urback, which served as the leaping point for last week’s piece, was so bad as to deserve a double round of criticism. It is only that the issue is of enough importance to merit some more attention.

To recap: the anti-Israel movement may indeed seem trivial in the short term, but it ought not be ignored because of the ideas and language that it pumps into the discursive mainstream. The critical bulk of the population which today ignores the BDS and Israeli-Apartheid crowd is the very group who may someday adopt its rhetoric—and not out of persuasion but out of vogue.

So, on to the added points:

1. Another notable element here is the increasing Islamic presence on university campuses. Many Muslim students—speaking from experience, the majority of Muslims with whom I have discussed the topic—see the pro-Arab cause as being worthy on the grounds of religious community and Islamic solidarity. So while one is right to observe that most students are presently ignoring the movement, it is worth noting that its prescriptions find a natural audience in campus Muslim communities, even if the putative political ideologies of the radical Left and devout Muslims may be at odds.

The confluence between these two groups may in fact be even more pronounced, for it is the radical Left that has taken up the cause of laundering Islam’s public image from its commonly-believed associations with terrorism and jihad. Protestations against “Islamophobia” (inverted commas explained here) are as likely to come from today’s Left as they are from organizations purporting to represent Muslims. And it is the Left, particularly at universities, that has made great efforts to either counter or whitewash the perception that the tenets of the Islamic religion are incompatible with Western liberalism. For instance, the American film-studies professor Sarah Schulman has pioneered and popularized the concept of “pinkwashing”, whereby liberals wrongfully (according to her) see Israelis as morally-superior to the Palestinian Arabs because of their acceptance of homosexuals. In her view, supporters of gay rights should make common cause with Palestinian organizations such as Hamas on the ground that both are struggling on behalf of the oppressed. It is also not unheard of for self-described feminists to defend the Islamic face veil—mandated for women by several Islamic countries—as a manifestation of female empowerment.

2. In her article, Ms Urback wrote: “The only lingering effect of [this anti-Israel] boycott, likely unintended, is to reinforce the notion that such movements are motivated by anti-Semitism, whether or not they actually are.” If this is indeed the perception, then it is only half-true, with the half that is true needing to be better qualified.

First for the hors-prejudice bit: Quite apart from any principle or prejudice, the established hard Left has long loathed Israel since the Jewish state shifted its foreign alignment from the Soviet Union—which aided it in the 1948 war of independence in the hope that it could help to dilute British imperial influence in the Middle East—to the United States, the face of global capitalism and neoliberalism. This betrayal has not been forgotten and ought not be discounted from the equation.

As for the anti-Jewish issue, I don’t think it is fair to say that today’s progressives are motivated by anything like the crackpot race theories expounding on the supposed inferior blood of Jews. To the degree that their prejudice is racial, it is to the extent that they see Jews as white people. This is of nearly-cosmic magnitude: Cultural Marxists see the world as a struggle for “persons of colour” to overcome the cultural and political hegemony of oppressive whites, which includes Jews. Of course, the idea of Israeli Jews being white is wrong because more than half of them are from the Middle East, and many come from such countries as Ethiopia and even India. So unless Ethiopians and Indians are also white, the point collapses. And needless to say, the notion of Jews being white would have been quite newsworthy to those who were persecuted in the past for not being “Aryan”.

Finally, the anti-Jewish element relates to the radicals’ antipathy toward religion, and especially the Judeo-Christian tradition which they see as underpinning conservative social customs and values. Despite its foundations in socialism, Israel respects a place for religious life and is significantly animated by Judaism—a part of the religious structure which the Left aims to defeat.

So one sees that below the surface of what may appear as a benign and infantile exercise lies a host of reasons for which the anti-Israel movement is very serious and concerning, and for which it ought not be rashly dismissed.





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Jackson Doughart jdoughart (at) gmail (dot) com