Guardian contributor characterizes proponents of Israel’s anti-BDS bill as supporters of “totalitarianism”

As I noted in yesterday’s post regarding Israel’s recent anti-boycott legislation, a fair and honest understanding of the law (which passed the Knesset today, but which will almost certainly be challenged in court) would take into account similar US and EU precedents – the latter of which (under the auspices of the EU Court of Human Rights) ruled that when France prosecuted the mayor of the town of Seclin, Jean-Claude Fernand Willem, (“for provoking discrimination on national, racial and religious grounds”) after he initiated a boycott against Israel, Fernand Willem’s rights to free expression were not violated, per EU law.

Similarly, the US has anti-boycott laws in effect which prohibit individuals or companies involved with commerce from participating in all boycotts imposed by foreign countries (including but not limited to Israel) which are not sanctioned by the United States – allowing for imprisonment of up to five years for those found guilty of violating this law.

While Harriet Sherwood’s piece on the Israeli law was written on the eve of the vote, the passage of the bill today elicited a column in CiF by Israeli academic, Carlo Strenger (Israel’s boycott ban is down to siege mentality).

One of the most characteristic rhetorical ticks of Israel’s enemies – and even some far-left Zionists – is their tendency to employ the most careless hyperbole when faced with Israeli legislation or government policies which they don’t support. They’re not content to provide level-headed and thoughtful counter-arguments but, rather, often must impute the worst motives and, often, hysterically characterize the issue as one where Israel’s very democracy is under siege.

While Mya Guarnieri’s CiF piece last year is a perfect illustration of this dynamic – where the Hebrew speaking opponent of the Jewish state’s existence framed the bigoted remarks of some rabbis as a sign of a rising tide of “religious fascism” and an indication that Judaism’s very soul” was on trial – Strenger’s essay today similarly shows no rhetorical restraint.

Typical of the hysterical style of far left commentary on Israel is the tendency to engage in rhetoric long on dramatic, extremely broad, and often vague, accusations, yet woefully short on details to buttress such claims.

In this fashion, Strenger begins by attempting to frame the anti-BDS legislation as part of a “flood of anti-democratic laws” passed by the 2009 Knesset, yet only cites two, one of which is known as the  “Nakba law” – which he grossly mischaracterizes as “forbidding the public commemoration of the expulsion of…Palestinians during the 1948 war.”  In fact, the law he mentions requires the state to fine local authorities and other state-funded bodies for holding events marking Nakba Day on Independence Day, (or supporting armed resistance or racism).  There’s absolutely nothing in the bill which even comes close to forbidding citizens from commemorating Nakba Day – as the law merely, and quite reasonably it seems, rejects the notion that the state of Israel has to fund institutions who deem Israel’s very existence as something to be mourned.

Strenger then notes, about the Nakba bill he so misrepresented, that “since then, a growing number of attempts were made to curtail freedom of expression and to make life for human rights groups more difficult,” which I’m assuming refers to the NGO Transparency Law which, again, doesn’t curtail freedom of expression at all, but simply requires nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations to disclose funding from foreign governments.

Turning to the anti-BDS law, Strenger begins by acknowledging that the law only makes active pro-boycott activity “a civil offence that can be punished with a fine”, before contextualizing these myriad of “assaults” on “free expression” as inspired by “fear, stupidity and confusion”, and points to Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, as embodying this brand of “hardline” right-wing Israeli politics – which he defines as those who “believe that the 1967 borders are indefensible, and that Palestinians cannot be trusted”.

Indeed, such a narrative of what constitutes “hard-line” right-wing thought is the perfect illustration of the failure of left-wing Israelis to understand that their increasingly marginal representation in Israeli politics is owed largely to the fact that, unlike the overwhelming majority of Israelis, they’ve failed to learn the lessons and failures of Oslo, and Israeli withdrawals from Gaza and South Lebanon.  Only on the fringes of the Israeli leftist elite can you find suspicion of the Palestinian leadership’s capacity to truly deliver a lasting and genuine peace, and fear over the capacity of Israel to protect itself from within pre-’67 borders, as ideas which are even mildly controversial.  

What Strenger refers to as Bibi’s “fear mongering” is the sober reality – of hostile neighbors, many of whom still refuse to acknowledge the right of the Jewish state to exist –  which most in the country has grasped for some time now.

Strenger, again setting himself apart from us mere political mortals and our irrational fears, accuses not just the electorate but, also, the political class of surrendering to pessimism and a “siege mentality”, decrying their unsophisticated misunderstandings of the world, and even criticizes the belief “that Israel is…singled out unfairly for criticism” – as if the continuing bias against Israel in the international arena is even debatable.

Finally, while Strenger concludes by expressing optimism that Israel’s “beleaguered” democracy will survive, and attests to the Jewish state’s fundamental liberal nature, his conclusion also describes his political opponents – Israeli MKs and their followers who support the anti-BDS law, the Nakba law”, and the NGO Transparency law – as representing nothing short of “totalitarianism”.

For Strenger, like so many of his fellow far left political allies in and outside of Israel, democratic debates within the Knesset are never merely legitimate disagreements between political adversaries – but battles between progressives and extremists who conspire to destroy Israel’s democracy. 

My guess is that it never occurred to Strenger that he and his fellow political travelers are often guilty of the same “fear mongering” they’re so quick to impute to their enemies.

24 replies »

  1. “..They’re not content to provide level-headed and thoughtful counter-arguments but, rather, often must impute the worst motives and, often, hysterically characterize the issue as one where Israel’s very democracy is under siege…”

    True and none of these intellectually challenged individuals have the insight to realise that for Israel not to enact such a law would be the equivalent of turkeys voting for Christmas. Indeed, I am amazed that such legislation has taken so long.

    In this the CiFers mimic the Islamist governments they doubtless support, who never let the truth (assuming they can recognise it) get in the way of their factually challenged rhetoric. We shouldn’t forget either that these articles are not meant to facilitate intelligent debate, but rather to crank up emotion in order to get hits to threads.

    The comments below the line on Carlo Strenger’s thread exhibit the usual anti-Israel bilge, including a particularly nasty little post comparing Israel to Nazi Germany (another rhetorical tic) and numerous ones trying to wriggle off the hook when the personal inconvenience to them of a thoroughgoing boycott of Israel is pointed out. As I have said above the articles are designed not to inform but to encourage btl commenters to emote and thereby get hits to threads. Without those hits CiF would fold. There’s a lesson for us somewhere in this. Is it time for a boycott of CiF?

  2. Why even bother analyzing the ridiculous and obviously racist bigotry of an idiot like Sherwood? Just think about it for a minute–literally thousands have been murdered by Islamofascists including most recently in Syria since this 2003 episode involving 1 pathetically misled Leftist American–but those thousands of innocent civilians don’t concern her at all!

    Gee, I wonder why this absurd obsession with this 1 case. How do you spell Goebbels?

    • Alfred, that doesn’t count! Don’t you know they can’t help it, having been driven to it by their sorrow for their brothers in Palestine?

      You are correct, though, that the racist and ignorant Sherwood doesn’t merit the attention she gets here, but she does add to the antiZionist discourse and lies which, btl at the other place, are only a hairsbreadth away from Jew-hatred

  3. Isn’t Strenger’s article and what passes for debate below it yet another example of double standards in regard to Israel? Where is it written that Israel shouldn’t take steps to minimise the damage from those who live there or visit and deliberately set out to do her harm?

    Of course I know that the UK is the world leader in turning the proverbial Nelson’s blind eye to visitors from Islamist regimes whose main objective is to undermine her democracy, but why should Israel follow suit?

  4. What Strenger actuall said was: “Freedom of speech in Israel is intact; the Knesset’s more totalitarian leanings have been kept in check …”

    Yes, he uses strong language – but what’s the big deal? Strenger is defending Israel while criticising what he sees as an attack on freedom of speech.

    • So he does, pretzelberg. It must be my siege mentality which makes me suspicious of him 😐

      Either that or the usual hyperbole that Adam has referred to, or, contrary to what Strenger is arguing, that Netanyahu has not had to “sell” to the Israeli public the idea that the Palestinians want to destroy her. Theirs is a realistic appraisal of the situation, which must have a lot to do with the continued “love tap” shelling of her civilians by her barely civilised southern neighbour and the mouth-frothing statements by Hamas leaders, not to mention Abbas’ own blatant duplicity.

      Freedom of speech should be sacrosanct, yes, but what do you do when it’s used to spread hatred? You see for yourself how antiZionism (code for Jew-hatred) is so commonplace here that people scarcely notice it.

      • Freedom of speech should be sacrosanct, yes, but what do you do when it’s used to spread hatred?

        This raises the question of to what extent BDS calls are “used to spread hatred”. In some cases, they no doubt are. Then there’s the wider issue of where to draw the line when it comes to freedom of speech.

        • True pretzelberg, but then we have to look at the context in which the remarks are made, as well as who makes them and their associations, and the sort of company they keep. The Bartolotti woman, for example, comes across as all sweetness and light in TV interviews but her off-camera activities and the company she keeps show her as being anything but.

          It can be a very fine line between “free speech” and expertly nuanced lies and hatreds and incitements. Luckily Israel’s opponents are not particularly nuanced, but nevertheless their hate-speech affects public discourse all over the world.

          Would America or England or France agree to calls for boycotting their goods and other incitements against her if they were at war as Israel is? Somehow I doubt it and I also doubt that anyone would expect them to do so. Why, then, should a different standard be applied to an Israel at war?

          The Israeli legal process will keep a close eye on this so, as Adam says, there is absolutely no need for the hyperbole. But I doubt that the CiF could survive without the hyperbole.

    • Pretz, the point is that it’s simply absurd to argue, as Strenger does, that his Likud opponents represent anything approaching “totalitarian” ideology. Reasonable people should be able to agree with the recent anti-BDS legislation (and the other bills mentioned in my piece, such as the Nakba bill and the NGO transparency bill) without being accused of supporting fascism, totalitarianism, or other such anti-democratic epithets.

      • Adam, I’m not sure whether Strenger is actually saying that his Likud opponents are “supporters of totalitarianism”, as your headline suggests.

  5. Adam –

    I see that the only issue here is some wording in Strenger’s article. You are about the only person in Israel – on both sides of the political spectrum – who doesn’t see the broader issues and implications. No doubt next week, when the Knesset passes a law that allows the govt to “investigate” the opposition you will confine yourself to exposing some minor errors in one of the Guardian articles, while at the same time extolling “the only democracy in the Middle East”. As Bradley Burston says in Ha’aretz today – “Israel’s boycott law: The quiet sound of going fascist” – obviously too quiet for you to hear.

    • MindTheC**p,

      What about the idea that democracy should be allowed to defend itself? Will all those who accuse Israel of “sliding to fascism like it’s 1933” reflect on the fact that it was the Weimar Republic’s lack of democracy-defending measures that allowed the Nazis to assume power?

      There is nothing fascistic about those anti-boycott laws, or indeed about any call for the state to fulfill its duty as the protector of its nation from any kind of threat. Fascism consists in calling for the individual to be subordinate to the state, whereas in this case the state is exercising subordination to the well-being of the individuals that comprise it as a nation—its Jews. This law and others such as the anti-Nakba law are welcome (not to mention overdue) moves in the fight against the delegitimization of the idea of a sovereign State of the Jews in Palestine.

    • MTC, you don’t honesty take seriously the argument that the anti-BDS law represents a move towards fascism, do you? Israel IS the only democracy in the Middle East – and the recent legislation (about BDS, Nakba day commemorations, or NGO transparency) that’s been the focus of so many essays doesn’t in any way contradict this fact. Agreed?

      • Adam –

        I can only repeat what I said, namely, “You are about the only person in Israel – on both sides of the political spectrum – who doesn’t see the broader issues and implications”. And you didn’t even wait until next week to say that “Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East” ! Here’s some news for you – the world’s greatest democracy managed to spawn McCarthy who used its democratic institutions to further his fascist aims. Does it bother you that someone can be sued and no proof of damages is required ?

        Finally, I am sure that you join me in congratulating the sponsors of this bill for moving the BDS issue from the lunatic fringes to a major story in the mainstream media wordwide .

    • As Bradley Burston says in Ha’aretz today – “Israel’s boycott law: The quiet sound of going fascist” – obviously too quiet for you to hear

      Not only this but Haaretz succeeded again to make potential readers (apart from some hundred bored patrons of some trendy cafes in Sheinkin street) skip to the next article without wasting their time to read craps that this by Alon Idan: The boycott law is fascist.

      Obviously Alon Idan hasn’t the slightest idea about the meaning of fascism and the only result of his idiotic and ignorant rhetoric that people like me who strongly oppose this bill in its recent form can be identified by the supporters of it as total cretins.

  6. I’m disgusted by the peaceful comments some Guardianistas have tried to make on that comment article!

    How dare they suggest that either us or those evil Arabs might consider making peace with each other. We really must watch out for these types, inviting us to be vulnerable to left-wing concepts like altruism.

    How dare they suggest that we should not be allowed to single out those that seek to boycott us! Human rights is not acceptable for we, the people who have so many racial enemies that must be expediently crushed and defeated.

    Even our own people must be controlled in case they have failed to become strong enough to reject every chance of peace or trust.

    Thankfully we have the right-wing English Defence League to speak for the pure, forceful cause of Israel. They are truly our faithful fellow travellers.

    • I’d say that you’ve misread the article, if it weren’t obvious that your distortions are completely deliberate.

      • How dare you accuse me of misreading the Guardian article, and presumably those vile, peaceful comments. You will be accusing the author doing the same next, shame on you.

        You clearly support the gentile Guardian and it’s insidious propaganda.

    • @Defend Zion, cutting through your penetrating sarcasm, and what is clearly a highly developed sense of irony, for a second, let’s cut to the chase, ok, because I’m obviously no intellectual match for you.

      So, and please tell me if I’m wrong, you’re honestly, and presumably with a straight face, framing the debate about BDS as one which pits altruistic, proponents of “PEACE” (a concept I have never thought of!) against extremist, EDL-supporting, racist Zionists?

      Boy, and I simply can’t imagine what would give Israelis the idea that they have enemies.

      Please, continue to enlighten and entertain us mere moral mortals with your sharp wit and sage wisdom, won’t you?

      • How dare you try to denounce me as an intellectual! I speak with a righteous heart rather than one stained with gentile learning.

        I support the anti-BDS laws with every breath of my body for we should always suppress cringing left-wing freedom of speech and concepts of racial equality, which are actually designed to delegitimise Israel. Every one should be controlled and subdued because we are at war.

        The support from the right-wing EDL, joining us in our righteous fight against the twin evils of Arabic fascism and Guardian anti-semitic sentimentalism, confirms that we cannot trust the left-wing after all.

        We can sleep safer in our beds, knowing that the EDL will efficiently crush those vile advocates of “peace” and “liberty” in the UK who are clearly encouraging these “ideals” solely due to anti-Zionist grounds.

        Whatever makes Israel strong, at whatever cost, should be strengthened.

        • Yup, definitely a Jew-hater. Adam, is this piece of work posting from the UK? Nasty thing, isn’t it…