BDS

An open letter to Jonathan Freedland


Dear Jonathan:

We are writing to you about the BDS debate at South Bank Centre in London, on the 10th July.  It appears that you had a rude awakening to the depth of mindless opposition to the very existence of Israel which can, if allowed, undermine any reasoned discussion in such a milieu. 

We have a recording of the debate in which this is evident, particularly where Carol Gould’s reference to the shelling of southern Israel from Gaza is met with laughter.  We also took note of your closing speech. We are, frankly, amazed that you realise apparently only now that the BDS campaign is driven by a very vociferous minority whose difficulty is with the existence of Israel itself rather than with the betterment of relations and a state for Palestinians.

We confess to being perplexed by your shock.  Do you not read CiF in the Guardian Online?  It is the leading driver of anti-Israel discourse in the media in terms of its articles (and often barely concealed antisemitic discourse below the line too).   It is the arch-proponent of Big Lies about the motives of Israel and Israelis, which, by their very nature, quickly take on lives of their own and become spurious truths.  Worst of all it rarely allows counter argument from the people whose lives are most affected by such untruths or  those who want to refute them.  Instead it gives column inches to vilification of the Jewish state and space to its enemies to further pervert the discourse.  The behaviour of some of the BDS supporters in the audience at the debate and their lack of restraint shows that they feel free to catcall and try to outshout pro-Israel speakers with impunity, due in a large part to the influence on the media of the Guardian.

Your major mistake was to assume that your opponents would be as open-minded as you were and that they would be able to stand outside their agendas and debate dispassionately, one step removed, as it were, from the emotions these issues invariably evoke.  You were mistaken also, as you found out, to assume that the pro-BDS arguments were stand-alone and discrete and had nothing to do with the existence of Israel per se. 

You had no personal axe to grind although your views were clear.  Although you came prepared for an intellectual debate, as did Carol Gould, neither the audience nor your two opponents were prepared to hear you fully.  They had already made up their minds and nothing was going to sway them!  

Your reasoned argument was met with jeering from some in the audience.  For Barghouti (who accuses Israel of being an apartheid state while quite freely studying for a PhD at Tel Aviv University) and the BDS movement supporters in the audience who voted in favour of the boycott motion, this was yet another publicity exercise, an opportunity to vilify Israel and to advance the BDS (and delegitimization) movement.

Perhaps you were naïve enough to believe that a well-constructed argument, or even a series of them, would be enough to convince the likes of Barghouti and his fellow-travellers that BDS is misguided, is not in the best interests of Palestinian people, and is certainly not a viable course by which to achieve Palestinian statehood. 

But the opposition’s poisonous agenda outflanked and bested you.  The Jewish Chronicle article says that you were gloomy and “visibly shaken” about the success of the pro-boycotters.  If that is true, then we hope you will forgive us for being heartily glad of it. We hope that what must have been the considerable discomfort of that experience changes your perspective permanently, that its effects stay with you and are translated by you into appropriate action:

For example, what might you write to convince the Israeli public (the most decisive factor in any peace settlement) that there is a chance for peace with the Barghoutis of this world, given that he had no compunction about lying in the debate about what he called the “genocidal tendencies” having overtaken Israeli society? What could you do, as a well-known Guardian columnist, to undermine the mindless Israel-hatred which all too often spills into antisemitism on CiF?  

You see, the “pudding” you cooked, so to speak, when you shared your realisation that the BDS movement has a problem with the very existence of Israel, looks appetising, given your self-confessed realisation that BDS supporters’ agenda will not stop at boycott, divestment and sanctions, even if they were to result in a Palestinian state.  That you named the BDS agenda for what it is shows promise but much will depend on how your “pudding” actually tastes, and we shall know that by your actions in future.

My thanks to PetertheHungarian for his contribution to this article.

71 replies »

  1. Perhaps Jonathan you will consider following the path followed by Julie Burchill, who resigned from the Guardian citing its “evil antisemitism”.

    Or perhaps you will decide to stay, and defend Israel in your columns until they are forced to fire you for undermining their propaganda campaign.

    Either way, you need to take a public stand. You have had your head stuck up your backside for far too long, and your media reputation and presence is a weapon Israel needs in its fight for survival.

  2. JF: You’ve taken a royal kicking on here and at harry’s place. I don’t know enough about the background to form a judgement as to the merits of that – but in case you are following this I’d just like to say thank you for standing up for Israel at that dreadful debate and putting those creeps in their place.

    • zeitgoose, do you really think that “those creeps” were put in their place? Among the neanderthals in the audience were low lifes like Tony Greenstein and assorted fellow travellers of Barghouti who were, doubtless, delighted that he got a hearing. I was appalled that those who catcalled and jeered weren’t ejected from the debate. Had the antiboycotters behaved similarly I have a strong feeling that they would have been.

      Barghouti, in true fashion for such a one as he, will take away his sense of “victory” and with a bit of luck he will overreach himself next time.

      Where were the vociferous pro-Israel supporters? How was the audience chosen and, most pertinent, how did Greenstein of all people get an invitation even to be in an audience of human beings?

      I agree that it took a certain courage for Freedland to hold his reasonable and sensible ground in the face of the lies which seem to be Barghouti’s strong suit and the catcalls from the audience, but like Medusa and PetertheHungarian I believe that the proof of Freedland’s awakening to
      reason and reality will depend on what he actually does about it.

      I have a strong feeling that he will attempt to square the circle for the Guardian by writing some anodyne excuse for, rather than the truth about why the debate going as it did.

      I hope that I am wrong.

  3. I agree that Jonathan’s public realisation that the BDS movement is merely a front for the delegitimisation of Israel has been a long time coming. Perhaps it has been brewing for a long time, too?

    Whether or not his was a true Damascene experience remains to be seen and will, as Medusa says, be proven in what he does from now on. Will he have the courage to withstand the criticism which must come from his standing by what he said and calling out the delegitimisation campaign led by the Guardian, or will he attempt to achieve cognitive consonance and relief from the discomfort by continuing to run with the Guardian pack so that he can feel better?

    I hope the former.

    • MTC. The link is about another subject. Connected but not relevant to the discussion here.

      The discussion is the rather late realisation by Jonathan Freedland that he is rubbing shoulders, not with people who want ti improve Israel but those who want to destroy it.

      Still. Better late than never.

      • a. the article is about BDS; Freedland’s experience was related to BDS.
        b. the article also discusses people who want to destroy Israel – by destroying it’s democracy.

        • The Anti-boycott laws under the US Export Administration Act of 1979 (as amended in August 1999) prohibit American companies from furthering or supporting the boycott of Israel. The penalties imposed for each violation can be a fine of up to $50,000 or five times the value of the exports involved (whichever is greater), and imprisonment of up to five years.

          Maybe you should suggest to ThomasFreedman to write about this too.

    • The NYT condemns Israel because of this law and the same time there have been similar laws in effect in the USA since many years.
      the fact hat a NYT editorial condemns anything regarding Israel has the relevance of a hot kiss given to a cold dead body, these are instinctive reactions exactly like the dogs of Pavlov. Bell-salivation vs Israel – bad.

  4. What could you do, as a well-known Guardian columnist, to undermine the mindless Israel-hatred which all too often spills into antisemitism on CiF?

    As peterthehungarian suggested on the other thread: an article about what he experienced at the meeting would be welcome.

    • I think he meant that simply appearing there was the wager. Freedland apparently had a bet with himself that his logic, command of the facts, calm presentation of the truth would overcome the rabid anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli feeling of the assembled mob.

      Presumably he has learned a useful lesson, though I suspect it will require a few more of the same before he really gets the message. I imagine that if it had gone the other way, he would already have a triumphant article in the Guardian.

  5. Let’s see if Freedland supports Livingstone in the London Mayor electio in May.

    I think he will because of his misplaced loyalty to the Left.

    If he does – then his South Bank tears were purely crocodile.

    • If he does – then his South Bank tears were purely crocodile.

      Livingstone certainly has a dodgy record when it comes to Israel and Islamists, but you are not expecting Freedland to make his mayoral choice primarily on those issues, are you?

      For all his rhetoric, Livingstone never had any influence on I/P, of course.

      In an ideal world, you’d have referendums on various major issues. But that’s simply not going to happen, is it?

      • So you agree with the citzens of Rome who voted (with a huge majority) into office an excellent organizer, a perfect mayor and an outright racist.

  6. There comes a time in the life of every proud Jew when he can no longer rationalize and justify to himself staying loyal to the ones who seek to harm fellow Jews.

    Maybe Jonathan Freedland isn’t ready yet to break away from Rusbridger and his antisemitic broadsheet, but one day and soon he’ll say to himself: alea iacta est… enough is enough… I’m outta here.

      • “Except the Guardian is not an “antisemitic broadsheet”

        Says who…you? If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it must be a duck.

        The Guardian is antisemitic to the core these days.

        • If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck

          Yawn … Not that old chestnut of a phrase. Claiming the Guardian is “antisemitic to the core” is plain bonkers.

      • P.S.

        It all depends how one defines contemporary antisemitism.

        If sixty-five years ago it was all about gassing and shooting Jews, these days this is all about demonizing and or delegitimatizing the Jewish state.

      • As they say pretzel one’s freedom fighter is some else’s terrorist.
        For you it can be a real bastion of humanistic values and an objective and unbiased reporter of facts, but sadly in the eyes of the involved party – the Jews – they are the schoolbook example of modern day leftist antisemitism and an inciter of hate.

        • For you it can be a real bastion of humanistic values and an objective and unbiased reporter of facts

          Be fair, peter. I’ve never said the Guardian is unbiased.

          but sadly in the eyes of the involved party – the Jews

          Some Jews, not all.

          The Guardian e.g. broke the story about the phone-hacking scandal at News International. That is what the paper is pimarily associated with.
          Coverage of I/P makes up a tiny proportion of its overall scope – as a glance at the homepage on any given day will show.

          • Some Jews, not all.
            Correct. Some 99.9% of the Jews.

            Coverage of I/P makes up a tiny proportion of its overall scope – as a glance at the homepage on any given day will show.

            Is it a joke?
            Maybe you should read the relevant statistics on Cifwatch about the hugely disproportionate number of articles on Israel and the Jews, and the number of clicks and BTL comments compared to any other subjects.

            Only one example: the last article of Harriet Sherwood about the high real estate prices in Tel-Aviv…have you ever read anything similar in the Guardian about house market situation in Paris, Rome, Berlin, Atlanta, New York, Amstardam even London? The Guardian is obsessed with Israel and there is only one logical explanation why. If you can’t see this than you are really don’t want to see.

            • Look at the Guardian’s homepage right now. Nothing about Jews or Israel. What is there for me to “see”?

              What kind of “obsession” is that?

              • This kind:
                http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jul/19/gaza-flotilla-last-boat-intercepted

                pretzel I have to tell you that your ignorance and laziness are really upsetting.

                You are preaching Livingstone’s righteousness without knowing the basic facts about him – google this “Livingstone PressTV” and you will get inmediately a lot of references showing that he’s paid by the Iranian PressTV, you state that there is no Israel related article on the Guardian – you simply should have opened the page guardian.co.uk.
                And are you serious saying that the lack of such an article in a certain second proves your point?
                Finally sorry to say you but you have no idea about antisemitism but have the chutzpa to explain to the Jews that their perception regarding the antisemite bias of the Guardian is some kind of political manoevering and only some Jews are offended by it. and have the cheek to compare yourself to Chas.

      • The Guardian implies that, of all the states in the world, it’s the state of the Jews that needs to be dissolved.

        The Guardian gives sanction to the suggestion that suicide-murder rampages against Jews be “understood in their proper context,” meaning as “resistance.”

        The Guardian hints that the key to peace in the Middle East, if not the entire globe, is the appeasement of the Muslims with gifts of Jewish land, à la Munich 1938.

        Not Jew-hatred. None at all. /sarc

        Related: Anti-Semites? Who, Us?

        • The Guardian implies that, of all the states in the world, it’s the state of the Jews that needs to be dissolved.

          Why on earth would three people recommend this plain untruth??

          • “Why on earth would three people recommend this plain untruth??”

            So the series of Binational Solution advocacy articles featured on the Guardian, some of them written by Hamas spokespersons under invitation, are what exactly?

            • So the series of Binational Solution advocacy articles featured on the Guardian, some of them written by Hamas spokespersons under invitation, are what exactly?

              It’s called diversity of opinion. The Guardian e.g. recently had former Tory leader and now foreign minister William Hague having his say about Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

              Having Hamas fuckwits comment does not mean that “The Guardian implies that, of all the states in the world, it’s the state of the Jews that needs to be dissolved.”

              The paper’s editorials make it clear that it supports a two-state solution.

              • Bullshit.

                remember the “Wikileaks” editorial. As usual, you post without even attempting to learn the facts before.

              • Yet, strangely, The Guardian has never invited a member of the BNP to give his ‘opinion’ of the situation in the UK on its pages.

                In the interests of allowing ‘diverse opinions’ to be presented to its readers.

                Why is this?

              • It’s called diversity of opinion. The Guardian e.g. recently had former Tory leader and now foreign minister William Hague having his say about Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

                Yes, the Tory leader and the party itself are well known about their genocidal fascistic ideology.
                Are you seriously compare Hague who is only a simple garden variety lying and completely immoral mainstream professional politician to Hamas?

                Please show me only one opinion piece on CIF from David Duke, the leaders of the BNP or EDL, from the North Korean ambassador, the leader of the KKK etc. etc.

                Your scary blindness brings back the memory of the thirties when a lot of well-intenioned people (including many Jews) tried to explain the then stoppable Nazi rhetoric with the “diversity of opinion” – “this is only for inner consumption”- “Herr Hitler is a nice animal loving individual” etc.
                You should try to wake up and smell the cafe.

              • “It’s called diversity of opinion.”

                So we can expect to see it balanced with articles by JDL members or by rabbis like Dov Lior, all of them examples of people on the Jewish side whom the Guardian staff regard as equivalent to the Hamas terrorists.

                In reality, of course, we can’t expect it—not a snowball’s chance in hell. The farthest the Guardian is willing to go in allowing Zionist opposing views is Israeli government spokesmen—lukewarm defenders, at best, of Israel’s rights, a far cry from the genocidal firebrands of Hamas.

                “The Guardian e.g. recently had former Tory leader and now foreign minister William Hague having his say about Iran’s nuclear ambitions.”

                Not equivalent to Hamas, and (to quote your now repeated quote) you know it.

  7. Freedland is a creature of the liberal left. He may have had a nasty surprise but I doubt whether it will dismay him enough to renounce his long held views about the Middle East conflict and he’ll continue to find ways to bash Israel, or ‘constructively criticise’, as he might put it.

  8. “July 18, 2011 at 9:25 am

    So you agree with the citzens of Rome who voted (with a huge majority) into office an excellent organizer, a perfect mayor and an outright racist”

    peterthehungarian

    There are many gray shades when it comes to Gianni Alemanno. I believe you’re referring to him in that comment. He ushered in several anti-gypsy and anti-immigrant city ordinances. That is so.

    However, he also on many occasions took up the plight of Gilad Shalit, languishing for several years now in some islamofascist dungeon.

    No other mayor of any major European city has done the same so far. .

  9. Seni Seneviratne’s comments (from approx. 30:00) re. why she isn’t focussing on a boycott of Sri Lanka simply do not wash. Plus she appears to be reading from a preset speech.

    • Of course they don’t wash. Nothing which holds Israel to a far higher standard than any other state “washes.”

      As for reading from a preset speech, I wouldn’t be at all surprised, but I wasn’t there.

  10. @peterthehungarian
    No Peter, Alemanno was elected because we got sick and tired of the former leftish Rutelli and Veltroni governance whom had allowed the most disgraceful demostrations with kefiah wearing and Israeli flag burning thugs.

    • I’m not exactly well versed in Italian politics, but at the time of his election the press was full of the pictures of his skinhead/fascist supporters and his anti-roma rethoric. I was in Rome two months ago, photographed the poster of Gilad on the front of the city hall – and don’t think that I’m not appreciating it.

      • peterthehungarian
        I live in Rome so I guess i know about it a bit more than you do.

        The Rome question is a bit more complex, the way you put it., the antiimmigrant laws as well.
        and yes he is the only one who spoke up for Gilad Shalit.

        • I live in Rome so I guess i know about it a bit more than you do.

          Sure you do, because I don’t know much about it apart from my eternal love of the city and its people. (Even after my wallet has been stolen on the first day of my stay – I should have known it better – it was my tenth or eleventh visit there, and I’m pretty familiar with its geography and the dangers of the pickpockets.)

  11. ” I was in Rome two months ago, photographed the poster of Gilad on the front of the city hall – and don’t think that I’m not appreciating it”

    I wasn’t trying to fault you for anything in my penultimate commentary. Gotcha isn’t what I’m after here… in all honesty.

    Rome’s current mayor does have skeletons in his closet but who doesn’t in this day and age? He is a friend of the Jews. Which peremptorily overrides other considerations… not all though. That’s about it in a nutshell.

  12. Back, ahem, to the topic: I thought Freedland was very good and very much a voice of reason. It’s a shame, of course, that he felt obliged to add the “I regularly criticise Israel” disclaimer. No such accommodation from Barghouti.

  13. Another good point made by Freedland was his calling the BDS moves “therapeutic”, i.e. that those involved primarily “feel good” about it.