BDS and South Africa – 1

In a way, yesterday’s vote by the University of Johannesburg (UJ) to reject a boycott of their Israeli counterparts at Ben –Gurion University is pure BDS: a high-profile boycott call at a prominent institution followed by rancorous debate followed by a “No” vote with enough posing built around the final decision to allow BDS advocates to characterize their latest loss as a victory. But the venue of this week’s BDS battle makes it more worthy of exploration than other routine BDS defeats.

By “venue,” I’m not talking about academia, although it is worth noting that academic boycotts are probably the least popular of all BDS variants flying as they do in the face of academic freedom. Academic BDSers have offered various explanations over the years why Israeli scholars and only Israeli scholars (although just the Jewish ones – with folks like Tel Aviv University graduate student Omar Barghouti clearly exempted) should be excluded from the world of scholarly inquiry because of their nationality. But outside of the BDS community itself, no one seems to buy the argument that one champions academic freedom by assaulting it.

And this vast majority of boycott haters has a voice. When academic boycott was all the rage within the British academic union, BDS champions had to contend with the global scholarly community’s unprecedented solidarity with their beleaguered Israeli colleagues. While this month’s boycotters were interested in nothing more than the headlines they could grab by getting a boycott passed at a prominent South Africa institution, less ideologically blinkered academic decision makers at UJ likely didn’t relish being told by some of the world’s greatest scholars and universities that, for purposes of a Israel boycott they too should be considered “Israeli academics” and boycotted.

So academia is not the topic here, South Africa is.

Why South Africa? To start with the obvious, the entire BDS enterprise is part of what BDSers themselves refer to as their “Apartheid Strategy,” a long-term propaganda campaign to “brand” Israel as the inheritor of South Africa’s Apartheid legacy. Just as Jews are giving a prominent place within the boycott and divestment “movement” (to support a fanciful claim that BDS has widespread Jewish support), so too South Africans willing to leverage their own experience to attack the Jewish state have become anchors for boycott and divestment champions everywhere.

Just try to edit a Wikipedia entry on any Israel-related boycott subject to point out that BDS began with someone other than Desmond Tutu (who was actually a relative latecomer to the divestment parade) and watch how fast it will be reverted to ensure Tutu’s name gets placed front and center of the BDS origin myth. This is not a simple academic/political Wikipedia squabble but a highlight to the criticality of prominent South African voices to the cornerstone BDS message that Israel is the new Apartheid, worthy of the same fate that befell the last one.

Entering a debate on South Africa’s role in BDS requires navigating some well-laid traps by Israel’s critics similar to ones encountered when Rachel Corrie is the subject of discussion.

In any Corrie debate, Israel’s foes demand to use her death to highlight a series of political charges against the Jewish state (notably that it’s guilty of deliberate murder and cover up). But if anyone responds to those political attacks on a political level (assigning some level of responsibility for Corrie’s death to her International Solidarity Movement enablers, to Palestinian weapon’s smugglers or to Corrie herself) and out come the Corrie baby photos and high-school yearbook pictures accompanied by charges that anything Israel’s defenders say represents gross insensitivity to the death of a young girl.

In a similar way, BDSers lie in wait hoping someone will make even a glancing criticism of people like Desmond Tutu, at which point they can pounce and insist that friends of Israel be bunched up with the Bohrs of pre-Mandela SA on one side of a political spectrum they self-servingly construct, while the BDSers and Tutu are on the other side representing all that is good and virtuous.

The fact that such rhetorical traps lie in wait is no reason to avoid discussion of the important issue of South Africa’s role in the BDS movement altogether. So with that as a somewhat-longish segue, tune in tomorrow (or at least sometime this weekend, parenting schedule allowing) for thoughts on this critical aspect of the boycott, divestment and sanction debate.


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14 Responses to BDS and South Africa – 1

  1. Anonymous October 1, 2010 at 2:33 pm #

    Victimhood huh? For decades legitimate criticism of Israel has been attacked as being antisemitic or the work of “self hating Jews”. Decent people, Jew and and non Jew, have been smeared and dragged through the mud for speaking the truth about israel's rogue behavior whether it be the occupation/checkpoints, the settlement enterprise, disproportionate use of force, etc. It is ironic for you to talk about rhetorical traps.

    BTW I am still waiting fir someone to respond to my challenge of yesterday.

    P.S. The “troll” terminology is yet another example of smearing people that disagree with you.

  2. Jon October 1, 2010 at 3:19 pm #

    Moving backwards, by “troll” I was referring to people who show up in this comments section, publish a link to a subject entirely unrealted to the topic of the posting (usually a general “Israel is bad” “new” story or video) and then running off until it's time to do it again. Presuming you're not the Anonymous who keeps doing this, the troll comment was directed at someone other than you.

    Regarding to your “challenge” of yesterday, I can only presume you mean the somewhat unclear comment you left on yesterday's posting which (as near as I can figure out) is asking a question that I am in the midst of answering today and in my next posting.

    Regarding your first paragraph, you seem to be talking to someone who has made a claim of “victimhood” and who is also accusing you (or someone) of being an anti-Semite or a self-hating Jew. Since I've done none of those things, I can only guess that this paragraph was meant to be posted at a different blog.

  3. Anonymous October 1, 2010 at 4:27 pm #

    The “somewhat unclear comment” is below and refers to Brad Burston's piece in Haaretz.

    “Also, I challenge anyone to identify a major American newspaper that will publish a piece like this; and if it were published to not have the newspaper and its writer attacked and smeared as antisemitic or self hating Jews.”

  4. DrMike October 1, 2010 at 5:45 pm #

    Major American newspapers publish pieces far more critical than Burston's quite often. The San Francisco Chronicle publishes anti-Israel diatribes by George Bisharat several times a year. The Washington Post gave Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh space on its Op-Ed page in 2006 and the LA Times did the same for Mousa Abu Marzook in 2009. And of course Tom Friedman in the NY Times makes no secret of his opposition to settlements.

    Of course, you also have unintentionally highlighted something that exists in the Middle East only in Israel– a free press.

    Demanding that not only such pieces be published, but also that nobody publicly criticize them, is only possible in places like North Korea, or perhaps Gaza. Who's trying to “muzzle” free discussion, Anon?

    Oh, and one more thing: tell me again that, once Israel withdraws from all the settlements, the BDS movement will declare that its goals were met and they now fully accept Israel as the state of the Jewish people living along side an Arab state of Palestine. Actually, just tell me that YOU will accept that. Then try to go to a meeting of BDS activists and say the same thing. Let us know how that goes, would you?

  5. Anonymous October 1, 2010 at 6:00 pm #

    From al jazeera
    The South African University of Johannesburg (UJ) senate has threatened to end its relationship with the Israeli university, Ben-Gurion (BGU), unless certain conditions are met.

    In a statement released on Wednesday, the South African university's highest academic body said Ben-Gurion University would have to work with Palestinian universities on research projects ….

    What is interesting to me is that the proposal is encouraging academic cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian universities- something the BDS'ers have consistently claimed is immoral.

  6. Anonymous October 1, 2010 at 6:44 pm #

    Dr Mike: Yes the Palestinians, the entire Arab world, let alone the BDS movement will accept a 2 state solution based on the 67 borders with small equitable land swaps, EJ as the capital of Palestine and a just resolution to the refugee issue (and allowing refugees into Palestine is not a just solution!). This offer has been on the table by the Arab League for 8 years. What has been Israel's response to the Arab League offer which includes normalization of diplomatic ties between Israel and all 22 Arab nations? Nothing, nada, no official response.

    Israel, which was founded on Zionism, has no interest in a 2 state solution and has proven this by A) lip service and more importantly by B) their actions i.e. the illegal and immoral settlement enterprise. The BDS call for a one state solution is a result of Israel's “facts on the ground”.

    “The settlement of the Land of Israel is the essence of Zionism. Without settlement, we will not fulfill Zionism. It's that simple.” — Yitzhak Shamir, Maariv, 02/21/1997.

    There are two nations on earth based on religion: Israel nation state of the Jews, and the Islamic republic of Iran. Iran's regime is a ruthless dictatorship of the mullahs. In Israel 20% of the population are non Jews. The Jewish state of Israel and a democracy cannot coexist. Any ideas Dr Mike? How about we throw the 20% non Jewish Arab citizens of Israel into the water?

    Finally to the challenge. Oh my god the Hamas leader was allowed to express his opinion in a US newspaper once in 2006!? How dare the WP? And yes we all know Thomas Friedman is such a major critic of Israel !! Dr Mike is that all yo could come up with? Very lame indeed. Quite a few Haaretz reporters write pieces on a daily basis that is highly critical of the occupation and settlements. No such reporting exists in the US media. Challenge still in place.

  7. Fred October 1, 2010 at 7:01 pm #

    The government of Israel insults the President of the US and does so with amazing impunity.

    The extent to which the president of the US is willing to bend over backwards for a rogue nation is astonishing; a nation that occupies lands, builds illegal and immoral settlements on it, and is governed by a right wing coalition that has absolutely no interest in peace but only in expanding, oppressing the Palestinians and maintaining the status quo of apartheid. Israel has clearly become a foreign affairs liability for the US. How can anyone watching this charade not be outraged at the one-sidedness ? How can the US expect to have any respect in the Arab and Muslim worlds? Finally, don't the pro Israel congressmen and senators have any shame? When it comes to this conflict I am embarrassed to say I am a citizen of America.

  8. justice brings peace October 1, 2010 at 9:55 pm #

    Interesting map of Israel's occupation, settlement, colonization and apartheid

  9. DrMike October 1, 2010 at 10:28 pm #

    Anonymous gives him/herself away by declaring that Palestinian refugees must have a right to demographically overwhelm Israel and end its existence as a Jewish state. Which is what I have saying all along is the goal of the BDS movement. So your 2 state solution, as well as that of the BDS movement, is indeed two states: one “binational” state (appropriate models of stability and tolerance: Chechneya, Lebanon and Bosnia) in which Jews will be a barely tolerated minority, and one state in which no Jews at all are permitted.

    So you do indeed confirm that the BDS movement will not accept a Jewish state of Israel.

    by the way, there are 57 members of the Islamic Conference, each of which declares itself an Islamic state, as does the PA (which would be the state in which no Jews could be tolerated). Turkey will likely become the next. Yet, oddly enough, Israeli Arabs, both Moslem and Christian, have more rights than non-Muslims in almost all of those countries.

    So indeed a Jewish state can be a democracy– because it is right now.

  10. Anonymous October 1, 2010 at 11:29 pm #

    Fire Lieberman
    If Netanyahu intends to continue peace negotiations, and believes, as he says, that if we don't try, we won't succeed, then Lieberman must go now.

    Haaretz Editorial

  11. Anonymous October 1, 2010 at 11:33 pm #

    Dr Zionist Mike: can you please show me where in my post I stated or implied “Palestinian refugees must have a right to demographically overwhelm Israel and end its existence as a Jewish state.”? I simply stated that “allowing” Palestinians refugees into a future Palestinian state (comes from one of your earlier comical posts) is not adequate. cheers

  12. Anonymous October 2, 2010 at 12:14 am #

    To anonymous: If you create a homeland for the Palestinian people, under what stretch of your imagination is that NOT an equitable solution? Isn't the purpose of creating Palestine to give these people a homeland?

  13. Anonymous October 3, 2010 at 3:46 am #

    Anonymous vs Anonymous, so here's another anonymous just to keep things interesting:

    OK, so what would be “adequate”?


  14. Anonymous October 3, 2010 at 3:48 am #

    Oh by the way, “Jewish” pertains to peoplehood as well as or in place of “religion.”

    Many Jews aren't even Jewish in the religious sense yet we self identify as Jewish culturally and with Israel as our original homeland, so the comparison to Iran doesn't hold up, period, apart from the fact that it's absurd.

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