Once again, the international anti-Semitic hate-fest known as Israel Apartheid Week is almost upon us. Last year around this time, I debunked some of the slanders about Israel spread by the BDS movement. If you missed it then, I hope you’ll read it now.
This year, I will discuss three fallacies that have become deeply embedded in the ideology of the American left. These fallacies are frequently embraced unquestioningly by both Jews and non-Jews. First is the assertion that the settlements are an “obstacle to peace;” second is that the BDS movement is the result of the “occupation;” and third is the idea that prior to the reconstitution of the State of Israel, Jews and Muslims lived together peacefully. None of these are accurate.
1. The Settlements Are Not The Obstacle To Peace
The assertion that the settlements are an obstacle to peace is an example of something that has become widely accepted by dint of nothing more than sheer repetition. But it rests on blind acceptance of an extremely sinister premise: that there are certain areas in the world in which Jews should not be permitted to live simply because they are Jews.
The argument goes that “Jewish settlers” are becoming embedded so deeply into Palestinian territory as to make division of the land impossible. Jews living in the West Bank, even in parts of the West Bank that Israel would cede in the event of a hypothetical peace agreement, can only be an obstacle to Palestinian statehood, and by extension to peace, if we accept the premise that Jews should not be permitted to live in the future Palestinian state. If a future Palestinian state were willing to accommodate a Jewish minority, and to grant that minority full protection of the law, then Jews living in Palestine would be a non-issue. Nearly two million Arabs currently hold citizenship in Israel. So why shouldn’t Jews be permitted to live in Palestine?
Of course, we all know why Jews can’t live in Palestine. We only have to look at the situation of Coptic Christians under the recent (and thankfully brief) period of Muslim Brotherhood rule in Egypt, or the recent directive given to last Jews of Yemen to convert or leave the country, to get a glimpse of what their future would hold. Perhaps not immediately but at some point, it’s likely that an Islamist government would come to power in Palestine as well, and even if it didn’t, there’s no reason to think that even a Fatah government would be better.
Banning Jews from living in the Palestinian territories, however, is not the answer. Have we really internalized anti-Semitism so much that when confronted with the reality that Palestinian Arabs can’t guarantee the safety of Jews within their future state, we shrug and say that the Jews who want to live there are the ones causing the problem? The better response would be that the Palestinian Authority must work towards increasing tolerance, so that Jews might, in the future, live freely in Palestine. Not as dhimmis (more on that term below) but as full citizens, as Israel’s Arab minority does.
You may think it’s crazy that any Jew would want to live in Palestine. I would have a hard time disagreeing. But I also think it’s crazy to live in Alaska, yet seven hundred thousand people do it and they do so with the full protection of the law.
The obstacle to peace is not Jews who want to live in Judea or Samaria, their Biblical homeland. The obstacle is the discriminatory and bigoted belief that they should not be permitted to do so.
2. The Boycott Of Israel Is Not Caused By The “Occupation”
Another misconception common on the left, and especially prevalent among younger adults, is that the movement to boycott Israel is a “grassroots” response to the so-called occupation of the West Bank that began in 1967.
Last year I explained why the use of the term “occupation” is highly misleading. As I wrote then, the term “occupation” disregards the fact that the reason Israel remains in the West Bank today is that the Palestinian leadership has rejected multiple attempts by Israel to leave it. It’s also false that the modern movement called BDS is a “grassroots movement of Palestinians” or a “call from Palestinian civil society.” Rather, the modern iteration of the movement to boycott Israel began at the hate-filled 2001 UN Durban Conference.
Even beyond that, however, the idea that the “occupation of the West Bank” causes the boycott can only be embraced by those who are oblivious of history. This is because Arab states have been boycotting Israel, not since 1967, but since 1945, three years before the declaration of the modern state of Israel.
In 1977, Foreign Affairs magazine featured a lengthy explanation of the Arab boycott, explaining that it was organized in 1945 (emphasis mine).
The primary boycott is the refusal by Arab states and their nationals to trade with Israel or its nationals. Originally the Arab boycott was only a primary one, having its origins, like its parent organization the Arab League, in the inter-Arab politics of the period immediately prior to the creation of Israel in 1948 and the first Arab-Israeli war. In October 1945, the newly formed Arab League declared that Arabs in British-mandated Palestine should boycott the goods and services of their Zionist Jewish neighbors. Within six months the League extended the boycott to direct trade between all Arab countries and Zionist entities in Palestine. Thus, Arab states forbid their own nationals and any resident foreign companies from exporting to Israel products manufactured in an Arab state; transshipping products to Israel via an Arab state is likewise forbidden.
The primary boycott is most commonly enforced by certification procedures. A participating Arab country, importer or bank requires, as a precondition to payment or to the contract, that a foreign exporter or contractor importing goods destined for an Arab port certify that the goods are neither made in Israel nor contain Israeli-made components.
It’s noteworthy that, like modern BDS, the original Arab boycott delineated a primary, secondary, and tertiary boycott.
It was not until April 1950, two years after Israel became independent, that the Arab League first extended the boycott beyond this primary aspect to include parties who are not participants in the Arab-Israeli conflict. The extension created a secondary boycott, which involves the refusal by Arab states to trade with third parties, i.e., non-Israeli nationals or companies, which in the opinion of the boycott committee of the Arab League significantly contribute to Israel’s economic and military strength.
To coordinate this new aspect of the boycott the Arab League created a Central Boycott Office (CBO) in Damascus in 1951.
Like modern BDS, this Central Boycott Office created a “blacklist” for enforcing the secondary boycott.
In practice, American firms have been blacklisted for a variety of reasons. Coca-Cola was blacklisted in 1966, six months after licensing a bottling plant near Tel Aviv; Ford Motor Company, which licenses a truck and tractor assembly plant in Israel, was blacklisted in the same year. Operations in Israel resulted in blacklisting for Belco Petroleum, Miles Laboratories and Topps Chewing Gum. Xerox Corporation was blacklisted allegedly because it sponsored a series of documentaries, one of which concerned Israel.
And like modern BDS, the original Arab boycott attempted to force others to refrain from doing business with Israel as well, even those who did not agree with the boycott.
To discourage indirect Arab contributions to the Israeli economy, the Arab League has imposed a third prohibition – dubbed the tertiary boycott in the United States. Pursuant to the tertiary boycott, which developed from the boycott regulations codified in 1954, the Arabs forbid utilization of materials, equipment or services of a blacklisted firm by a non-blacklisted firm in its exports to or projects in an Arab country. For example, in one application of the tertiary boycott, an American manufacturer almost had its contract to manufacture buses for Saudi Arabia cancelled when it was learned the bus seats were manufactured by a blacklisted firm. (The company substituted other seats and fulfilled the contract.)
Like modern BDS, the Arab boycott hypocritically included exceptions for things that people needed, such as pharmaceuticals, and, just like today’s BDS do-gooders, the organizers of the Arab boycott went to great lengths to attempt to separate Judaism from Zionism and to try to claim that its boycott was not anti-Semitic. And they, too, sometimes slipped:
A significant example of administrative ineptness is in letter of credit forms, usually written in both Arabic and English. Some time ago, a form used in Iraq translated the Arabic word for “Israeli” or “Zionist” into English as “Jewish.”
Even then, and even though the original Arab boycott dated back to 1945, there were boycott apologists who asserted that if only Israel would resolve its conflict with its Arab neighbors, the boycott would end. As an example, FA quotes Senator Adlai Stevenson saying, “The boycott is . . . part of a continuing Arab struggle against Israel and it will be ended only when there is a permanent peace in the Middle East.” Just like today, nonsensical arguments to rationalize Arab anti-Semitism were made, such as, “Administration witnesses have also testified that legislation prohibiting compliance with boycott procedures could hamper Mideast peace prospects.”
And like today’s BDS, Foreign Affairs reported that the Arab boycott had little effect on the Israeli economy.
You can read another contemporaneous account of the boycott, this one from 1945, here. (You may note, as Aussie Dave did, that in this report, the Jewish community of what is now Israel is referred to as “Palestinian.”)
Eventually American legislation significantly weakened the original Arab boycott (just as newly proposed legislation could do today). In 2001, however, at the UN Durban Conference, anti-Israel NGOs took the old Arab boycott and dressed up in new, progressive language. Since then, gullible progressives, even including some Jews, have embraced it.
That the new Arab boycott is nothing more than a continuation of the old Arab boycott, and not a progressive response to “occupation,” becomes even more clear when one recalls that in 1967, Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan. Obviously, there was no boycott of Jordan when Jordan controlled the territory from 1948-1967.
The true goal of the BDS movement is not the end of the Israeli military presence in the West Bank, but the end of Israel. This should surprise no one who understands the history of the Arab boycott.
3. Jews Were Not Able To Live Peacefully Among Muslims Throughout History
This last contention, that Jews and Muslims lived together peacefully before the reconstitution of the State of Israel, is the most puzzling, because it is so patently ahistorical.
Throughout history, Jews in Muslim lands lived as “dhimmis,” or “protected” second-class citizens. “Protected” in that sense meant, permitted to live, rather than being put to death as other religious minorities were. The price for this protection was an exploitatively high tax, and the “protection” was spotty at best. Jews were prohibited from holding certain jobs and were periodically subjected to violence.
Jewish Virtual Library offers a well-sourced summary:
As “People of the Book,” Jews (and Christians) are protected under Islamic law. The traditional concept of the “dhimma” (“writ of protection”) was extended by Muslim conquerors to Christians and Jews in exchange for their subordination to the Muslims. Peoples subjected to Muslim rule usually had a choice between death and conversion, but Jews and Christians, who adhered to the Scriptures, were allowed as dhimmis (protected persons) to practice their faith. This “protection” did little, however, to insure that Jews and Christians were treated well by the Muslims. On the contrary, an integral aspect of the dhimma was that, being an infidel, he had to openly acknowledge the superiority of the true believer–the Muslim.
In the early years of the Islamic conquest, the “tribute” (or jizya), paid as a yearly poll tax, symbolized the subordination of the dhimmi. Later, the inferior status of Jews and Christians was reinforced through a series of regulations that governed the behavior of the dhimmi. Dhimmis, on pain of death, were forbidden to mock or criticize the Koran, Islam or Muhammad, to proselytize among Muslims or to touch a Muslim woman (though a Muslim man could take a nonMuslim as a wife).
Dhimmis were excluded from public office and armed service, and were forbidden to bear arms. They were not allowed to ride horses or camels, to build synagogues or churches taller than mosques, to construct houses higher than those of Muslims or to drink wine in public. They were not allowed to pray or mourn in loud voices-as that might offend the Muslims. The dhimmi had to show public deference toward Muslims-always yielding them the center of the road. The dhimmi was not allowed to give evidence in court against a Muslim, and his oath was unacceptable in an Islamic court. To defend himself, the dhimmi would have to purchase Muslim witnesses at great expense. This left the dhimmi with little legal recourse when harmed by a Muslim.
Dhimmis were also forced to wear distinctive clothing. In the ninth century, for example, Baghdad’s Caliph al-Mutawakkil designated a yellow badge for Jews, setting a precedent that would be followed centuries later in Nazi Germany.
Even still, eruptions of violence were commonplace. Visit the Jewish Virtual Library for details of some of those incidents.
Calling Jewish life in Arab countries peaceful is kind of like calling life for African Americans in the pre-civil rights era American South peaceful — they could usually avoid violence, but only if they knew their “place” and stayed in it.
After Israel was reconstituted in 1948, the vast majority of Jews living in Arab lands were forced from their homes and found refuge in Israel.
As I think I’ve shown, Jews living in Arab lands were always in a precarious position. The new Arab boycott, known as BDS, is no different in substance than old Arab boycott, and is a response to Jewish independence, not a response to the loss of Jordanian territory in the 1967 war. The settlements are considered antagonistic, not because they impede peace, but because Palestinian Arabs are unable to tolerate Jews in their future state.