On Monday Counterpunch published an article by Ken Surin, one of its regular contributors, about a meeting of the Modern Language Association he attended in Philadelphia. This debated two resolutions, one for, the other against, the BDS movement. Surin discusses in his article the similarity between Israeli apartheid and that of South Africa. He was himself active in anti-apartheid politics as a student in the late 1960s and ’70s, and shows how the same arguments against sanctions against the apartheid regime in South Africa are still being trotted out today to defend Israel, and how the arguments for sanctions against South Africa still apply to Israel today.
The article as a whole deserves to be read. But there is one passage which is particularly interesting, where he makes the counterarguments against the attempts by South Africa and Israel to deflect criticism by pointing to other countries, which are equally guilty of human rights violations, but are much less criticised. He writes
The “Why pick on Israel, when there is also North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Ukraine, and so forth?” plaint was also heard at this conference, and for me this resonated very closely with the similar complaint made by South African apartheid sympathizers: “Why pick on South Africa? What about those African cruel dictators– Mobutu, Idi Amin, the “Emperor” Bokassa—who treat their people as excrement?”.
The answer to this objection is fourfold:
1/ No African despot ever pretended to uphold “western values” (whatever these may be) in the way Israel does, and white South Africa did, at least symbolically.
2/ If the African tyrants were asked whether they respected “democracy”, their deep resounding laughter would have answered this question. Israel on the other hand….
3/ Israel is the largest recipient of US military aid, nearly all of which is used to subjugate the Palestinians. If the US turned off this tap, Israel would probably soon be motivated to mend some of its ways. So would Saudi Arabia, effectively an Israeli/US proxy in the Arab world along with Egypt. No such tap exists where North Korea is concerned. The simple lesson is that we fight battles where we can be effective.
4/ The logic of this argument is faulty. Consider the following analogy:
You own a house and the land it’s on. Some people come to your house, citing some holy book if it suits them, and they take it over by force of arms, perhaps invoking the holy book. You are told that from now on you must live in the tiny tool shed at the back of the property.
You protest, saying “but this is my house and land!”. “Tough”, they say, “from now on this is ours”.
The law (as international law does for the Palestinians), however, allows you to use all legal means, including justifiable force, to resist them and get them to end their seizure of your house and land.
As you are about to do this, someone comes along and says at the Philadelphia MLA conference: “No, you can’t take measures to get them to leave. In this town, there are several other houses that have been taken over by lawbreakers, who also tortured their owners, kidnapped their children, and so on. So, you can’t evict the illegal occupiers of your own house, until you go out and protest against these other illegalities, initiate boycotts of their perpetrators, and so on”.
The appropriate response: “If the law is on my side, I can resist the home invaders, so you can go *@#$ yourself”.
The complete article can be read at: http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/01/09/resolutions-advocating-a-boycott-of-israel/