By Maajid Nawaz
Wednesday, March 08, 2017
Soon after London Fashion Week concluded, Israel Apartheid Week began. Another week, another obsessive focus on Israel.
The Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is mostly spearheaded in the West by people who have little to nothing attaching them to the Middle-East conflict.
Nothing, that is, beyond the fact that belonging to the hard-left and not supporting BDS has become the equivalent of claiming a love for fashion, while hating haute couture. Though unlike haute couture, BDS is an inelegant and simplistic solution to a protracted and incredibly complicated problem. But who cares for detail when you have a fabulous placard to wave?
The lazy analogy that BDS rests on is with South African apartheid. But unlike apartheid-era South Africa, Arabs make up 20 percent of Israel’s full citizenry. Most of these Arab-Israeli citizens are Muslim. There are mosques on Israeli beaches. Alongside Hebrew, Arabic is an official language of Israel. An Arab-Israeli judge has even impeached and convicted former Israeli prime minster, Ehud Olmert.
And though many problems with integration persist – as they do with minority communities across the West – when surveyed 77 percent of these Arabs expressed an overwhelming preference to remain Israeli, rather than become citizens of a future Palestinian state.
The reason is obvious, Israeli-Muslims have more freedom of religion than other minorities – and even other Muslims have in all other Middle-Eastern countries.
The problem lies in the status of the West Bank and Gaza, not with any imaginary apartheid system inside Israel proper. So lazy is the apartheid analogy that I could effectively end my article at this paragraph. But so entrenched has our political laziness become, I feel compelled to carry on.
Far from being an apartheid, what we have is a somewhat unexceptional, albeit rather tragic, land dispute. An unexceptional land dispute: this is all that it was.
Until it became fetishised.
The truth is, there is nothing unique about the Israel conflict deserving such disproportionate attention by people who have little connecting them to this land. Baluchistan, Kurdistan, Cyprus, Kashmir, and Taiwan are but a few other disputed territories not fetishized like Palestine is by our left, by Muslims, at the UN and in our media.
All of these disputes involve deep religious, historic, and political meaning for their respective parties.
And only the overwhelming narcissism of our Abrahamic faiths – including those among us who define themselves against them—would value the religious and historic significance of these “Holy Lands” to mean anything more than other lost holy lands for Buddhists in Tibet, or Sikhs in Khalistan, which was lost to Pakistan’s Punjab a year before Israel’s creation.
Yet activists with little ancestral connection to Palestine have become obsessed with instramentalising this particular dispute to grind their own ideological axes.
Just as I would argue for Palestinians during past crises in Gaza, Israelis are not collectively responsible for the mistakes of their government in failing to achieve peace.
BDS seeks to hold Israelis collectively responsible. BDS punishes an entire people for the actions of a government that only came to power because of the quirks of a proportionally representative (PR) system that allows for minority religious parties to exert undue influence over policy.
As a result of Israel’s PR system, Netanyahu is only able to secure victory by forming a coalition with Naftali Bennett’s far-right, pro-settler Jewish Home.
It is not uncommon on Western university campuses to witness absurdities such as student groups refusing to condemn ISIS for fear of causing anti-Muslim bigotry, or proudly partnering with pro-jihadist groups such as CAGE UK, all the while calling for the entire people of Israel to be boycotted.
No doubt, many of these same student groups would support Obama’s deal to ease sanctions on Hezbollah-terrorist-supporting, Assad-backing, theocratic Iran, while simultaneously calling for sanctions to be imposed on a democratic Israel.
In this latter case, it should be remembered that Iranian film has done wonders breaking down barriers and critiquing internal oppression, because Iranian cultural exchange was exempt from U.S.-imposed sanctions.
Consistency would be to continue encouraging more such openness, but the incredibly regressive step seeking to ban Israeli culture achieves the exact opposite.
As a British author I would be mortified if my work were censored around the world due to the actions of my government—such as the invasion of Iraq, which I have always opposed.
How would Turkish authors feel if they were held responsible for the increasingly unhinged, autocratic Erdogan’s Islamisation of Turkey, or his approach toward the Kurds?
And yet, amid Chinese abuse in Tibet and Xinjiang, Burmese oppression of the Rohingya, the Kurdish people’s struggles, the plight of women and just about any free thinker in Saudi Arabia and Iran, the rights of practically everybody in North Korea, and the Ukrainian struggle to liberate the Crimea, the only foreign government that seems to attract the constant ire of our National Union of Students is the one that – with all its imperfections – is more democratic and transparent than most of the above: Israel.
Even the outgoing UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon agreed that “decades of political manoeuvring have created a disproportionate number of resolutions, reports, and committees against Israel… In many cases, instead of helping the Palestinian issue, this reality has foiled the ability of the UN to fulfill its role effectively.”
To this day, 47 resolutions concerning the Israel-Palestine conflict have been adopted by the UN Security Council. From 2016 alone one need only look at the 18 resolutions against Israel adopted during the UN General Assembly in September, or the 12 resolutions adopted in the Human Rights Council. The tragic reality is that these were more than those focused on Syria, North Korea, Iran, and South Sudan combined.
Yes, you read that correctly.
To cite disproportionality against Israel inevitably leads to accusations by the hard-left that one’s fallen into the fallacy of “whatabouttery.” That is, trying to distract from one’s own transgressions by shouting “what about” someone else’s. In this case, supposedly trying to downplay Israel’s abuses or failings by pointing to other conflicts around the world.
But I am not engaging in this fallacy. I am calling it out.
Due to our Abrahamic narcissism, Israel has become the perennial ‘whatabout’ used by almost every political persuasion to push their own – often sinister – agenda. Fanatical Israeli settlers who usually hail from America seek to blow up the al-Aqsa compound to resurrect the Temple.
Evangelical Christians support Israel so that the Messiah can return and initiate armageddon, after which Jews can presumably go to hell.
Hamas has never held elections since coming to power, and brutally tortures and drags ‘collaborators’ across the streets of Gaza from the backs of motorcycles… but Israel!
Islamists the world over cite Israel as proof for why their theocratic caliphate must return.
Arab despots point to Israel as their excuse for never holding free and fair elections, ever.
Rather than look inwards, Muslim conspiracy loons claim Israel created ISIS.
The hard-left, such as the UK’s Stop the War, uses Israel to criticise the ‘imperialist West’, all the while acquiescing to Russia’s annexation of the Crimea.
The hard-right use Israel for everything from boosting defence spending, to justifying ethnic profiling to building anti-immigrant walls.
In this way, obsessing over Israel has become the mother of all virtue-signals.
And while the conflict is uncannily similar to Pakistan’s dispute with India over Kashmir – Israel and Pakistan were created for virtually identical reasons during the same period – Israel attracts far more hysteria.
Only by releasing the “exceptional status” pressure from this conflict, by stripping it of its religious hyperbole, by removing it from the spotlight, by simply placing it on a par with every and any other conflict in the world – tragic but not unique – do we stand a better chance of solving it. I call this “Israeli unexceptionalism.”
Only by accepting that there is nothing special about this conflict are the stakes lowered, emotions drained and reason returned. Only by remaining somewhat dispassionate are the frothing prophets of doom, with their armageddon pathology, deprived of their manipulative power over us.
Until then, just like London Fashion Week, Israel Apartheid Week will remain to me the moral leftist equivalent of our narcissistic first world problems.