For the sake of human rights, BDS must end its dishonesty…writes Alex Ryvchin

December 18, 2013 by Alex Ryvchin
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When Dr Norman Finkelstein, an icon of the anti-Israel movement, blasted the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign as a “duplicitous, disingenuous cult,” his words were met with a great sense of betrayal among the campaign’s adherents. After all, Finkelstein was once revered as a veteran campaigner who among many other things, called Israel a “satanic state.”

Alex Ryvchin

Alex Ryvchin

Finkelstein had experienced no great awakening. Nor had he withdrawn his criticisms of Israel. Instead, after “dedicating his life to the Palestinian cause,” he had grown “sick and tired” of the movement deceiving the public as to their ultimate aims and deluding themselves as to the scale of their supposed successes, thus undermining the Palestinian struggle for statehood.

At the centre of Finkelstein’s disassociation with the BDS movement, which has hijacked the Palestinian cause, is what Finkelstein calls a “deliberate ambiguity” on Israel’s basic right to exist. A genuine insider, Finkelstein reveals that the movement’s refusal to talk about Israel, let alone recognise its existence as the national home of the Jewish people, enables it to both conceal its extreme motives from public scrutiny, and to placate the majority within the movement who want to destroy Israel. That is, the movement can speak the language of human rights and international law while actually lobbying for the destruction of a sovereign state.

In Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon, Australia has its own long standing supporter of the anti-Israel movement. Unfortunately however, the leaders of BDS in Australia have yet to heed Finkelstein’s advice to be open about their aims and to cease their selective application of international law.

During a typically vitriolic and hateful speech in the Senate last week, Rhiannon urged Australia “to cease military cooperation and trade with Israel… as a small but significant step.” In a new and bizarre line of attack, Rhiannon justifies this call on the basis that Israel perpetuates war and conflict to battle-test its weapons for “public marketing by the Israeli arms industry”, as a means of boosting its sale of weapons to countries like Australia.

In Rhiannon’s latest allegations, one detects a near pathological aversion to the Jewish state, to the extent that a state’s means of defence can be cast as a nefarious, conspirational enterprise, which conceals Israel’s true motive: greed.

Senator Lee Rhiannon

Senator Lee Rhiannon

As one would expect from Rhiannon, nowhere does she recognise that Israel has a very real and genuine need to defend itself; nor does she entertain the idea that the Israeli army could have any legitimate defence function whatsoever.

To be sure, Israel exists only because it has defended itself from three invasions, two intifada, Iranian proxy campaigns, numerous border incursions, and the constant threat of war from enemies who do not bother to veil their desires to destroy Israel in the misappropriated language of human rights. This is the function of the Israeli army. Yet one senses that Israel’s continued existence has never been a priority for Rhiannon.

While presented as a pacifist’s rebuke to militarism, Rhiannon’s argument is steeped in double-standards. If Rhiannon opposes militarism in all its forms, why is Israel the only country with which Australia should sever military ties? If indeed Rhiannon’s message is one of peace and demilitarisation, one could have expected her to start by calling for the disarming of a state less vulnerable than Israel.

There is also an uncomfortable inconsistency between Rhiannon’s assault on Israel’s means of defence and her history of support for the Soviet Union, which built and maintained an empire through force and coercion and whose arms exports had a uniquely deleterious impact on the world, not least in the Middle-East. In the 1980s, shortly after Rhiannon led solidarity delegations to the Soviet Union, Moscow was responsible for 34% of the world’s arms trade, and supplied such states as Libya, Syria and Iraq. This is precisely the sort of hypocrisy to which Finkelstein refers.

While the anti-Israel movement goes to great lengths to demonstrate that its hatred of the Jewish state should not be mistaken for a hatred of the Jewish people, it is deeply troubling that Rhiannon’s latest assault casts the Jewish state in a historically dubious and familiar light. The image of the Jew as a war profiteer, conspirator and driven solely by money is steeped in anti-Jewish tradition and it is alarming that such accusations have now been evoked and transferred to the Jewish collective, the state of Israel.

No doubt the great manipulators of human rights in the anti-Israel movement will have been aware that Rhiannon’s speech came just days before UN Human Rights Day. It would be fitting if Senator Rhiannon and her peers in the anti-Israel movement finally ended the practice of deliberately distorting concepts of law and human rights to serve their ideological agenda, and recognised that advancing Palestinian rights does not require the denial of Israel’s right to exist as a national home for the Jewish people.

Alexander Ryvchin is the Public Affairs Officer at the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, the national representative body of the Australian Jewish community

This is the full version of an edited article which was published in The Australian

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