Is Israel Held to a Double Standard?
It’s very common for defenders of Israel to claim that the Jewish state comes under attack unfairly, and that its conduct is held to a double standard. On Sunday, the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg repeated this claim, criticizing pro-Palestinian groups (‘anti-Israel’ groups, in Goldberg’s parlance) for boycotting an Israeli theater company’s performance of the Merchant of Venice at the Globe Theater in London. Goldberg writes:
“Does it surprise anyone that the controversy centers not on the anti-Semitic aspects of the play, but on the (anti-Semitic) demands of anti-Israel activists to scapegoat Israel by boycotting its cultural exports?…Chinese artists seldom, if ever, provoke widespread calls for boycott, even though China is engaged in a systematic campaign to wipe-out Tibetan culture, and, more to the point, Tibetans.”
Unfortunately, Goldberg’s comparison of Israel to China is a false analogy, and his argument that Israel is subject to a double standard is simplistic and misleading.
Goldberg attributes the willingness to boycott an Israeli theater company, rather than a Chinese one, to anti-Semitism. However, as difficult as it may be, it is necessary to distinguish between criticism of the Israeli government and racism against Jews. It’s disingenuous for Goldberg to insinuate that boycotts of Israeli products, companies, or “cultural exports” stems from hatred of Jews rather than Israeli policy, chiefly the occupation of the Palestinian territories. It is possible to have problems with Israelis and not with Jews.
Goldberg also fails to mention that the initiative to boycott Israeli products falls under the umbrella of the Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions movement (BDS), possibly the largest manifestation of Palestinian civil non-violent resistance in history. BDS calls for”a campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights.”
The suicide terror tactics of the Second Intifadeh and Hamas’ rocket fire from Gaza have largely been condemned by the international community. Yet today, the vast majority of Palestinian resistance to Israeli rule is peaceful. In line with the success of non-violent protest during the Arab Spring, and in pursuit of reconciliation with Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah Party, even Hamas has stated that its commitment will be to non-violent resistance. To equate the BDS movement with anti-Semitism is to put it on a level playing field with Palestinian terrorism of years past.
Many ask “where is the Palestinian Gandhi?” Wherever he is, Jeff Goldberg considers him an anti-Semite. If the boycott of an Israeli theater performance in London is anti-Semitic, it’s hard to imagine what form of Palestinian resistance isn’t.
There are many reasons that have nothing to do with racism that explain why an Israeli performance would face calls for boycott while a Chinese one wouldn’t. Most obvious is that Israel holds elections and China does not. It’s easy to see why boycotting a nation of 8 million potential voters would be more likely to bring about policy shifts than a boycott of a nation of 1.3 billion people and the Communist Party. In Israel, citizens are both voters and soldiers. They have more ownership over their government and its decisions than Chinese citizens.
Supporters of Israel must stop pointing to Chinese, Zimbabwean, Iranian or Saudi transgressions as excuses for the Jewish State’s shortcomings. Goldberg’s tacit argument that Tibetans are more victimized than Palestinians is callous and irrelevant. Israel should seek to be the best that it can be, regardless of its peers in the community of nations.
Israel shouldn’t worry about double standards and hold itself to a common, moral and egalitarian standard—as a nation that views itself as Western democracy. It’s possible that Israel’s human rights record is better than Beijing’s, but it would be difficult to argue that there isn’t room for improvement.