I have a lot of respect for the veteran Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery. The first time I met him was in the PLO headquarters in Tunis in the late 1980s– a place that was anathema to both of our governments, but to his a lot more than to mine. (Indeed, for him as an Israeli it was actually illegal to meet with PLO people then.)
However, the argument he published yesterday that was against the burgeoning BDS movement was had some deeply flawed and dangerous arguments in it.
Over at Mondoweiss, Anees of Jerusalem has highlighted one serious (and apparently very racist) flaw in Avnery’s argument. His criticism was of these statements:
- Blacks in South Africa are very different from the Israelis, and from the Palestinians, too. The collapse of the oppressive racist regime did not lead to a bloodbath, as could have been predicted, but on the contrary: to the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee.
Actually, Avnery’s argument there is not only racist– with the clear implication that the Palestinians (“unlike the blacks of South Africa”) are indeed intent on a bloodbath; but also illogical.
Because yes, it is true that a “bloodbath” was what was widely predicted in South Africa after the fall of the apartheid regime– but western liberals went along with the sanctions campaign notwithstanding that.
… And then, it didn’t happen. So what good are the predictions of western liberals in regard to South Africa or Palestine, anyway??
Anyway, Anees was right to call Avnery on the racism of his argument there.
I want to call Avnery on a couple of other aspects of his argument.
First, he plays a deliberately deceptive numbers game.
- The South African struggle was between a large majority and a small minority. Among a general population of almost 50 million, the Whites amounted to less than 10%. That means that more than 90% of the country’s inhabitants supported the boycott, in spite of the argument that it hurt them, too.
In Israel, the situation is the very opposite. The Jews amount to more than 80% of Israel’s citizens, and constitute a majority of some 60% throughout the country between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. 99.9% of the Jews oppose a boycott on Israel.
They will not feel the “the whole world is with us”, but rather that “the whole world is against us”.
No, regarding Israel and Palestinians the situation is not “the very opposite” of what it was in South Africa. There are around six million Jews in Israel (and maybe 99.9% of them oppose the BDS campaign; or maybe fewer than that.) But there are some 5.5 million ethnic Palestinians in the area under Israeli control– and an additional five million or more Palestinians forced to live in exile from homeland.
Avnery just wipes the Palestinian exiles from his tally-board of political relevance as if they have no legitimate say in anything!
Well, that is one huge problem with his numbers game.
Don’t you think it would be important to Avnery as a peace activist that Palestinians moldering in refugee camps in Lebanon or elsewhere might finally be able to say, “the world is with us”?
But apparently, he doesn’t care.
Another problem with his argument comes where he tries to say that the Israelis have nothing in common with the Afrikaners– because only the Israelis suffered the Holocaust, and besides, many Afrikaners were pro-Hitler.
But guess what. The Afrikaners were also acting from a very deep sense of past community hurt and community vulnerability. They were the people for whom the whole concept of “concentration camps” had been invented in the first place, for goodness sake!
And they too, like many Jewish ethnonationalists in Israel, had a profound sense of having been “called” by their G-d to create their settler state in Africa.
So the two peoples have many similarities in their core culture. But one big difference is that the Israelis have not thrown up their “Frederik De Klerk” figure yet: a national leader who over time came to recognize the equal humanity and equal rights of the long-despised “other.”
What can all of us do to help persuade Jewish israeli society to generate its own De Klerk?
Wide-reaching BDS may indeed be one of the best ways.
But at a very minimum, in the first instance, all those governments in the west that espouse the cause of human equality and human freedoms should absolutely stop the generous and quite unconditional subsidies they continue to give to the Israeli state and business community.
See also the close critique of Avnery’s argument by the South African Ran Greenstein, that Avnery’s own organization was good enough to publish, here.
… Regarding Avnery, this is sadly not the first time I’ve had to remark on the limits of this veteran campaigner’s vision. Earlier this month, I wrote about the plea he had written to his fellow veteran in the peace movement Dov Yermiya, urging Yermiya not to go ahead with his planned renunciation of Zionism as a guiding philosophy.