The boycott we must fight with Israel
Forty years after the brilliant victory of the Six Day War established that the Jewish state could not be physically strangled out of being, Israel faces a serious and growing existential threat to its future.
- The self-defence campaign of the Six Day War, waged in the face of extreme and intolerable Arab provocation, was absolutely necessary to secure Israel’s existence. The capture of the Sinai peninsula, West Bank, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights and East Jerusalem provided Israel with the strategic depth to repel future conventional attacks.
- Despite Israel’s repeated desire to trade land for peace, its broad acceptance of a two-state solution to relations with the Palestinians, and its free press, independent judiciary and parliamentary democracy for all citizens, whether Jewish or Arab, Israeli control over the West Bank and Gaza Strip and their Palestinian populations, allowed Israel’s enemies to launch a psychological assault on Israel’s existence.
- The ‘boycott Israel’ campaign is part of this insidious attempt to falsely label Israel an Apartheid state, beyond the pale of civilised society, and consequently illegitimate in existence.
- While Israel’s leaders suffer from the same foibles that affect our own, the notion that a free and democratic state can be singled out in this way when autocracies practise torture and stifle dissent without international condemnation is abhorrent and shows that the agenda of Israel’s critics is riddled with hypocrisy and cant.
- The boycott should be opposed and Israel supported in fighting this ideological tyranny.
There was a profound irony in the timing of last week’s decision in Britain by the University and Colleges Union Congress to promote a boycott of Israeli universities, coinciding as it did with the fortieth anniversary of the Six Day War, Israel’s most brilliant military victory.
Whereas in 1967 Israel’s enemies sought to destroy it by force in one fell swoop, today’s weapon of choice for the enemies of the Jewish state is far more sinister, relying on disinformation and propaganda in a bid to delegitimise Israel’s existence within the international community. Worryingly, this approach seems to be yielding results.
Prior to June 1967, Israel faced a profound physical threat to its existence. It had already fought two wars in the nineteen years since its founding, each with significant loss of life and disruption to its economy. Surrounded by Arab enemies who had never come to terms with its existence and who were armed to the hilt by the Soviet Union, the tiny Jewish state – which at its narrowest point measured only nine miles in width – was a vulnerable target for its powerful neighbours.
Thus when Syria started repeatedly bombarding Israeli border settlements with artillery, Israel took notice. Just as it did when Egypt’s President Gamal Abdel Nasser ordered the United Nations Emergency Force maintaining the demilitarisation of the Sinai and the Gaza Strip to depart in May 1967 and replaced it with Egyptian troops and tanks massing on Israel’s borders. And when Nasser followed this up by attempting to economically strangle Israel by closing the Straits of Tiran, the only waterway to the port of Eilat, it was clear that the charismatic leader of pan-Arabism was seeking yet another showdown.
Even then, Israel’s politicians and diplomats engaged in valiant attempts to pursue any and all opportunities and avenues to avoid war, making repeated entreaties stressing their peaceful intentions within the region. It was only once the determination of its enemies became clear through the words of Arab leaders such as Nasser and the President of Iraq Abdel-Rahman Aref – who declared that “The existence of Israel is an error which must be rectified…Our goal is clear - to wipe Israel off the map” – that the hand of the military was tipped in the form of a pre-emptive strike.
The result was a comprehensive military victory beyond Israel’s wildest dreams, and the capture of vast swathes of territory in the Sinai, West Bank, Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights, and the reunification of Jerusalem.
The strategic depth provided by this territorial adjustment has effectively made Israel safe from conventional assault, a fact confirmed by the result of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, where despite a disastrous start, Israel once again routed its Arab neighbours. However, since then, realising that military force could no longer be employed to destroy Israel, its enemies and their fellow travelers in the West have changed tactics.
This attack began in a serious fashion with the infamous Soviet-influenced 1975 declaration of the UN General Assembly that "Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination." Although this was rescinded in 1991, today’s boycott Israel campaign – whether that endorsed by UCU in terms of academic contacts, or that voted on by the National Union of Journalists in April on Israeli goods – is its lineal descendant.
Israel’s enemies today falsely label it an Apartheid state, committed to a racist Zionist ideology and a South African-style rigid and legal separation of races. They do so in an attempt to place it beyond the pale of civilised society, and consequently to delegitimise its existence within the international community. The thinking behind this false analogy is inspired by the notion that if Israel can be placed in diplomatic, economic and political purdah, then the conventional victory that has eluded Israel’s opponents can be achieved by other means.
This campaign is particularly insidious because it wilfully misrepresents the positive behaviour that has set Israel apart from its neighbours within the Middle East region and which makes it a proud member of the global community of democracies. Israel’s repeated desire to trade land for peace, its broad acceptance of a two-state solution to relations with the Palestinians, and its free press, independent judiciary and parliamentary democracy for all citizens, whether Jewish or Arab, plays no part in the propaganda of the boycotters. Neither does the fact that Zionism is merely the national expression of self-determination for the Jewish people.
Instead, Israeli control over the West Bank and Gaza Strip and their Palestinian populations (notwithstanding the Israeli unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 – yet another sign of its desire for peace) has been used as the justification for a psychological assault on Israel’s legitimacy.
That this is the case can be seen by the hypocrisy and cant of those supporting the boycott and other associated anti-Israel measures.
How can it be justified for the National Union of Journalists to boycott Israel – home of a free press and where no reporting restrictions exist – when opposition television stations can be closed down by Hugo Chavez’s regime in Venezuela and reporters arrested in their droves in Iran without a murmur?
How can the University and Colleges Union boycott Israel, when only Israel offers equality of educational opportunity and academic discourse within the Middle East?
How can the Israeli government be singled out for such hostility when the worst and persistent human rights offenders worldwide are allowed to carry out atrocities in freedom and with barely a comment, and while genocide occurs in Darfur and Robert Mugabe destroys Zimbabwe?
Legitimate criticism of Israel’s policies has every right to be aired and the foibles of its leaders – which are not that far removed from those of our own – exposed. However, it is instructive to note that Israel’s own press, judiciary and political parties have often been the most strident opponents of Israel’s policies.
It is thus a strange and twisted world where such a country can be condemned with immense ferocity. Meanwhile, the victims of real oppression worldwide – who have no recourse to domestic outlets of opposition – suffer silently because international activists are consumed with a hatred so intense that it has become all-consuming.
Unquestionably, the Palestinian peace process must be restarted, and Israel will have to play a constructive role in this, just as it has once again commenced doing so in the quest for peace with Syria. However, it is difficult to see how a comprehensive settlement with the Palestinians will be possible while the Palestinian Authority is riven with factional infighting between Fatah and the Islamists of Hamas, who refuse to acknowledge Israel’s existence.
In the meantime, the assault on our shared liberal and democratic values embodied by those promoting the boycott must be rebutted, not only by Israel but by all of the civilised world. For if this movement is allowed to succeed against Israel, none of us will be safe from such ideological tyranny.