Boycotting Israel is right

For Philip Mendes and Nick Dyrenfurth, authors of new book Boycotting Israel is wrong, people who support Palestine come in three shades.

First are the people who are “both pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian”. The authors include in this list “former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard”, who was so supportive of the Palestinians that she wanted Australia to vote against Palestinian statehood at the UN.

The second group they view as partially moderate, but “in practice hold[ing] Israel principally or even solely responsible for the continuing violence and terror in the Middle East”. According to Mendes and Dyrenfurth, many in this group lack balance because they “fail to offer a corresponding critique of contemporary and historical Palestinian actions and strategies which have acted as serious barriers to peace. 

“Little reference is made to the Palestinian rejection of Israeli offers of statehood at Camp David and Taba in 2000 and 2001, the violence of the Second Intifada, the 2005 election victory and the near-universal Palestinian demand for the right of return of 1948 refugees to the land within Green line Israel”, they write.

In other words, these people lack balance because they: don’t blame the Palestinians for refusing an unfair offer, which didn’t provide anything that resembles a contiguous Palestinian state; support the right of an occupied people to resist; acknowledge that Palestinians have the right to elect a government of their own choosing; and demand the right of return for Palestinian refugees. 

This last point is important because much of Mendes and Dyrenfurth’s claim that the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign is wrong is an attack on a third group of Palestine supporters, which they call proponents of “anti-Zionist fundamentalism”.

The BDS campaign is fundamentalist, they claim, because it supports the right of Palestinian refugees to return. Contrary to what Mendes and Dyrenfurth argue, the right of return isn’t an extremist position – it is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; a basic premise is that if you leave a country as a refugee, you and your descendants have the right to return to your homeland.

For example, as Jewish people whose family was forced out of Germany by the Nazi regime, my family and I are able to claim German citizenship. German law in this regard is not considered “extremist”. Yet, when Palestinians want to claim the same right to return to their homeland, it is considered “fundamentalism” by Mendes and Dyrenfurth.

The reason that apologists for Israel are so scared of the right of return is because the return of Palestinian refugees would result in Jews becoming a minority in Israel. This would almost certainly lead to the end of Israel as a specifically Jewish state.

Mendes and Dyrenfurth claim that “any objective analysis of the Middle East would have to accept that Israel could only be destroyed by a war or partial or total genocide”. But all the BDS campaign is calling for is human rights and equality under the law.

The fact that democracy – understood as “one person one vote” in a state of equal rights for all citizens – is incompatible with the state of Israel doesn’t make those who are for human rights extreme or pro-genocide. Rather, the extremists are people such as Mendes and Dyrenfurth, who insist on backing a state regardless of its incompatibility with human rights and democracy.

The book makes a variety of strange claims to justify opposition to BDS. Some of these are political errors such as the claim that “Arab citizens enjoy formal equality” in Israel. Actually, there are more than 50 laws that discriminate against Palestinian Israeli citizens.

Other claims distort the political positions of organisations. For example, we’re told that the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions is against the boycott despite the fact that it is on the BDS national committee. Other errors, such as the claim that Australian lobbyist Sonja Karkar is Palestinian, or the fact that Hamas was elected in 2006 not 2005, simply indicate Mendes and Dyrenfurth’s lack of fact checking.

The book also lambasts Socialist Alternative as “far left extremists” for leading protests outside Max Brenner chocolate shops. The authors regurgitate falsehoods such as that there is no link between the Australian Max Brenner franchise and its Israeli parent company, and that protesters blockaded the Melbourne store – even though the courts found that police carried out the blockade.

But the most outrageous claim in this section is that protesters who chanted “There’s blood in your hot chocolate” were being anti-Semitic because “[S]ome have interpreted [this] as a reference to the ancient racist blood libel alleging that Jews kill Christian babies for religious purposes”.

I am sure that there are “some” (i.e. their fellow Zionists) who have made that inference. But the more obvious meaning is that companies which give support to the Israeli military have blood on their hands, given its well-documented atrocities.

With errors and distortions on so many pages, it is impossible in a short review to address the vast majority of crazy assertions.

It is strange that a pair of Israel apologists would try to lecture the left on how to run a human rights campaign. I’d never presume to tell Mendes and Dyrenfurth how an apartheid state could be run more effectively. But ultimately, the book isn’t aimed at me. It is aimed at apologists for genocide who want to know how they can try to justify it in the name of moderation.