The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The BDS movement shows its hypocrisy by boycotting Israel but not China

Sally Rooney in January 2020 in Pasadena, Calif. (Erik Voake/Getty Images for Hulu)
Comment

There is a telling disconnect in the way that Israel is perceived by Arab countries and by Western leftists. The Arab states have increasingly accepted Israel’s legitimacy and are doing business with it. The leftists increasingly deny Israel’s legitimacy and refuse to do business with it.

Last week in Washington, Secretary of State Antony Blinken hosted the foreign ministers of Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to build on the foundations of the Abraham Accords concluded under the Trump administration. Last year the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco joined Jordan and Egypt in establishing diplomatic relations with the Jewish state. Israelis and Emiratis can now travel to each other’s countries without a visa, and more than 250,000 Israelis have visited UAE in the past year. Bilateral trade between the two countries has already hit $675 million and is projected to rapidly grow.

Yet while the Arab world is increasingly welcoming Israel, more Western progressives shun it. Last week the Irish novelist Sally Rooney, who has endorsed the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, announced that she would not allow an Israeli publishing house to release her latest novel. This comes after nine House members — eight far-left Democrats and a far-right Republican — voted against funding Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system. (Two other progressives, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), voted “present.”) During the debate Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) described Israel as an “apartheid regime.” And that, in turn, comes after Ben & Jerry’s announced that it would stop selling its ice cream in the West Bank, because to do so is “inconsistent with our values.”

The case against Israel was buttressed by an April report from Human Rights Watch accusing it of committing “crimes against humanity,” including “apartheid and persecution.” Palestinian Israelis do face discrimination (as do Muslims in Europe), but nothing like the formal system of oppression in apartheid South Africa, whose “pass laws” dictated where Black people could live and work. Indeed, 1.9 million Arabs living in Israel are able to exercise political rights denied to the citizens of almost all Arab states. Arabs sit in the Knesset and on the Israeli Supreme Court, and they are part of the governing coalition. Overall, Israel is the freest state in the entire region — the only place in the Middle East where tens of thousands of people can march for LGBTQ pride.

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The situation is, admittedly, more troubling in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the continuing Israeli-Egyptian restrictions on movement in and out of Gaza impose a heavy toll on Palestinians. Israeli settlement expansion should end, and outlying settlements should be dismantled. But critics of Israel lose perspective if they imagine that it can simply remove all its security forces from the West Bank and lift all its border controls on Gaza without endangering its own citizens.

Israel evacuated its settlers and troops from Gaza in 2005, and the result was not peace but the rise of a genocidal Hamas regime that seeks Israel’s annihilation. The Palestinian Authority closely cooperates with Israeli forces in the West Bank to avoid another Hamas takeover there. Human Rights Watch conceded that “Palestinian armed groups also committed war crimes, including indiscriminate rocket attacks fired towards Israeli population centers,” but ignored the obvious implication: A total Israeli pullout would allow those armed groups to gain access to more powerful weaponry and commit even worse atrocities.

How will Israel survive if it cannot protect itself against terrorist enclaves located as close as Bethesda, Md., is to D.C.? That, alas, seems to be of scant concern to its most ardent critics. The BDS movement demands a “right of return” to Israel for 7.25 million descendants of Palestinian refugees, which would mean that Israel (which has 6.8 million Jews) would cease to be a Jewish-majority state. Anti-Israel activists should ask themselves why they’re fine with at least 45 Muslim-majority states in the world — including notorious human rights violators such as Iran, Saudi Arabia and Syria — but they refuse to accept the lone Jewish state?

They should also ask themselves why they are more exercised by human rights violations committed by Israel, a liberal democracy, than by dictatorships that commit far more heinous offenses. If any country is guilty of apartheid, it is China, which is carrying out crimes against humanity in both Xinjiang and Tibet. Its actions against the Muslim Uyghurs have even been described as genocide. In both regions, Beijing is trying to erase an entire culture and religion. By contrast, Israel allows freedom of religion for all.

Yet there is no BDS movement targeting China. Sally Rooney doesn’t want her new novel published in Israel, but her bestseller “Normal People” was published in China by a publishing house with close links to the tyrannical Communist regime. That bespeaks an inexcusable double standard.

I hesitate to hurl accusations of “antisemitism,” and I freely admit that it is fair to criticize Israeli actions (I do so myself). But there is no denying that BDS supporters display a strange, selective animus against the Jewish state. They should do some soul-searching about why they are more anti-Israel than many Arab states.

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