Attributed to Lenin, the term “useful idiot” referred to those in the Western world who, attracted by the “marvels” disseminated by the communist regime, embraced and supported that awful system without knowing its realities. Since then, it’s been adopted to define people that are lured into defending a cause without knowing much about it.
Some propagandists of the Palestinian cause – those not sincerely interested in a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians, in this case the leadership of the BDS Movement – managed to exploit well the “useful idiot” concept. After all, the dupes are all over, just waiting for the bait. They come in all shapes and sizes: from the likes of a student that says in his twitter account “ready to make big changes in this world” to well-known artists and academics.
Am I surprised that people like Alice Walker and Stephen Hawking are useful idiots? Not really.
I am not surprised because I don’t expect them to know much about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Actually, I don’t even expect them to know much about what goes on in the Arab world in general, when it comes to their treatment of women, gays, human rights or how Lebanon, for example, will not grant citizenship or work to Palestinians that have been living there for decades.
I am not surprised Alice Walker, an activist of the American Civil Rights movement since an early age, was an easy prey for the leaders of the BDS not just to become a useful idiot, but also to recruit useful idiots. As informed as Ms. Walker is about the American Civil Rights movement, how much does she know about the conflict in the Middle East? What gives her credentials as a well-informed advocate for the BDS movement? So, kudos to Alicia Keys not only for not falling victim to Walker’s “soul danger” argument, but for doing what is right, and saying so: “I look forward to my first visit to Israel. Music is a universal language that is meant to unify audiences in peace and love, and that is the spirit of our show.”
I am not surprised at Stephen Hawking as well. In general, I see many academics that are experts in their fields participating or taking positions in areas where they have absolutely no knowledge, saying untruths, and yet, getting the ears of their peers and the larger audience, just because they have an academic title next to their names. For instance, a few months ago I attended a lecture on Zionism by an acclaimed professor of modern American history. In his lecture, among many flaws, this professor made it clear that he did not know when and why the name Palestine was adopted, and in general, many of his quotations were based on second-hand sources, with no attempt to verify their authenticity. But still, because of his reputation as a scholar in American history, he got a pulpit and an audience to speak on a subject he did not fully understand.
Two years ago, I had a conversation with a distinguished history professor who said that his colleague, who recently returned from Lebanon, had told him that Hizballah had substantially moved from being a military organization to more of a social and political entity. Therefore, how can I be surprised when a physics professor in the UK adopts the BDS….
At the end of the day, this type of ignorance is dividing the camps and contributing to dimming the prospects of peace. If artists and professors want to help bring peace to the region, they need to follow the example of Alicia Keys: “unify audiences in peace and love” and reject the ignorant bullying from the likes of Alice Walker.
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