I can only read with dismay a piece by Jimi Cullen and Zad El Bacha in the Jewish Chronicle regarding antisemitism and anti-Zionism on campus. I have now spent over a year amongst them, the ‘antizionists’, going to their events, reading their books and articles, networking with them and exchanging messages. Too often we hear commentary that entirely misreads the landscape. We have to stop pretending that what we are hearing conforms to our pre-conceived ideas and start paying attention to what is actually being said.
People are surprised by events at Oxford. I am not. In the past year, at scores of events, hundreds of conversations, I rarely walked away without hearing classic antisemitic slurs. ‘Jews control banks’, ‘Jews are evil’, ‘Jews aren’t human’, ‘Jews are the Satan’. It isn’t that I convert their use of the word ‘Zionist’ to ‘Jew’ to allow for this accusation, but that they themselves mix the words ‘Jew’ and ‘Zionist’ at their convenience. If they don’t differentiate between the two, why should we pretend that they do?
The article is also full of misrepresentation. The comment regarding the failure of many Jews to accept criticism of Israel is pure distortion. Most Jews simply distinguish between a legitimate criticism (perhaps an opinion over settlement building) and the majority in the angry mob that are seeking Israel’s destruction. That at some point most Jews raise a hand in protest at the idea that Israel and Israelis should be removed from the world is not a negative situation.
The movements on campus, whether from the Palestinian societies or radical left wing student groups are not discussing post 1967 politics. There is little point pretending they are. These movements, the forces behind BDS, are attempting to set the clock back to 1917. As a Zionist Jew, it is impossible to relate to a force that seeks to dismantle the only progressive society in the Middle East, even if it is not perfect. Go rebuild everything else, show me a working example of how you wish Israel to look, and then we can talk. Don’t build me castles made of sand in the middle of a region full of tsunamis and tell me this ‘Eden’ in your head isn’t part of an Enid Blyton novel.
Imagine BDS as a lynch mob (not too difficult an exercise considering the similarities). It isn’t relevant that those on the fringes may only want to see the man in the middle brought down a peg or two, what matters is how far those at the front of the mob are willing to take it. It is a deliberate part of BDS strategy to engage with ‘lesser hatred’ by hiding the goals behind ‘Human Rights’ issues that in truth are irrelevant in the eyes of the BDS masters. If equality was really the mission, petition Lebanon to give citizenship to 3rd generation refugees. After all, they are the ones truly practising Apartheid. At BDS meets across the country I have heard talk of ‘allowing the real Jews to stay’. These are the people at the front of the crowd. These are the ones that matter.
I also haven’t come across a single anti-Zionist group that does not have both Palestinian and Jewish representation. And on this point Cullen and EL-Bacha are creating an issue that does not exist. This element is part of the brilliant strategy of BDS. Just this week at a workshop during ‘Israeli Apartheid Week’ at the London School of Economiccs on pushing BDS on campus, the activists were told ‘the most important thing to do is lobby for a scholarship to bring a Palestinian over from the West Bank or Gaza – nobody can help push the cause better than they can’. It shows a deep misunderstanding of the will of the active Palestinians if the writers believe they will align with them rather than the destructive force of BDS.
Additionally, the rejection of ‘left-leaning’ Jews from within campus movements is not the ‘beginning of the antisemitic activity, rather, just the first part of it to touch left leaning Jews. These Jews are simply outliving their usefulness. Whereas in the earlier days, there were compromises to accommodate Jews so as to provide legitimacy, as the movement grows ever more radical, the relationship begins to crumble. The pendulum will yet swing even further, and in the end the only Jews accepted will be those who themselves consider the Jews to be the spreaders of plague. Looking at the speakers at some of these events, some Jews no doubt, will always have a seat on the high table.
It is true that there are many people on the BDS/antizionist bus who are not antisemites. Rabid anti-nationalists, people looking to virtue signal and I’ve even met a few older people who use it as their local meeting point. But the fuel driving the bus is pure and refined antisemitism, the destination is a dark and dangerous place, and it is vital to understand the bus wouldn’t move anywhere without it. It is our job to point this out and to reject any attempt to pretend otherwise. Antizionism and antisemitism are Siamese twins.
As Jews outside of Israel, we have to begin to understand we are allowing this revisionism to happen. It isn’t all Israel’s fault. We have lost the streets and campus and let go of a narrative that holds far more truth than the one on the other side. The more we run, the harder they will chase us. It doesn’t end just because we give up what is valuable to us. At some point we need to stop and draw the line in the sand. We do have difficult and dark days ahead of us, so speak out, identify as a proud Zionist, explain what Zionism means and reclaim the narrative. Draw the line in the sand. Right here and right now.