False equivalencies undermine Gaza debate

As a liberal academic and a former liberal editorial writer, it is painful to watch as many liberal academics and a few liberal journalists impose false equivalencies upon Israel.

Israel is just like the Nazis, some suggest, including most recently the African National Congress.  Israel is just like South Africa during Apartheid, others say. Israel should be boycotted just like South Africa say those who support the “BDS” movement to boycott, divest and sanction Israel.

Late last year, the American Studies Association, which calls itself nation’s oldest and largest association devoted to the interdisciplinary study of American culture and history, voted to boycott Israeli academic institutions. In June, the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted to divest from three companies doing business with Israel: Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions and Hewlett-Packard.

And recently, with the terrible violence in Israel and the Gaza strip, the blame Israel game has reached new heights.  Never mind that it was Hamas firing missiles into Israel that started the violence, or that Hamas places its weapons near civilians, schools and hospitals, or that Hamas vows to drive Israelis into the sea, or that Israel warns civilians when it is about to bomb.

Don’t pay attention to Hamas, say supports of BDS.  It is a distraction.  Israel’s six-decade old policies are the problem.  Palestinians should have the “right of return,” the BDS supporters claim – a claim that is not only unrealistic but would threaten Israel’s existence.

Israel is far from perfect.  It should stop expanding settlements and it will have to move out of many current settlements if there is to be peace.  Palestinians deserve a state that includes part of Jerusalem.  The bloody assault on Gaza, while justified as a response to the missiles and tunnels, has taken a terrible toll on innocent civilians, especially children.  The deadly bombing of a school used by Palestinian refugees cannot be justified by the nearby presence of Palestinian fighters.

In a diabolical irony, the Israeli attacks are only strengthening the hand of Hamas among Palestinians.

But Israel is not South Africa during Apartheid.  Israeli law’s recognition of the rights of Arab citizens is significant and does not compare with Apartheid.  Nor is Israel exterminating Palestinians. Any suggestion that it is acting like Nazi Germany is uninformed to say the least.

This is why it is disturbing that a journalist of such note as Glenn Greenwald recently juxtaposed a statement of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with one of Joseph Goebbels from 1941.

Netanyahu said that Hamas wants “to pile up as many civilian dead as they can.  They use telegenically dead Palestinians for their cause.”  Goebbels said in 1941, “One suddenly has the impression that the Berlin Jewish population consists of only little babies whose childish helplessness might move us, or else fragile old ladies.  The Jews send out the pitiable.”

Greenwald said he wasn’t accusing the Israelis of acting like the Nazis, but his editorial decision to make the comparison speaks to his arrogant one-sidedness.

The American Studies Association, which decided in December of last year to boycott Israeli universities, has shown a similar one-sidedness. It failed to boycott universities in Iran or North Korea.

The ASA’s statement managed to portray its boycott as a blow for academic freedom.  It claimed it “protected the rights of students and scholars everywhere to engage in research and public speaking about Israel-Palestine in support of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement.”

Not everyone was fooled. The American Association of University Professors called the boycott what it is: “a setback for the cause of academic freedom.”

The European Union too forbids funding, cooperation and research awards with any Israeli institution with direct or indirect links to the occupied territories.

It was astonishing that big rallies in Europe during the third week of July were Europeans protesting against the Israelis rather than against Vladimir Putin and his separatists over the downing of the Malaysian airliner that killed 200 Dutch citizens.  It was equally shocking that anti-Jewish slogans have shown up on signs and in chants in big demonstrations in Germany.


Leading American editorial pages, to their credit, have called out Hamas.  The Washington Post deserves special credit for its July 23 editorial in which it said: “The depravity of Hamas’s strategy seems lost on much of the outside world, which — following the terrorists’ script — blames Israel for the civilian casualties it inflicts while attempting to destroy the tunnels. While children die in strikes against the military infrastructure that Hamas’s leaders deliberately placed in and among homes, those leaders remain safe in their own tunnels.”

No nation on earth would allow a terrorist group to fire hundreds of missiles at its population without responding and without trying to force the terrorists from their tunnels.

Those academics and journalists who support BDS are well-intentioned and genuinely concerned for the cause of Palestinian statehood, which is a just one.  But they close their eyes to Hamas’ crimes and see only the worst in Israel.  This is not a path to peace, nor is it intellectually honest.


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