The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 73/No. 13      April 6, 2009

Israel boycotts and divestment
serve as cover for anti-Semitism
(As I See It column)
NEW YORK—The fifth annual “Israeli Apartheid Week” was held on campuses across the United States the first week in March. The activities are part of an international campaign to boycott businesses that have trade or other relations with Israel, and to sever ties between Israeli academic institutions and those in other countries.

The campaign has the backing of a range of groups that support the struggle of the Palestinian people against national oppression, including radical and socialist groups in the United States like the International Socialist Organization (ISO) and the Workers World Party.

The character of these activities—aimed increasingly at Jewish-owned businesses—is part of the deepening pattern of Jew-baiting and anti-Semitism in the middle-class left worldwide. It should be opposed.

At a February 10 panel discussion at Hunter College in New York, ISO leader Lichi D’Amelio appealed to students not to buy hummus produced by the company Sabra. After stating that the company gives money to the Israeli military, she also asserted that the chick-pea-based dip “is not even Jewish, but an Arab food.”  
Looting of Starbucks
Starbucks, whose owner is Jewish, has become a target of this campaign internationally. On January 10 some 200 protesters looted a Starbucks coffee shop near the Israeli embassy in London and attacked a number of businesses in the area. One proud participant posted a video of the looting on YouTube under the header “How to really boycott Israeli products.”

Jew-hatred and anti-Semitism, a centuries old form of racism, has been used by ruling classes throughout history when their system faced a crisis. Modern anti-Semitism often comes draped in an anticapitalist and even socialist cloak. The real exploiters—the billionaire ruling families, whose great majority is non-Jewish—are replaced by a racist conspiracy that paints the Jews as the source of society’s problems.

The notion that Washington is a pawn of the Israeli lobby is a modern form of this anti-Jewish conspiracy theory. And those who promote it often use the term "Zionist movement" as a substitute for "Jew."

As part of Israeli Apartheid Week a meeting was held at New York University titled “NYU-Tel Aviv University: A Partnership in Occupation.” Students, academics and others are presented as a “partner in occupation” simply because they study or teach at Tel Aviv University. And, by that logic, why is studying or teaching at NYU less of a threat to the interests of humanity. It also produces scientists, politicians, and military leaders who advance the bloody course of U.S. imperialism—a far greater threat to humanity than the Israeli capitalist state.  
Democratic, secular Palestine
The anti-Israel boycott campaign paints all Israelis as being the enemies of the Palestinian people. But that is false. The capitalist regime in Israel is the enemy of the Palestinian people, but it is also the enemy of Israel’s working people, Jewish and Palestinian. A growing percentage of Israeli citizens are Palestinian—today 20 percent, in a generation or two, close to one-third.

Only a political program that appeals for a common struggle of all the oppressed and exploited—regardless of their national origin, or religious belief—can point the way forward. At the heart of that course is the call for a democratic, secular Palestine in which both Palestinians and Jews can live without state-supported religious restrictions.

The organizers of the current anti-Israel boycott compare it to the international campaign led by the African National Congress (ANC) as part of building support for the revolutionary struggle to overthrow apartheid in South Africa.

There are sweeping differences between the apartheid regime in South Africa and the capitalist regime in Israel—in terms of organization of labor, the character of the regimes, and the historical conditions under which they emerged. The attempt to paint them as the same simply obfuscates the real social and class relations in Israel and the tasks facing the toilers there to chart a revolutionary course forward. Applied to Israel the term “apartheid” is simply an epithet, rather than a scientific description of a social structure.

Perhaps the most glaring difference between the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa and the fight for Palestinian national rights today is the existence of a revolutionary organization—the ANC under Nelson Mandela—in the case of South Africa.

The Freedom Charter, the basic document of the ANC written in 1955, leads with the following call:

“We, the people of South Africa, declare for all our country and the world to know: that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, Black and white, and that no government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of the people.”

In contrast to that revolutionary perspective, the current leading forces in the Palestinian national movement—the Palestine Liberation Organization and Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist party that controls Gaza today—both have political programs that point in the opposite direction.  
Support for Hamas
Support for the anti-Israel boycott effort among radicals—like the members of the Workers World Party and the ISO—often goes along with increasingly open support for Hamas. As ISO leader D'Amelio said of Khaled Meshal, the Hamas political bureau leader in Damascus, "There is little in what he says that I disagree with.”

The Hamas covenant, written in 1988, outlines the aims of that organization.

Speaking of the Jewish people, the document states, “With their money, they took control of the world media… . [T]hey stirred revolutions in various parts of the world with the purpose of achieving their interests and reaping the fruit therein. They were behind the French Revolution, the Communist revolution… . With their money they formed secret societies… . They were behind World War I, when they were able to destroy the Islamic Caliphate, making financial gains and controlling resources.”

Fatah likewise has renounced its former revolutionary democratic demand for a democratic, secular Palestine. Its leadership reflects the wealthy layer of Palestinians increasingly seeking an accommodation with imperialism and with Tel Aviv.

In the absence of any revolutionary perspective, campaigns such as the anti-Israel boycott can appear to be a radical substitute. But, as the crisis of capitalism deepens, the “anti-Israel” character of these campaigns is simply a modern form of Jew-hatred. All who genuinely support the battle for Palestinian national rights must oppose it.
Related articles:
Campus meeting discusses ‘Israeli apartheid’  
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