An open letter to Jonathan Freedland

Dear Jonathan:

We are writing to you about the BDS debate at South Bank Centre in London, on the 10th July.  It appears that you had a rude awakening to the depth of mindless opposition to the very existence of Israel which can, if allowed, undermine any reasoned discussion in such a milieu. 

We have a recording of the debate in which this is evident, particularly where Carol Gould’s reference to the shelling of southern Israel from Gaza is met with laughter.  We also took note of your closing speech. We are, frankly, amazed that you realise apparently only now that the BDS campaign is driven by a very vociferous minority whose difficulty is with the existence of Israel itself rather than with the betterment of relations and a state for Palestinians.

We confess to being perplexed by your shock.  Do you not read CiF in the Guardian Online?  It is the leading driver of anti-Israel discourse in the media in terms of its articles (and often barely concealed antisemitic discourse below the line too).   It is the arch-proponent of Big Lies about the motives of Israel and Israelis, which, by their very nature, quickly take on lives of their own and become spurious truths.  Worst of all it rarely allows counter argument from the people whose lives are most affected by such untruths or  those who want to refute them.  Instead it gives column inches to vilification of the Jewish state and space to its enemies to further pervert the discourse.  The behaviour of some of the BDS supporters in the audience at the debate and their lack of restraint shows that they feel free to catcall and try to outshout pro-Israel speakers with impunity, due in a large part to the influence on the media of the Guardian.

Your major mistake was to assume that your opponents would be as open-minded as you were and that they would be able to stand outside their agendas and debate dispassionately, one step removed, as it were, from the emotions these issues invariably evoke.  You were mistaken also, as you found out, to assume that the pro-BDS arguments were stand-alone and discrete and had nothing to do with the existence of Israel per se. 

You had no personal axe to grind although your views were clear.  Although you came prepared for an intellectual debate, as did Carol Gould, neither the audience nor your two opponents were prepared to hear you fully.  They had already made up their minds and nothing was going to sway them!  

Your reasoned argument was met with jeering from some in the audience.  For Barghouti (who accuses Israel of being an apartheid state while quite freely studying for a PhD at Tel Aviv University) and the BDS movement supporters in the audience who voted in favour of the boycott motion, this was yet another publicity exercise, an opportunity to vilify Israel and to advance the BDS (and delegitimization) movement.

Perhaps you were naïve enough to believe that a well-constructed argument, or even a series of them, would be enough to convince the likes of Barghouti and his fellow-travellers that BDS is misguided, is not in the best interests of Palestinian people, and is certainly not a viable course by which to achieve Palestinian statehood. 

But the opposition’s poisonous agenda outflanked and bested you.  The Jewish Chronicle article says that you were gloomy and “visibly shaken” about the success of the pro-boycotters.  If that is true, then we hope you will forgive us for being heartily glad of it. We hope that what must have been the considerable discomfort of that experience changes your perspective permanently, that its effects stay with you and are translated by you into appropriate action:

For example, what might you write to convince the Israeli public (the most decisive factor in any peace settlement) that there is a chance for peace with the Barghoutis of this world, given that he had no compunction about lying in the debate about what he called the “genocidal tendencies” having overtaken Israeli society? What could you do, as a well-known Guardian columnist, to undermine the mindless Israel-hatred which all too often spills into antisemitism on CiF?  

You see, the “pudding” you cooked, so to speak, when you shared your realisation that the BDS movement has a problem with the very existence of Israel, looks appetising, given your self-confessed realisation that BDS supporters’ agenda will not stop at boycott, divestment and sanctions, even if they were to result in a Palestinian state.  That you named the BDS agenda for what it is shows promise but much will depend on how your “pudding” actually tastes, and we shall know that by your actions in future.

My thanks to PetertheHungarian for his contribution to this article.

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