Guardian cartoon against UK boycott ban intellectually misappropriates George Orwell

Yesterday, this writer published an op-ed at The Independent in response to the UK Government’s plan to prevent local authorities from participating in boycotts against Israel, arguing that the policy reflects not only the government’s concerns about undermining British foreign policy, but a growing understanding of the connection between BDS and antisemitism.

The Guardian today published the following cartoon by Steve Bell, predictably criticizing the government decision:

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The tree represents the Conservative Party, whilst the words “ORWE’LL DO YOU” have an obvious double meaning – the warning “we’ll do you” (in effect, “We’ll get you!”) is written in a manner visually reminding readers of George Orwell, likely suggesting that the anti-boycott law runs afoul of Orwell’s warnings about the erosion of free speech.  

However, the law in question does not impede on British citizens rights to express their opinion about Israel, or any other matter. Under the new guidance, all public institutions will reportedly be prevented from boycotting Israeli products – a law not dissimilar to US anti-boycott laws which have never been determined to run afoul of the the country’s robust First Amendment’s protection of free speech. 

More importantly, the cartoon’s selective reading of Orwell ignores his more relevant writings about the broader issue of Bell’s default pro-Palestinian position. As Jamie Palmer recently reminded us, in Orwell’s 1945 essay Notes on Nationalism he explored the erosion of the capacity on reasoned political discourse on the intelligentsia when they attach themselves to a narrow and myopic ideology.  

Though Orwell largely was referring to support for the Soviet Union amongst many within the ‘intelligentsia’, Palmer cites, as examples of putatively rational intellectuals falling for violent and regressive political movements, Jean-Paul Sartre’s support for Maoism; Michel Foucault’s soft spot for Ayatollah Khomeini; and the solidarity offered to the fascists of Hezbollah by Judith Butler.

Relatedly, Palmer argues that “support for Palestinian nationalism” amongst the opinion elite in the UK  depends on the “Palestinians’ nobility as a people” or what Bertrand Russell termed a belief in the “superior virtue of the oppressed”. This moral paradigm refuses to accept Israel’s obvious progressive advantages, and that the ideas actually animating “oppressed” Palestinians are completely “antithetical to the values that Western intellectuals offer as evidence of their own moral standards.”

The Palestinian movement which ‘progressive’ cartoonists like Bell champion not only is plagued by endemic antisemtism, and denies basic human rights to the LGBT community and religious minorities, but – more germane to his cartoon – also rejects basic Western assumptions about free speech.

As Orwell observed about the intellectual Left’s obstinate refusal to recognize such self-evident facts: they often not only fail to condemn atrocities committed by the side they support, but have “a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.”

A more apt characterization of the Guardian Left’s intellectually dishonest and reflexive anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian campaigning would be difficult to find. 

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