A letter published in the Guardian (signed by dozens of Palestinians, both in the UK and the Palestinian territories), supporting director Ken Loach’s criticism of Radiohead’s Tel Aviv performance, continues in the media group’s legitimisation of propaganda suggesting that BDS is a moral imperative because Israel is a uniquely malevolent force in the world.
The letter characterises Israel as a “ruthless” practitioner of “violent racism”, and an “apartheid” state “worse” than South Africa – one which racially segregates roads, denies water to thirsty Palestinians and “brutally” “slaughters” innocent children. Millions of Palestinians, the letter informs Guardian readers, are “imprisoned behind walls” and are cruelly denied live-saving medical care. Palestinians, we’re told, are “shot at check points”, evidently without cause.
Conversely, the letter of course completely ignores the role of Hamas and other violent extremists in Gaza and the PA who foment violence and seek Israel’s annihilation.
Though we’ve refuted the specific charges in the letter many times, it’s also important to consider the impact of such baseless and incendiary rhetoric on British Jewry.
If Israel is indeed, as BDS activists claim, a uniquely regressive, cruel, violent, oppressive, racist state which should face international isolation and, ultimately, relegated to the dustbin of history, then Jewish Britons – 93% of whom, a recent poll concluded, identify with Israel – are arguably enablers of this evil. Though BDS activists insist they’re only demonising Israel, not Jews, and complain that Israel’s defenders falsely conflate Judaism with Zionism, the fact of the matter is that the overwhelming majority of Jews are Zionists.
Though most British Jews are often critical of particular Israeli policies and the government of Benjamin Netanyahu, they almost universally reject the smears of BDS activists who frame an intractable and complex conflict involving competing political claims as a binary moral tale of good and evil. Most Jews oppose such rhetoric for two reasons: because of their understanding that this narrative is ahistorical and based on egregious distortions, and because such lies are seen as having a very real impact on their lives.
A 2015 poll showed over 77% of British Jews believe that actions by BDS groups in Britain represents a form of intimidation against the Jewish community and 84% believe that “media bias against Israel fuels persecution of Jews in Britain”. Even if you doubt the reliability this particular poll, leaders of Jewish organisations we’ve spoken to have confirmed that this is indeed a widely held view within the Jewish community.
Further, academic research has shown that when British Jews are attacked or threatened because they are Jewish, Muslim extremists (among those most likely to be influenced by anti-Israel incitement) are the most likely perpetrators.
This is the vital context by which to view the letter by Palestinian BDS supporters published by Guardian editors.
With antisemitic incidents in the UK at an all time high, news outlets with even the most strident pro-Palestinian editorial lines – such as the Guardian and Independent – should avoid amplifying toxic, hate-driven anti-Zionist agitprop that doesn’t edify or inform, but only inflames those most likely take their anger over Israel out on Jews. Such an intuitive argument shouldn’t be difficult for editors – who fancy themselves anti-racists concerned about social cohesion in the UK – to understand.