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Some comments on the anti-Semitism debate

It is one of the standards of the legends about Israel to call this state the only democracy in the Middle East, in the words of Ehud Barak the “Villa in the Jungle”. This may be true for the Jewish population, since Israel officially sees itself as a Jewish state. For the Palestinian population, which at least 20% of the total population, democracy is at best a pipe dream. This was confirmed by the government and parliament with a law on 19 July 2018 entitled “Israel: the nation state of the Jewish people”. It begins with the words: “The land of Israel is the historical home of the Jewish people in which the State of Israel was born.” Not a word of the people that the Jewish settlers found there and to whom they took away their land. Critics and supporters alike agree that this is arguably one of the most important laws ever enacted by the Knesset. From now on, the law also stipulates, with constitutional status, that the state is Jewish. It is not a state of all its citizens, it grants all rights only to the Jews. In the Declaration of Independence of 1948 it was still said: “The State of Israel will dedicate itself to development for the benefit of all its inhabitants.”

David Ben-Gurion declaring independence beneath a large portrait of Theodor Herzl, founder of modern Zionism

In this Basic Law, too, there is no information on the boundaries of the state. However, Article 7 makes it clear that Israel will not engage in the Green Line, the limit of the 1949 ceasefire, and remains unwilling to recognize international law for itself: “The State of Israel sees the further development of the Jewish a national value. He is committed to encouraging and advancing the establishment and consolidation of Jewish settlements.” The “further development” means nothing more than the annexation of large parts of the West Bank Valley, which leaves no territory for the establishment of a Palestinian state and exposes Netanyahu’s eternal “commitment” to the two-state solution as hollow talk U.S. Ambassador Friedman supports this clear announcement of annexation, saying simply: “In certain circumstances, I believe that Israel has the right to withhold some, not everything, from the West Bank.” When he himself came under criticism in the United States for this statement, which was contrary to international law, he was immediately protected by Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz, who invoked the words of the famous Resolution 242 of 1967 to the US representative at the UN. To assist Judge Goldberg: “Friedman is right and his critics are wrong… The main controversy was whether Israel should return ‘all’ occupied territories in its defense war against Jordan, or just a few. The result was that the binding English version of the UN resolution deliberately omitted the crucial word “all” and replaced it with the simple word “territories”, which Judge Goldberg and the British Ambassador Lord Carandon agreed in the public interpreted that Israel was empowered to keep some areas of the West Bank.” Dershowitz may see it that way, but it has not found support throughout international law literature, except in Israel. Occupied territory must be returned in full, that is international law.

U.N. Resolution 242

The law of the nation-state puts an end to the vague nationalism and the present Zionism as it exists today. The law ends the previous farce that Israel was “Jewish and democratic” - a combination that never existed and could never exist. For the contradiction is inherent in this combination. The two values can never be reconciled, except with fraud …. It is a law full of truth. (Gideon Levy)

Few profess this contradiction as unvarnished as Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who became known for her fascist perfume: “Justice Minister: Israel Must Keep Jewish Majority Even at the Expense of Human Rights” At least immediately after the law was promulgled, the Arabic language was downgraded from an official language alongside Hebrew to a hebrew-subordinate status. It effectively bans Arabic from public transport. The democratic principle of equality, which has not yet been enshrined in any of the constitutional laws, has also found no place in the nation-state law. There are a plethora of laws that have put the Palestinians at a disadvantage in Israel since its inception, and now the “only democracy” in the Middle East has officially and legally abandoned democracy. It is true that the law does not explain much new, because for a long time Now Israeli policy has no longer been simply concerned with Israel’s right to exist, but to the right of Jewish Israel to exist, in which other Israelis are only second-class citizens.

Israeli soldiers detain wounded Palestinian protesters during clashes near the Jewish settlement of Beit El.

The Knesset, however, is not only stripping away its democratic garb with these laws. It can no longer displace and deny that a system of apartheid has prevailed in Israel over the years. The accusation of apartheid against Israeli politics is now regarded in this country as a clear indication of anti-Semitism. But since the reports of UN envoys John Dugard, Richard Falk, and Virginia Tilley on their investigations on the ground, there can be no doubt that Israel and the occupied territories have turned into a merciless system of apartheid.

For example, John Dugard concluded his report on the Occupied Palestinian Territories, which he submitted to the UN Human Rights Council in January 2007, with the following words:

Human rights in Palestine have been on the United Nations agenda for more than sixty years, especially in the last 40 years since the occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in 1967. For years, the occupation of Palestine and apartheid in South Africa competed for the attention of the international community. In 1994, apartheid ended and Palestine remained the only developing country in the world under the oppression of a regime linked to the West… There are other regimes, especially in the Third World, that suppress human rights, but there is no other case of a regime linked to the West that suppresses the human rights of a developing people and has been doing so long.

It was his last report on the desperate situation of the Palestinian people. Dugard, a South African Jewish law professor, was replaced in 2009 under pressure from Israel by his American colleague Richard A. Falk. Dugard confessed that year, “I am a South African who lived in apartheid. I have no hesitation in saying that Israel’s crimes are infinitely worse than the crimes committed by South Africa with its apartheid regime.”

But Israel was not very lucky either with the next special rapporteur, Falk, who is also a Jew. He, too, was not re-elected after his term expired in 2014 because he did not back down from criticism of Israel’s policies. In his last report to the Human Rights Council in 2014, he confirmed that the prolonged occupation with the de facto annexation of Palestinian land was due to the permanent expansion of settlements and the construction of the wall, as well as the refusal of the The right of self-determination for the Palestinians has all the characteristics of apartheid. It recommended that the UN General Assembly obtain an opinion from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague on the legal status of this extended occupation, in which ‘the legally unacceptable nature of ‘colonialism’, ‘apartheid’ and ‘ethnic clean-up’.

Falk repeated and extended this accusation in a joint opinion with Virginia Tilley in March 2017 for the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA). In it, the authors conclude that “Israeli policy is racist and has established an apartheid system for the purpose of oppressing the Palestinians in Israel.” The accusation of racism and apartheid provoked such outrage among influential members of the UN that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had the report removed from all official UN websites. ESCWA Executive Secretary Rima Khalaf resigned from all her posts in protest at this unprecedented move and said she remained committed to the report. When Guterres asked Virginia Tilley to distance herself from her report, she also resigned her mandate and continued to pledge alleging the report. What should we be more amazed at, the cowardice of the Secretary-General or the influence of Israel? But they are not yet deciding the truth.

The Palestinians struggle for a state of their own, as promised to them by the UN General Assembly since 1947, has not brought them in more than 70 years either a state, nor the recognition of equal rights and opportunities, either in the occupied territories or in Israel itself. Whether diplomatic initiatives or peace conferences, suicide bombings or rockets from Gaza, the land grab by the expansion of the settlements has only worsened the living situation of the Palestinians, the perspective of a separate state and also have no hope in recognizing their rights, let alone equal rights in a common state with the Jews.

The Federal Government and parties in Germany seem to be paralysed to formulate a necessary criticism against Israel. When a politician like Gabriel slips away the truth about the conditions in the occupied territories, he faces massive pressures. And Günter Grass reaped nothing but outrage and threats in the media and politics for his warning of a war against Iran. We have taken note of the occasional support for Grass from the parties. In general, however, it is obvious that the Nobel laureate Paul Krugman recently noted in the New York Times about the dangers of israel criticism in the US:

The truth is that like many liberal American Jews — and most American Jews are still liberal — I basically avoid thinking about where Israel is going. It seems obvious from here that the narrow-minded policies of the current government are basically a gradual, long-run form of national suicide — and that’s bad for Jews everywhere, not to mention the world. But I have other battles to fight, and to say anything to that effect is to bring yourself under intense attack from organized groups that try to make any criticism of Israeli policies tantamount to anti-Semitism.

In this situation of obvious paralysis and unwillingness to force Israel to recognize international law and human rights, various social groups in the Occupied Territories, a total of 170, 2005 the movement “Boycott, Disinvestment & Sanctions” (BDS). It has now found worldwide resonance and support. A movement has emerged, supported by trade unions, academics and their organisations, as well as business organisations and politicians, who have joined the Palestinians’ call for sanctions against Israel. For example, the British trade chain COOP recently refused to import fruit and vegetables from Israel as long as the exporting country undermines trade agreements with the EU and exports products from settlements to Europe. But also in Israel itself the boycott is supported by well-known personalities, such as the writers Amos Oz and David Grossmann, who refuse to visit the settlement of Ariel or the former spokesman of the Knesset Avraham Castle, who did not make any goods from the occupied areas declared as Israeli goods. The aim of the boycott is simple. It wants the Israeli Government to finally comply with international law and comply with the numerous UN resolutions after the occupation has been abolished. The boycott is limited, it should only last until the Israeli government recognizes international law and ends the occupation.

Palestinian street vendors sell fresh fruits and vegetables at a popular central market in Ramallah in the West Bank

The nature of the sanctions demanded varies, ranging from the call for the suspension of Israel’s association with the EU, to the boycott of goods from the occupied territories, to the boycott of Israeli goods, scientists, Artists who also perform in the settlements, for example, or who support the government’s occupation policy.

The movement in Germany is aware of the problems of these demands against the background of history. However, it firmly rejects any equating of BDS with the Nazi slogan “Don’t buy from Jews”. The call for the suspension of Israel’s association with the EU, the ban on the export of arms to this war-threatened region and the boycott of all goods originating in the Occupied Territories will be nothing more than compliance with the European legal order and the international law. To discredit this simply by accusing anti-Semitism, as a grand coalition of the political groups in the Bundestag did in May this year, is nonsensical as well as unhistorical and hypocritical. This statement states:

However, the argumentation patterns and methods of the BDS movement are anti-Semitic… The calls of the campaign to boycott Israeli artists, as well as stickers on Israeli commercial goods to discourage purchase, are also reminiscent of the most horrific period in German history. “Don’t Buy” stickers of the BDS movement on Israeli products inevitably arouse associations with the Nazi slogan “Don’t buy from Jews!” and corresponding smears on facades and shop windows… The German Bundestag condemns all anti-Semitic statements and attacks, which are formulated as supposed criticism of the policy of the State of Israel, but are in fact an expression of hatred of Jewish people and their religion.

As we know, the German state is blind in the right eye. The Bundestag is probably talking about itself.

There is nothing wrong with these sentences, with which the Bundestag adopts the slogans of the Ministry of Strategic Affairs in Jerusalem, which has been fighting the criticism and actions of BDS for years. Anyone who boycotts international universities, schools, churches, trade unions and countless civil society organisations with the aim of enforcing the application of international law and human rights to the Palestinian people with the boycott of the Nazis to the annihilation of the Jewish people, has left the level of serious reasoning and descended to the level of political slander. It is absurd and wrong to hide criticism and sanctions, which are being extensively and forcefully demanded and practised against other states, behind an unfortunate history and to accept Palestine as an area free of international law outside the UN and the UN Charter.

The BDS movement distinguishes very precisely between Jews, the State of Israel and the Israeli government, its activities are directed solely against the policy of the government, neither against the state nor against the Jews. This difference is deliberately blurred with the formula of “Israeli-related anti-Semitism” in order to prevent criticism of the government. Civil society is constantly being urged to intervene by peaceful means in resolving political disputes and problems. This is where governments and political parties seem to fail. Where speeches, diplomacy and resolutions do not help, other peaceful paths must be taken. The programmatic commitment to an independent and democratic Palestine, alongside a guarantee of Israel’s existence, is beginning to demand more than repeating the goal of a two-state solution stereotypically at every opportunity. The boycott to liberate an occupied country is only one of the legitimate means, as more than 200 European lawyers have said two years ago and 240 Israeli and Jewish intellectuals in public statements in May this year. Only recently Avraham Burg, former spokesman of the Knesset, and Dani Karavan, creator of the Walter Benjamin Monument in Portbou and the Monument to the Murdered Sinti and Roma in Berlin, explained in a joint open letter:

But there is nothing anti-Semitic about BDS as such. Non-violent popular campaigns are a legitimate and appropriate means of persecuting states to go to court with serious discrimination and serious violations of human rights. Let us think of apartheid in South Africa. (Haaretz, June 17, 2019)

A recent incident is a frightening example of the grotesque and dangerous excesses this fight against the BDS movement has now taken on. The head of the Jewish Museum resigned from his post because he no longer believed he could withstand pressure from the Jewish side (the Central Council of Jews, Israeli Ambassador, Israeli press, Prime Minister Netanyahu). The immediate occasion was a press release from the museum, in which the 240 Jewish intellectuals criticized the Bundestag resolution in the daily newspaper. It aroused the angry protest of the chairman of the Central Council of Jews Schuster (“The measure is full”), but was only the continuation of a campaign that was already against a much-publicized and praised exhibition of the museum “Welcome to Jerusalem”, “a fascinating, a multifaceted representation of the importance of Jerusalem for Jews, Christians and Muslims”, (taz. v. 15./16. p. 3) had already prompted Netanyahu to intervene. He complained to the federal government about the museum’s “anti-Israeli activities.” This campaign is particularly clear that it is all about shielding the regime in Jerusalem from any criticism. Anti-Semitism, although used at every opportunity as an all-purpose weapon against the critics, does not matter here, since its use against Jewish intellectuals and a Jewish museum would seem too ridiculous. Such interventions do not help in the fight against anti-Semitism, as the 240 Jewish intellectuals had rebuked the Bundestag. On the contrary, they can only promote it by abusing and exploiting German sensitivity on the subject of anti-Semitism, as Amos Goldberg, professor of the history of the Holocaust at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and initiator of the Statement of protest by the Jewish intellectuals, the daily newspaper has explained. And once again Avraham Burg and Dani Karavan in their letter: “But the Bundestag has duped its duty to fight anti-Semitism in a principled and sincere way. It has betrayed its liberal and democratic values, as well as its duty to promote human rights and the authority of the law, in Germany and Israel. At present, it is also cheating on its duty as a true friend of Israel. It cheated the crucial legacy of 1948.”

If it were really a question of combating anti-Semitism, which is not only rampant in Germany, the Middle East conflict would have to be included in the debate, in particular the policy of occupation of Israel, its violence and discrimination, the violation of the Human rights. However, there is no willingness on the part of politicians to see this permanent disregard for international law by Israel as a source of general anti-Semitism, so as not to have to draw conclusions from it.