Boycotting Israel Photo: REUTERS
A paradigmatic characteristic of all bigotry is to take a fault that is widespread among all cultures, races, religions and nationalities and to attribute it singularly to one group.
For example: “Blacks are violent.” “Jews are cheap.” “Asians are sly.” “Gays are pedophiles.” “Women are irrational.” “Romanies (gypsies) cheat.”
The truth, of course, is that all groups have some among them with these negative characteristics.
The bigots who make these claims correctly point to the fact that some members of these groups display the negative characteristics attributed to the groups as a whole.
But the bigotry consists of singling out any such group for unique condemnation on the basis of these widespread faults without acknowledging that members of other groups have them as well, sometimes in greater proportion than the group that is singled out.
This is precisely what is occurring in the context of the nation state of the Jewish people, Israel, being singled out for boycotts, divestment and sanctions.
As the president of the American Studies Association, Curtis Marez, acknowledged, after his organization singled out Israel for an academic boycott: Many other countries, including all of Israel’s neighbors, have far worse records when it comes to human rights and academic freedom.
Moreover, other countries (including China, Russia and Turkey) have had longer and far more oppressive occupations than Israel without offering (as Israel has) to end the occupation as part of a negotiated peace. But Prof.
Marez’s response to the charge of bigotry in applying the double standard to the nation state of the Jewish people was “We have to start somewhere.”
That is the characteristic response of the bigot. When it comes to condemning violence, we have to start somewhere, so let’s target African-Americans for stop and frisk. When it comes to stopping pedophilia, “we have to start somewhere” so let’s start with profiling gays. Surely this would be recognized as bigotry personified.
Marez’s benighted response is more than simply bigoted, it is mendacious.
His association is not simply starting with Israel, it is stopping with Israel. A vote to boycott Chinese, Cuban, Russian or Palestinian academic institutions— which are worse by every measure of civil liberties, human rights and academic freedom than Israeli institutions – would garner few, if any, votes. This too is the paradigm of bigotry: starting and ending with one ethnic or religious group and applying a different standard to every other group.
When Harvard University adopted a quota system directed only against Jewish applicants, its president, A. Lawrence Lowell, justified singling out Jews, because, he claimed, “Jews cheat.”
When told that Christians cheat, too, he responded: “You’re changing the subject. We’re talking about Jews now.”
He too had to start and stop somewhere. So he singled out the Jews. Was this anti-Semitic? The answer to the question, is the singling out of the nation state of the Jewish people for an academic boycott an act of anti-Semitism, the answer is, if the shoe fits ...
Here not only does the shoe fit, but like Cinderella’s slipper, the bigoted shoe in this case fits only one group: academic institutions in the nation state of the Jewish people.
There are those who claim that the BDS movement against Israel cannot be anti-Semitic, because it is directed at a country and not at individuals. But by treating Israel as the Jew among nations – singling it out for condemnation when others are far worse by any relevant standard – the advocates of BDS are simply expanding the notion of anti-Semitism beyond the individual to the nation state of the Jewish people. When Nazis condemned “Jewish physics,” “Jewish art” and “Jewish business practices,” they too claimed that they were focusing on Jewish institutions rather than Jewish individuals. That defense won’t work. Treating the Jew among nations precisely the way classic anti-Semites have treated the Jewish people is simply a new adaptation of the oldest of prejudices.
So let the world condemn those who single out the nation state of the Jewish people for the application of a double standard. Let the world understand that bigotry is bigotry whether directed against the Jew among nations or the Jew within nations.
Let those who want to boycott nations apply the simple test of morality: the worst first. Let them apply another moral test: focusing first on those countries in which dissent is not tolerated and in which there is no internal recourse against violations of human rights.
Applying these tests to Israel would put the nation state of the Jewish people at the very bottom of countries deserving to be boycotted. But by ignoring the worst and condemning a nation that is near the very top in terms of human rights, academic freedom and the rule of law, the bigotry of the condemners becomes obvious.
So let the world judge Israel by a single standard and let the world judge those who condemn Israel by that same standard.
The writer, ALAN M. DERSHOWITZ, is a veteran professor at Harvard Law School, is a prominent advocate for Israel in the United States.