Staunch anti-Israel activist Ben White has been busy recently advocating a boycott of a performance by Israel’s Habima Theatre during the Globe Theatre World Shakespeare Festival in London. As I have noted in a related post, the campaign against Habima is part of the broader BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) efforts that have targeted Israel in order to delegitimize the Jewish state for the sake of “a world without Zionism.”
While it is therefore hardly surprising when BDS activists appeal to antisemitic sentiments, Ben White, who has a BA in English Literature from Cambridge University, has generally tried to present himself as a somewhat more sophisticated advocate of the Palestinian “cause” – at least if the Palestinian cause is defined as requiring nothing more than attacking Israel.
But the mask seemed to slip when Ben White posted the following tweet:
The picture he linked to is from a tweet posted by the San Francisco Voice for Israel (Bay area chapter of StandWithUs):
Ben White has since seen no reason to apologize for this tweet; indeed, people who challenged him got only evasions and childish LOLs in response.
The question whether Ben White’s suggestion that “a picture of Howard Jacobson’s face” provides “another reason to support a boycott of Habima” is a clear-cut example of antisemitism has been debated hotly on Harry’s Place, where Joseph W. argues – convincingly, in my view – that
“Ben White appears to be linking Howard Jacobson – an English Jew – and Israeli Jewish Habima actors, by aesthetics and looks. If you are aware of the history of antisemitism, you will know that a great deal of attention was given to the physical appearance of Jews, who were portrayed as people whom one could legitimately hate based on how they look.
Only a racist and an antisemite, could look upon the face of one Jew, tell others to look upon the face of this Jew, hoping that they would hate it so much, that they would choose to boycott other Jews.”
It is clear that Ben White isn’t much bothered by these arguments, and it’s easy to see why: in the milieu he moves as an activist, accusations of antisemitism are either regarded as “a badge of honour” or easily dismissed with a tweet that includes #wtf and #lol.
But there is another dimension to this episode that is worth pondering: if pro-Palestinian campaigner and BDS activist Ben White is “doing the right thing” when he suggests that “a picture of Howard Jacobson’s face” provides “another reason to support a boycott of Habima,” then surely anyone willing to stoop to this level could argue that a picture of Yassir Arafat provides “another reason to support” opposition to some Palestinian endeavor.
Anyone willing to stoop to Ben White’s level could then also argue that, given the official Palestinian show of appreciation for disgraced journalist Helen Thomas, a picture of her face provided a reason to oppose certain Palestinian projects. Indeed, since Thomas was honored for “supporting Palestine in the West,” a picture of her face should – according to Ben White’s “reasoning” – provide a perfectly valid reason to oppose Palestinian efforts to make their case in the West.
Ben White may smugly shrug off accusations of antisemitism, but the mask slipped nonetheless, because we all know how he and his fans would react if this kind of stupid and bigoted argument was used by anyone speaking out for Israel: there would be endless tweets with #hasbarafail and #hasbaralol and all the other mindless vitriol that is so popular among the Israel-haters that Ben White so tirelessly tries to mobilize.