BDS, Omar Shakir, and Israel Eliminationism

The scale and depth of the effort to remove Israel from the world map was dramatically highlighted in an hour-long BBC documentary on the visceral hatred of the UK Labour party and its leader Corbyn.

By
July 24, 2019 10:08
4 minute read.
BDS

BDS. (photo credit: WIKIPEDIA)

They call it by different names -- demonization, BDS (short for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions), anti-Zionism, or Israel derangement syndrome. But the bottom line is best summed up as “eliminationism.” Because the elimination of Israel is the real goal of all of these campaigns. 

The scale and depth of the effort to remove Israel from the world map was dramatically highlighted in an hour-long BBC documentary on the visceral hatred of the UK Labour party and its leader Jeremy Corbyn. The problem that they have is not with specific Israeli policies or leaders, but with the existence of a Jewish-majority state, in any form. They want a reversal of the outcome of the 1947 UN Partition vote and of the 1948 war, as well as a Palestinian “return,” meaning millions of descendants of 1948 refugees, three generations and 71 years later. These measures, wrapped in the language of justice and  human rights, would ensure that Israel, the nation-state of the Jewish people, would cease to exist. 

Eliminationism is also the underlying issue regarding the government’s rejection of Human Rights Watch (HRW) employee Omar Shakir’s request to renew his visa to work in Israel. Shakir’s appeal is scheduled to be heard by the Israeli High Court on July 25. As in the lower level courts, which ruled against Shakir and HRW, the arguments will focus on whether the government was justified in determining that his “work” in promoting BDS is grounds for non-renewal.

While Shakir, his lawyer, and their supporters try to shift the discussion into philosophical debates on free speech and the right to criticize Israeli policy, the case is far more concrete.

Shakir has the title of the “Israel and Palestine” director at HRW, a powerful NGO that has been among the leaders of anti-Israel demonization for two decades. A more accurate title would be director of BDS campaigns, reflecting his long history of activism on behalf of Israel eliminationism, and the focus of his social media posts, including while employed at HRW. Like others at HRW, Shakir’s activities before being hired were also BDS-centered, and in the past three years, he sought to have Israel expelled from FIFA -- the world football (soccer) federation, promoted boycotts of Israeli banks and other businesses, and pressured companies like Airbnb to single out Israel for sanctions. Although Shakir and HRW ultimately failed in all of these efforts, they succeeded in adding to the demonization of Israel.

In these propaganda wars, Shakir and HRW officials, led by Executive Director Kenneth Roth, employ terms such as apartheid, in order to mark Israel as an illegitimate state. Since the anti-Israel delegitimization campaign ratched up after the 2001 Durban Conference, where HRW was a major participant, the organization has produced a flood of press releases, reports, and social media posts filled with false allegations of war crimes, atrocities, human rights abuses, and violations of international law -- all part of the Durban NGO vocabulary of eliminationism.

What makes this activity, under the facade of human rights, blatant antisemitism is the unique nature of the BDS and demonization campaigns, in which Shakir, Roth and HRW, among others, single out the Jewish state. The consensus working definition, formulated by the International Holocaust Remebrance Alliance (IHRA), includes actions that single out of Israel. The IHRA antisemitism definition has been adopted by 17 countries, to date, and the German Parliament’s resolution declaring that BDS is antisemitic cited this document.

BDS and the accompanying delegitimization are also closely correlated with violent attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions. Data published by the UK Community Security Trust (CST) shows that when reports of clashes in Gaza increase, often quoting accusations from HRW and other NGOs, the number of antisemitic incidents also goes up. HRW and other members of the NGO network ignore the antisemitic implications of their campaigns.

To promote this demonizing agenda, Shakir and other BDS campaigners need to sell the defamatory mythology that Zionism, unique among nationalisms, is racism; that Israel is a uniquely evil pariah (racist, apartheid, genocidal) state - worse than Iran, Syria, North Korea, Venezuela, China; and that Israel uniquely fits the description of a “colonial settler state” that deserves to be eliminated. HRW and BDS allies have not invested resources in campaigns to boycot Russia over the occupation in Ukraine; or China regarding Tibet and the suppression of human rights in Hong Kong; or Turkey over its occupation of northern Cyprus, to cite a few examples.

For these reasons, in 2009, Robert Bernstein, who founded HRW in the 1970s, condemned the leaders of his own organization in an opinion piece in the New York Times. HRW’s activities and biases, he declared, played a leading role in turning Israel into a pariah state. Later, he detailed the criticism of the bias, false accusations, and demonization. But Roth and the HRW Middle East division leaders, steeped in anti-Israel campaigns, expanded the efforts and hired BDS activist Shakir.

All of this is vital to the context of the case being heard in the High Court, and goes far beyond the legal issues of whether the State’s refusal to renew Shakir’s work visa is lawful. Antisemitism and eliminationism are moral and political concepts, and will remain even if Shakir is technically allowed to stay.

Regardless of the High Court’s decision, Shakir has been exposed as a major activist in the elimination campaign. And far beyond the legal arena, HRW and Shakir, like Corbyn and his ilk, are clearly in violation of basic moral norms.

Gerald M. Steinberg is professor of political science at Bar Ilan University and President of the Institute for NGO Research, in Jerusalem.


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