17th December 2013
by Alexander Ryvchin,
Public Affairs Officer,
Executive Council of Australian Jewry
WHEN Norman Finkelstein, an icon of the anti-Israel movement, blasted the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign as a “duplicitous, disingenuous cult”, his words were met with a great sense of betrayal among the campaign’s adherents. After all, Finkelstein was once revered as a veteran campaigner who, among many other things, called Israel a “satanic state”.
Finkelstein had experienced no great awakening. At the centre of his disassociation with the BDS movement, which has hijacked the Palestinian cause, is what he calls a “deliberate ambiguity” on Israel’s basic right to exist. In Greens senator Lee Rhiannon, Australia has its own longstanding supporter of the anti-Israel movement. Unfortunately, the leaders of BDS in Australia have yet to heed Finkelstein’s advice to be open about their aims and to cease their selective application of international law.
During a typically vitriolic and hateful speech in the Senate earlier this month, Rhiannon urged Australia “to cease military co-operation and trade with Israel … as a small but significant step”. In a new and bizarre line of attack, Rhiannon justifies this call on the basis that Israel perpetuates war and conflict to battle-test its weapons for “public marketing by the Israeli arms industry” as a means of boosting its sale of weapons to countries like Australia.
In her latest allegations, one detects a near pathological aversion to the Jewish state. As one would expect from Rhiannon, nowhere does she recognise that Israel has a very real and genuine need to defend itself. Nor does she entertain the idea that the Israeli army could have any legitimate defence function whatsoever.
To be sure, Israel exists only because it has defended itself from three invasions, two intifada, Iranian proxy campaigns, numerous border incursions, and the constant threat of war from enemies who do not bother to veil their desires to destroy Israel in the misappropriated language of human rights. This is the function of the Israeli army.
While presented as a pacifist’s rebuke to militarism, Rhiannon’s argument is steeped in double standards. If she opposes militarism in all its forms, why is Israel the only country with which Australia should sever military ties? If indeed her message is one of peace and demilitarisation, one could have expected her to start by calling for the disarming of a state less vulnerable than Israel.
There is also an uncomfortable inconsistency between Rhiannon’s assault on Israel’s means of defence and her history of support for the Soviet Union, which built and maintained an empire through force and coercion and whose arms exports had a uniquely deleterious impact on the world, not least in the Middle East. In the 1980s, shortly after Rhiannon led solidarity delegations to the Soviet Union, Moscow was responsible for 34 per cent of the world’s arms trade, and supplied such states as Libya, Syria and Iraq. This is precisely the sort of hypocrisy to which Finkelstein refers.
While the anti-Israel movement goes to great lengths to demonstrate that its hatred of the Jewish state should not be mistaken for a hatred of the Jewish people, it is deeply troubling that Rhiannon’s latest assault casts the Jewish state in a historically dubious and familiar light. The image of the Jew as a war profiteer, conspirator and driven solely by money is steeped in anti-Jewish tradition and it is alarming that such accusations have now been evoked and transferred to the Jewish collective, the state of Israel. Senator Rhiannon and her peers in the anti-Israel movement should recognise that advancing Palestinian rights does not need the denial of Israel’s right to exist as a national home for the Jewish people.