The Irish senate recently passed a bill forbidding the purchase of goods produced in the West Bank of Israel. Readers with a fairly sophisticated sense of the Middle East were baffled by seeing Israel's and Ireland's politics linked in the same sentence but they shouldn't have been. Just about everyone from everywhere now feels entitled to throw rhetorical rocks at Israel, even if they have never seen the place, learned its history or listened to a few of its arguments.
Readers who know a little about Israel are nevertheless aware that it has many enemies. Anti-Israel and anti-Semitic opinions (sometimes they are identical) appear regularly in a deafening barrage of criticism focused on the Jewish state.
The denunciation comes from all the usual suspects, including the congenitally bigoted. But they also emerge nowadays from truly unexpected sources. Last week the three largest Jewish newspapers in England united to run the same frontpage editorial, heralding what they call a clear and present danger to Jewish life -- the leader of the Labour Party, and possibly the next prime minister of Britain, Jeremy Corbyn, "a man who has a problem seeing that hateful rhetoric aimed at Israel can easily step into anti-Semitism."
A horrified article in Britain's left-wing New Statesman magazine sees the same themes emerging on the left in "the fervent loathing of Israel." There are people, they write, who disingenuously describe themselves as "critics" but in fact "seek themselves, or side with those who seek, Israel's dissolution or destruction." The New Statesmen notes that anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism, yet "the rhetoric and premise of the two things, by which Jews and Jewish institutions are singled out as uniquely malevolent and dangerous, are so frequently indistinguishable as to make the distinction vanish."
It's impossible to be neutral about Israel. When foreigners make innocent, apparently non-political donations to the Palestinians, they may find themselves caught up in a tragic propaganda war. Belgium, in its foreign aid, funded a public school for Palestinians. The Palestinian Authority later decided it should be named Martyr Dalal Mughrabi Elementary School, to honour the woman who allegedly led the 1978 bus hijacking that killed 37 Israelis, 12 of them children. Belgium protested against its gift being connected to terrorism, but the martyr's name still stands on the front of the building. Palestinian Media Watch, which studies the area from outside, reports 31 Palestinian Authority schools are now named after terrorists.
Union members, in Canada and elsewhere, must pay attention lest they, too, are swept into Israeli politics -- and on the wrong side. The 50,000-member Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) has acknowledged that it's joined with the Palestinian Postal Service Workers Union to "build greater solidarity between our two unions." When told about this arrangement, Alon Katzakevich, an Israeli-Canadian member of CUPW who lives in Winnipeg, said he was "shocked and concerned." The Palestinian union supports the total annihilation of the Jewish State, rather than a two-state solution.
But in the army of Israel opponents, the most reliable, the smuggest and the most pestilential are university students. North American students pour out endless bulletins declaring that Israel must be Boycotted, Divested, and Sanctioned (BDS). They sponsor the insulting Israel Apartheid Week every year, they invite on-the-road Palestinian press agents to exchange praise with them, and they create anti-Semitic environments that affect at least a few students attending university. There's no evidence that all this activity rattles Israel's economy or its status in the world, but for the organizing students it must be satisfying and at least gives them an international credit to put on their CVs.
The flat uniformity of all these Israel critics must dismay their teachers. After all, people go to university to develop their own ideas, not to march in procession. Their activities raise another question: Why should Israel, and only Israel, be blessed by this ocean of free advice from academe? As one Jewish commentator wrote this summer, "Israel is the only nation universally demonized, delegitimized, and held to a double standard on campuses."
Why only one? Shouldn't students be upset about North Korea, Syria, Iran, Russia and Yemen? And what about Tibet?