This is the week we Jews will have commemorated and celebrated in one week; in fact, in two successive days. On Monday, Yom Hazikaron, we remembered the thousands of Israeli soldiers who died fighting to protect their country from destruction, and on Tuesday, we celebrated Yom Ha’atzmaut, the day that recognizes yet another year of Israel’s survival among the world of nations, a birthday truly to excite and emulate at 66 years young.
Five wars, thousands dead, and 66 years later, a new kind of battle engages Israel on many fronts: the war to delegitimize Israel through the use of boycotts both against its academic institutions and its economy. Having failed to destroy Israel on the battlefield, the new attacks conspire to deflate Israel’s burgeoning economy and its army of academics by isolating them in a sea of irrelevance.
It didn’t begin with mega-star Scarlett Johansson, but her presence and voice publicized the threats being aimed at famous personalities who do business with Israeli companies. Johansson, particularly, drew strong criticism from leftists and those on the front lines of the boycott Israel attack for advertising the products of SodaStream, a successful Israeli company that employs Palestinian workers in the West Bank plant that manufactures this popular product. The exceptional quality of this particular speaker was that she spoke up, stood firm and refused to buckle under withering attacks as well as the announcement that Oxfam — that great British organization of “political balance” — was expelling her as one of their spokespeople.
Those leading the attack claim that any possible interpretation of anti-Semitism motivating them in aiming their verbal and political missiles against the Jewish state is just a lot of baloney and absolute nonsense. They have only one concern in mind, and that is the legal rights being, or in their mind not being, afforded Palestinians; that Israel is an “occupying power” that practices apartheid on a huge scale, dismissing Palestinians as second-class citizens. Omar Barghouti, writes in The New York Times in January 2014 of “recognizing the fundamental rights of Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality and the right of Palestinian refugees to return to homes and lands from which they were forcibly displaced and dispossessed in 1948.”
Really? One wonders, truly wonders, where is the historical reciprocity in all of these alleged condemnations against Israel? Far more Jews were displaced within the Arab world during the first half of the 20th century than those “displaced” by Israel, yet I don’t hear any group screaming for the return of property to these Sephardi Jews or for a call to equal legal rights in Arab countries that still house pockets of Jewish communities.
It might be fair to recognize that Israel will survive these boycotts or statements from highhanded American officials, even as some left-leaning European governments — most of Europe — tackle the issue of how they should punish Israel. Clearly, Israel has not been perfect, and strategic criticism where appropriate is warranted. But who might have thought that, on its 66th birthday, it is not the threat of destruction from the Arab countries that overly concerns Israel but the European calls for boycotting the country because of policies they deem apartheid.
Apartheid? Not anti-Semitism?
Rabbi Chaim Landau is rabbi emeritus at Ner Tamid Congregation and president of the Baltimore Board of Rabbis.