Jacob Weisberg sees the power of BDS, and is scared

by Paul Woodward on July 25, 2010

“Don”t boycott Israel,” says the headline in Newsweek.

Jacob Weisberg, editor-in-chief at Slate and author of the piece calls a boycott a “repellent idea” with consequences that are “intrinsically vile.” But pointing out the “sheeplike, liberal opinion” of celebrities like Meg Ryan is unlikely to break up the flock. Indeed, Weisberg must vastly overestimate his own degree of influence in Hollywood if he imagines that his protestations will have more effect than do celebrities influence each other.

His appeal is perhaps not an effort to shepherd celebrity opinion but a reflex expression of alarm as he witnesses the boycott movement rapidly acquiring critical mass. Support from politically uninformed but socially influential celebrities is important because it signals the point at which the Palestinian cause rises above its regional, ethnic, religious and historical boundaries, and is being adopted as a humanitarian cause.

Weisberg, in a chaotic effort to marshall his arguments claims:

The stronger case against a cultural boycott of Israel is based on consistency, proportionality, and history. That supporters of this boycott seldom focus on China or Syria or Zimbabwe – or other genuinely illegitimate regimes that systematically violate human rights – underscores their bad faith.

The bad faith that proponents of an Israel boycott are supposedly exhibiting is that they are singling Israel out; that Israel as a target of a boycott is a target of victimization. Any fair-minded person would see how much Israel, China, Syria and Zimbabwe have in common and treat them similarly… Oh, but maybe that isn”t exactly what Weisberg”s trying to say.

As a good liberal, Weisberg isn”t eager to play the anti-Semitic card and he doesn”t see an anti-Semitic trend in Hollywood, but he goes ahead and makes the accusation anyway by saying that the boycott movement “is hard to disassociate from anti-Semitism – even if Ryan and Costello intend nothing of the kind.”

There is an issue here that I suspect touches a raw nerve for Weisberg and many others and it”s not thinly disguised anti-Semitism; it”s the power of social exclusion.

The boycott – at least a particularly ugly form of boycott – is the Israel lobby”s favorite weapon. Attacks on critics of Israel are invariably ad hominem attacks – the campaign against Judge Richard Goldstone being among the most vociferous of such denunciations. This isn”t about vigorous opposition to ideas; it”s about the effort to destroy people – their reputations, their careers, and their social standing.

Weisberg sees the same spirit in the boycott movement:

What they”re saying is, “We consider your country so intrinsically reprehensible that we are going to treat all of your citizens as pariahs.”

The subtext: It”s not about what we do; it”s about who we are.

This is how Israel washes away its sins – and it”s a way of refusing to face the charge upon which the boycott movement rests: that Israel continues to deny the Palestinians their fundamental rights for freedom, equality and self-determination. If this denial of human rights leads to Israel”s increasing isolation, this is a path that Israelis have chosen. Israel is not a victim of an unjust world or an ill-conceived boycott movement.

This is cross-posted at Woodward’s site, War in Context.

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