I was in the UK recently and spoke for Jewish students at St. Andrews University in Scotland. Within days of me being there, a charity ball they had planned was forced into hiding by threats to the hotel that was hosting it. The “crime” of the students? Raising money for the JNF and the UK branch of Friends of the IDF.
In the controversy that followed, I posted a comment that described the protestors against Israeli charities as “anti-Israel”. Someone else asserted that such groups are not “anti-Israel” but “pro-Palestinian”.
Are they? Is there a difference between these concepts, or are they the same thing? And does it matter?
Positive vs. negative
As a student activist in the UK more than three decades ago, I (like all my peers) was up against a group called BAZO (the British Anti-Zionist Organization). This fringe group would be worthy of no more than a nasty little footnote in history except for one amusing recollection; the group had such a negative image that its acronym briefly became a synonym for being unhinged. (“What’s wrong with him? He’s acting all BAZO!”)
BAZO exemplified an era in which enemies of Israel were at least frank about what they wanted: the denial of the national rights of the Jewish people that had been championed by the Zionist political movement and concretized in the rebirth of the Jewish State of Israel.
The very name of this group proclaimed the negativity that it embodied. It was extreme, antisemitic and not for anything. It stood in favor of obliterating the Jewish state, and it was unpopular.
Times change and people learn from their mistakes.
By 1981 BAZO had changed its name to BAZO-PS (British Anti-Zionist Organization – Palestine Solidarity). It was too late for that particular fringe group to change its image and salvage any relevance. Perhaps it was the unfortunate choice of the initials “PS” that conveyed the reality that their purported solidarity with Palestinian Arabs was only an afterthought. Nonetheless, you would be hard pressed to find any organization in the Western world today that is so naive as to title itself “anti-Zionist” or “anti-Israel”. It’s bad PR, and it’s bad for your image to be viewed as negative.
Today, in the UK, a much more dangerous (because it is more persuasive) group is active. They are called the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), and proclaims that they campaign “for peace & justice for Palestinians, in support of international law and human rights & against all racism”. Naturally, they support the international BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) campaign against Israel, which calls for punitive measures against Israel “until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights”.
Around the world you will find groups that operate under similar titles. PSC has Irish and Scottish incarnations. The Canadian group Canada Palestine Support Network seems to have taken over from Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights, a university-based group that once shut down the Concordia campus in Montreal because Binyamin Netanyahu was about to speak there. Australians for Palestine is obviously the antipodal manifestation. In the US the American Association for Palestinian Equal Rights (AAPER) operates as a lobby on Capitol Hill while ubiquitous Students for Justice in Palestine groups operate on campuses around America.
All these organizations have learned the lesson that presenting oneself as a merely anti-Israel group limits one’s appeal to the hard core of Israel haters.
Better to be for something than against something.
Hiding the truth?
But is the description of the protestors being “pro-Palestinian” justified? I think there’s a simple litmus test to apply: Does the organization in question express sympathy for Palestinian Arabs who face difficulties that can’t be attributed (rightly or wrongly) to Israel?
One that does fit that description is the Independent Commission for Human Rights. Although harshly (and often unjustifiably) critical of Israel, it doesn’t stint in reporting on the mistreatment of Palestinian Arabs by the Palestinian Authority, in either its Hamas or Fatah versions. Unfortunately, I couldn’t access their reports directly via their own website, but here is some media coverage of their latest report on PA abuse of power:
A search on the name of the organization via Google News threw up only five citations, four of which were from Israeli news media. The exception was Palestine News Network, which caries a number of stories on PA abuse of power.
The first article cited above carries the shocking account of Mohamed Abdel Karim Dar of Hebron. He was detained and tortured by the PA’s Preventive Security Service to the point where he lost the power of speech. If you do a Google search on his name, however, the total number of results is unlikely to crash your computer. I found only the original Jerusalem Post report and a quotation of it in a conservative web magazine.
Check out the websites of the “pro-Palestinian” groups I listed above. Not one of them carries any information about Mohamed Abdel Karim Dar, nor the eleven Palestinian Arabs who died under PA detention. Haroun Abu Arrah and Omar Arqoub, two Palestinian Arab journalists who have been repeatedly harassed by the PA, won’t be found on any of them either.
We understand why Mohamed Abdel Karim Dar is silent; he was beaten into it by the torturers of the PA. But why are all the organizations that claim to be on his side also silent?
It’s nothing new. During the Battle of Gaza, when Fatah and Hamas forces were killing each other as well as uninvolved civilians, the whole panoply of “pro-Palestinian” organizations couldn’t even muster a Rodney King style, “Can we all just get along?”
Why does it matter?
Let’s return to my original question: Is there a difference between being “pro-Palestinian” and “anti-Israel, and if so, does it matter?
As we have seen, there is a disadvantage in being perceived as anti-Israel if you are trying to appeal to an uncommitted audience. If someone seeks an advantage, it’s fair to check that they are entitled to it. If you want to buy liquor you need to be prepared to be carded, if you want a senior discount you have to be willing to reveal your age. Obtaining a privilege that you are not entitled to is cheating. The vast majority of “pro-Palestinian” groups are cheats, plain and simple.
This deception also matters because of the overall conceptual frame of the discourse. Is it between two partisans of competing sides, each seeking their own rights (pro-Israel versus pro-Palestinian)? Or is it a dispute between those seeking legitimate rights (pro-Israel) and those seeking to deny those rights (anti-Israel)?
Add to that the fact that those who seek peace between Jews and Arabs are arguably the most “pro-Palestinian” groups that can exist, and we reach the counter-intuitive conclusion that the State of Israel is likely the most pro-Palestinian entity in the Middle East.
As is so often the case, presenting Israel’s position effectively starts with telling the truth. Those who oppose the Jewish state are seldom honest.
BAZO has (thankfully) almost completely vanished. For a flavor of what it was like, see this article about one of its founders: http://www.paulbogdanor.com/antisemitism/greenstein/questions.html
1 Some high points of their activities included: photographing Jewish students with threats that the pictures would be sent to the PLO in Beirut, forging links with the National Union of Iraqi Students while it was persecuting pro-democracy Iraqis in the UK, and succeeding in having BAZO’s literature distributed by the neo-Nazi British Movement.