A young mother is sentenced to death in Sudan for refusing to renounce Christianity. An Iranian-British housewife faces 20 years in Iranian prison for Facebook posts deemed critical of Ayatollah Khomeini. Hundreds of Syrian men, women and children die agonizing deaths from their own government’s chemical weapons attacks. For those concerned about gross violations of human rights, the world is a target-rich environment.
With all the evil that so many states routinely inflict upon the innocent, it is hard to identify the single country that most deserves to be scorned and spurned by the international community. Yet a growing group of activists around the world — and at college campuses throughout America — claim to have identified that country: the tiny state of Israel. The so-called Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement — known as “BDS” — is working to make Israel’s international isolation absolute.
To put things in perspective: Israel is the world’s only Jewish-majority state. There are, on the other hand, 49 Muslim-majority states. Those 49 states include, according to Maplecroft’s 2014 Human Rights Risk Atlas, eight of the world’s 10 worst human rights offenders. Of those 49 states, only three — Indonesia, Senegal and Sierra Leone — are considered free countries by Freedom House. Of those 49 states, 22 are the Arab nations that surround Israel, none of which is free, and four of which are among the world’s 10 worst human rights offenders (including Syria, on Israel’s border, which is the worst offender). And none of those 49 states has a better human rights record than Israel.
Basic human rights are disrespected throughout the Muslim world, and minority groups are by far the hardest hit. Bigotry, fueled by an Islamic supremacist ideology, makes life hell for religious minorities in most of the Muslim world. Millions have had to flee for their lives: Christians, Hindus, and — most definitely — Jews.
Jews lived as persecuted minorities in Muslim countries for centuries. Their situation worsened in the 20th century with the rise of Arab nationalism. Judaism was virtually outlawed in much of the Middle East. In an ignominious forerunner to BDS, the Arab League in 1945 launched a boycott of all “Jewish” products. In 1948, after the Arab League declared all Jewish people enemy citizens, the persecution of Jews living in Arab lands intensified: Jews lost their jobs, and had their bank accounts and other property confiscated. Violent attacks were launched on Jewish homes and synagogues. Jewish women were raped, and many Jews were killed. Since 1940, approximately 1,000,000 Jews have fled brutal oppression in Arab lands, or were forcibly expelled from communities that they had inhabited since ancient times. Israel provided a refuge for most of them, and millions of Jews in Israel are the descendents of those who fled persecution in the Muslim world.
The late journalist Helen Thomas once opined that Jews should “get the hell out of Palestine.” It was clear that “Palestine,” as she defined it, included Israel. Thomas was asked where the Jews should go. “They can go home,” she said, to “Poland, Germany, America, and everywhere else.”
One might have asked Thomas whether millions of Israeli Middle Eastern Jews should go “home” to Muslim nations that are diseased with the most virulent Jew hatred that exists in the world — countries that expelled them, seized their property, murdered their ancestors and outlawed their religion. For millions of Middle Eastern Jews, Israel is their only safe haven in the region that has continuously been their home since antiquity.
Arabs, who make up 20 percent of Israel’s population, are treated infinitely better in Israel than Jewish minorities were in Arab countries. Author Dennis Prager, in a column demolishing the nonsensical slander that Israel is an “apartheid” state, explained the condition of Israeli Arabs: “They have the same rights as all other Israeli citizens. They can vote, and they do. They can serve in the Israeli parliament, and they do. They can own property and businesses and work in professions alongside other Israelis, and they do. They can be judges, and they are. Here’s one telling example: it was an Arab judge on Israel’s Supreme Court who sentenced the former president of Israel — a Jew — to jail on a rape charge.” After listing many Arabs who have risen to prominence in Israel, Prager noted: “Arabs in Israel live freer lives than Arabs living anywhere in the Arab world.”
As I’ve written before: Those who would single out the world’s only Jewish state for boycott, divestment and sanctions, while ignoring the infinitely more virulent persecution and intolerance that prevails throughout the surrounding region, cannot claim to be crusading against injustice. They are crusading against Jews. BDS is a bigoted movement and its supporters are, by extension, bigots.
BDS leaders have no coherent answer to this charge. Curtis Marez is president of the American Studies Association, a large group of academics that recently voted to boycott Israel. When asked why they targeted the world’s only Jewish state given the far worse human rights records of its neighbors, Marez gave a reply that encapsulates the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of his movement: “We have to start somewhere,” he said, as if they had chosen Israel by throwing a dart at the world map. As noted by Harvard Professor Alan Dershowitz, the BDS’ers aren’t just starting with Israel: they’re stopping there. They exist to delegitimize the Jewish state only.
BDS’ers are usually careful to criticize “Zionists” and “Israel” rather than “Jews,” believing they can conceal their prejudice with politically correct linguistics. They frequently hide behind spokesmen who were born Jewish. And they frequently hide behind a familiar straw man: Not all criticism of Israel is anti-Jewish. Of course it isn’t. But there’s a difference between fair criticism, on the one hand, and unfairly singling out one group for criticism deserved much more by other groups, on the other hand.
BDS’ers exaggerate the plight of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza, and ignore the Palestinians’ own responsibility for it — particularly, their refusal to drop their “armed struggle” to destroy Israel. Given that the Palestinians are literally lodged in Israel’s wafer-thin midsection, it is unavoidable that some of the steps Israel must take to protect itself will be intrusive. BDS’ers have no sympathy for the right of Israel to defend itself like any other sovereign nation, which exposes the underlying assumption of the BDS movement: Israel has no right to exist. And once again, BDS’ers single out Israel unfairly: They could question Pakistan’s right to exist, because that nation’s creation as a Muslim state displaced millions of Hindus and Sikhs from their ancient homelands. They could question Bangladesh’s right to exist, for the same reason. They could question Jordan’s right to exist, because it was created by colonial Brits gifting 78 percent of Palestine to create a non-Palestinian monarchy. They could even question America’s right to exist on the homeland of Native Americans. But they only question Israel’s right to exist.
Penn student Shlomo Klapper, writing in the Daily Pennsylvanian (on whose editorial board I once served), coined a term that captures the real meaning of BDS: Bigoted Double Standards. I’d like to see Shlomo’s phrase tattooed, figuratively, on the forehead of every BDS supporter. Israel’s supporters should launch a massive branding campaign so that people will associate BDS with what it really stands for: Bigoted Double Standards. It would be one branding campaign genuinely devoted to truth in advertising — people are free to join BDS, but we can also insist that they confront their bigotry.
David B. Cohen served in the administration of President George W. Bush as U.S. Representative to the Pacific Community, as Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior, and as a member of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. He is the author of Left-Hearted, Right-Minded: Why Conservative Policies Are The Best Way To Achieve Liberal Ideals.