Friday, July 25, 2014

Boycotting Israel: Fighting its propaganda machine

It is with a sense of mounting rage and upset that people from across the world have been witnessing the latest round in Israel’s persecution of the Palestinians. There have been a number of horrific reports, indicating the manner in which civilian innocents have been slaughtered, the manner in which new and unethical weapons have been used against these civilians, as Israel has bombarded Gaza day, after day, after day.

Even prior to this round of attacks, however, there has been a mounting call to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era. This call first emerged in 2005 in the face of the realisation that the state of Israel was carrying on with the project of building a wall around the West Bank despite the fact that the International Court of Justice found the Israeli project illegal. Since then the call to boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) has been taken up and has been gradually increasing in strength as various groups have been to accede to this call. This call has not as yet, unfortunately, been carried over into the actions of members of the international order in a manner similar to the embargo enforced against apartheid South Africa.

Even as efforts are on to push for statal responses to the call for BDS, the question still lingers as regards what we as individuals can do to address the daily, and historic, violence against the people of Palestine. One possible route presented itself when reading a particular disturbing news item that has emerged in the course of the current Israeli offensive on Gaza. This news item presented by The Guardian informs us that, “As the sun begins to sink over the Mediterranean, groups of Israelis gather each evening on hilltops close to the Gaza border to cheer, whoop and whistle as bombs rain down on people in a hellish warzone a few miles away.” The war on innocents, then, has been converted into a spectacle for entertainment for these settlers who have used “Old sofas, garden chairs, battered car seats and upturned crates” to convert the hillsides into an auditorium. Perversely, “On one hilltop, a swing has been attached to the branches of a pine tree, allowing its occupant to sway gently in the breeze”.

A friend who lives in Israel suggested that the news report was lacking in context. The report, she indicated, failed to mention that the assault on Gaza was a spectacle in the settlement of Sderot, a place where children typically play in bunkers.  Regardless of this fact, however, it was the realisation that a war has now become spectacle to some that forced a recognition of the fact that one of the fundamental ways in which the State of Israel is able to gain legitimacy for its existence as a Jewish state is through the scores of American and European films that have made a continuing spectacle of the Holocaust. Through these cinematic retellings, the Holocaust was the most recent genocide against the Jews and it is to ensure that such a horror never happens again that the State of Israel was set up. The complex histories that surround the Holocaust, which  indicate that the Holocaust was in fact directed against a variety of groups including Gypsies, Catholics, Communists, homosexuals and other groups that the Nazis saw as ‘freaks’ are  never elaborated to largely ignorant audiences across the world. Similarly the fact that these persecutions were largely a story of Jews in Europe is also never elaborated.  On the contrary, the establishment of Israel and its various acts of terror are celebrated as acts of heroism of a people who, once they had their own state, were determined to bring their violators to justice. In addition to the recent attacks against the people in Gaza, two other examples of this terrorism that come to mind are the hunting down of Adolf Eichmann, or the murder of those alleged to be responsible for the murder of the Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Indeed, the Jewish dead of the Holocaust are converted into telegenic bodies to buttress the Israeli cause.

The simplified histories that these films tell prevents us from entering into the more complex world of the politics of Europe and Anglo-America that made it possible for Jews to be persecuted, and the essentially racist logic that allowed for the state of Israel to even be contemplated as a solution for what was essentially the problem of the (for lack of a better word) White world. In sum these movies encourage us to believe that there is such a thing as “the Jewish people” and that they suffered so much that they were justified in setting up a state in a place already inhabited by people for generations.

It is because these retellings of the Holocaust are critical to buttressing the terrorist activities of the state of Israel that I decided then to absolutely quite watching any films about the Holocaust. Further, I would also not watch any films that presented simplistic stories of European Jewry and caused the audience to feel sorry for them.

This decision was not without discomfort. Such a decision could be interpreted as the actions of a Holocaust denier. However, one can argue that rather than deny the Holocaust, such a boycott of films on the Holocaust is in fact a commitment to respect the facts of the Holocaust and bring to it the historicity that it deserves. The death of so many thousands of people deserves a better memoralization than the cheap sympathy that such films generate for a state that in fact operates no differently from pre-war Europe and the Nazi state.

At a personal level the boycott would give me the satisfaction that I am not participating in the justification of the Israeli state and its propaganda machine. If joined by others there is the hope that this otherwise individual action could have larger consequences, that we would encourage more honest tellings of this phase of European history.

In any case, any boycott against Israel must also necessarily include a boycott of those activities that operate as propaganda for what is currently a racist oppressor state.

(A version of this blog was first published in the O Heraldo dated 25 July 2014)

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