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I am not saying, and I do not for a moment believe, that Stephen Hawking has an anti-Semitic bone in his body. I am sure that many other supporters of the boycott do not, either. Many are no doubt sincerely convinced that Israeli policies toward the Palestinians are immoral and unjust.
But that isn’t the point. The point is that no one is boycotting other countries for doing things as bad as — and often far worse than — anything Israel has done. A list of such countries would not fit into the space of this column.
Suffice it to mention Russia’s demolition of Chechnya, which makes Israeli actions in the occupied territories look benign; the Sinification of Tibet by government-sponsored Chinese settlement far more massive than Jewish settlement in the West Bank, or the 65 years of harsh Indian military rule over a Kashmir denied self-determination longer than the Palestinians have been.
Who is boycotting Russia, China or India?
Israel is being judged and dealt with by a double standard. A double standard aimed against a Jewish state is a double standard aimed against Jews. It’s as simple as that, whether one is personally anti-Semitic or not.
It’s time we acknowledged the fact that most pro-Palestinian sentiment has very little to do with the Palestinians.
The most militant boycotters of Israel don’t give a damn about the Palestinians any more than they give a damn about the Chechens or Kashmiris. What arouses their passions is Jews. They couldn’t care less when Palestinians are oppressed by someone else — by the Lebanese, for example, who to this day deny citizenship to all Palestinians living in Lebanon, even if they are third and fourth generation, and keep them penned in refugee camps. As long as it’s not Jews who are doing it, it’s quite all right.
Men like Stephen Hawking get roped in by such types. I don’t doubt Hawking’s good intentions. But good intentions are no substitute for good judgment, and Hawking’s judgment in this matter has been atrocious.
So has the Forward’s. Nobody is asking it to whitewash Israel. Israel has many faults, just as it has many virtues, and it is a Jewish newspaper’s responsibility to report on both.
But it is also a Jewish newspaper’s responsibility to understand that when Israel should be defended against its enemies, it must be defended, because if Jewish newspapers don’t don’t defend it, who will? The boycott movement is the work of Israel’s enemies. They are the Jewish people’s enemies, too. One doesn’t aid and abet the enemy.
Hillel Halkin is an author and translator who has written widely on Israeli politics and culture and was the Forward’s Israel correspondent from 1993 to 1996.