[Editors’ Note: This piece by Nobel Peace prize winner Mairead Maguire was submitted to the New York Times. They decline to publish it.]
In 2009 Israel’s foreign minister Avigdor Liebermann ordered all foreign missions to distribute a 1941 photograph of the then Palestinian leader in exile, Haj Amin Al Husseini meeting Hitler. The motivation behind Liebermann’s order lay in international criticism of Israel’s decision to further expand its illegal settlements in occupied East Jerusalem; the not too subtle subtext being that as Palestinians are Nazis any policy implemented against them is justified.
This week the David Horowitz’s Freedom Center perpetrated the same historical distortion in its advertisement comparing college professors who advocate Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against the state of Israel to the Nazi government’s persecution of Jews. Ignoring the political and human rights context in which the call for BDS has been made, and its ultimate aim of securing compliance with international human rights standards, its proponents are instead vilified as Jew haters and their opposition to illegal Israeli policies presented as hatred of ‘the Jewish state.’ Through a series of outrageous assertions their support for Palestinian human rights is linked to the Nazis, calls for genocide and the Toulouse murders.
The truth however is that the call for BDS lies neither anti-Semitic in intent or effect, but reflects the recognition that after 20 years of failed negotiations and almost 44 years of military occupation and illegal colonization, there is no means by which Palestinians can achieve their basic human rights and freedoms except through the activism of international civil society.
The obligation to act is itself embedded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights prescription that “every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, secure their universal and effective recognition and observance.”
And of course, if states were to take their own obligations seriously there would be no need for this international civil society action. Until that day however we are all under obligation to secure human rights for everyone, regardless of race, creed or class. Those who advocate for BDS are fulfilling this mandate and it is perhaps a sign of the threat they pose to an unjust situation that they are deliberately misrepresented as Nazis – the vilest of all human rights abusers.
Yet the reality on the ground is that whilst Israel’s calculated colonization of Palestine contuines apace its attendant violations of civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights will only increase. In this situation the calls for BDS will not diminish but will grow, and scurrilous attempts to defend injustice and silence people of conscience by sowing fear and defamation will ultimately not only fail but are themselves extremely dangerous. By mendaciously claiming anti-Semitism where none exists they devalue the whole concept and aid the anti-Semitic agenda of making anti-Semitism respectable once again. Indeed they already sully and trivialise the memory of the Holocaust by using it as a means to defend present injustice.
Commenting upon Liebermann’s ploy of using the Holocaust era photograph to defend present illegality one Israeli source remarked that it had been met amongst Isreali diplomats by “laughter, scepticism and a sense of misplaced communication that this doesn’t help one bit the real argument.” The same can hopefully be said of Horowitz’s current distortions, yet in its calculated attacks on individual integrity it may be much more sinister than that.
Mairead Maguire is a Nobel Peace Laureate and a co-founder Peace People.