Evoking Antisemitic Tropes to Deny That BDS Is Antisemitic
Last year, the German parliament passed a resolution by an overwhelming majority labeling the international BDS movement antisemitic. The motion, which noted Germany’s national responsibility to help protect Israel and fight those who seek its delegitimization and destruction, concluded that Israeli products labeled with “Don’t Buy” stickers was reminiscent of the Nazi-era boycott of Jewish businesses, which used slogans such as: “Don’t buy from Jews.”
British musician Brian Eno considers himself a victim of Berlin’s moral reckoning with the country’s antisemitic past, and was provided a forum by Guardian editors to lament his struggle in an op-ed (“Artists like me are being censored in Germany – because we support Palestinian rights,” February. 4).
Eno isn’t just a leading cultural figure in the BDS movement; he is someone whose hatred of Israel is such that he’s compared Jewish settlers to the Ku Klux Klan, and accused the Jewish state of engaging in barbarism threatening the “civilisational achievements of The Enlightenment.”
Despite the fact that the German resolution against BDS is non-binding, in his op-ed, Eno decries the decision by some cultural venues not to host him as representing a form of “blacklisting” targeting “critics of Israeli policy towards Palestinians” — forgetting, it seems, that, he’s a supporter of the cultural boycott of Israel, a movement that targets Israeli Jews (and only Israeli Jews) for social exclusion.
Not only does Eno’s op-ed completely ignore the anti-Jewish racism that’s endemic within Palestinians society, and, as studies have demonstrated, disproportionately represented within the Western pro-Palestinian movement he’s a part of, but suggests that it’s Israeli Jews who are guilty of failing to learn the lessons of ‘Never Again,’ by virtue of their “ethnic cleansing” of Palestinians:
[My Israeli-born, German raised friend Nirit] has spoken about…Israel’s racist laws against its own citizens who are Palestinian; Israel’s military checkpoints, house demolitions, the separation wall, the land-grabs, the incarceration of children, and Israeli soldiers humiliating and killing Palestinians of all ages…
I asked Nirit how she feels about the situation: “After returning for two years to Tel Aviv, and many visits to the occupied Palestinian territories, I understood that Israel doesn’t live up to its professed high moral standards. The lesson learned from the Holocaust was ‘Never again!’ But is it intended only to protect us Jews? For me ‘Never again!’ must include ‘never again to racism, oppression, ethnic cleansing anywhere – as well as never again to antisemitism’.”
Professor Deborah Lipstadt has referred to such grotesque moral inversion — which has been characterized as the “pseudo-intellectual hijacking of the meaning of the Holocaust in pursuit of delegitimizing the Jewish state” — as a “soft” version of Holocaust denial.
Eno also evokes a common antisemitic trope in suggesting that Jewish behavior explains antisemitism, by quoting his friend warning that “When defenders of Israel insist that these occupation and apartheid policies are done in the name of all Jews worldwide, they fuel antisemitism.“ [emphasis added]
Of course, the excuse that Jews themselves, by virtue of their perfidious behavior, are responsible for the thoughts and actions of antisemites is as old as antisemitism itself. Later in the op-ed, Eno employs a version of the Livingstone formulation, which the EHRC has determined (pg 28-29) is effectively a form of unlawful antisemitic harassment, when he claims that those characterizing BDS as antisemitic are really only interested in “limiting our freedom to discuss the political and humanitarian situation in Israel and Palestine.”
As the Common Security Trust (CST)’s Dave Rich has aptly observed in response to charges that Jews dishonestly use accusations of antisemitism to silence criticism of Israel: “the basic idea behind most modern antisemitism is that Jews must be up to something. Whatever Jews say and do can’t be taken at face value: they must have some ulterior motive or hidden agenda that needs to be uncovered.”
If Brian Eno wanted to address the question of BDS and antisemitism in an intellectually and morally serious way, he certainly wouldn’t have obfuscated the issue by dismissing the charge as a cynical Zionist smokescreen, but would have attempted to explain why Jews are wrong, and he’s right: Why, according to an EU survey of Europe’s Jews (pg 29), 82 percent of Jews across 12 European countries believe that support for anti-Israel boycotts is antisemitic.
But, he chose not to.
Instead, as he did when publicly supporting Jeremy Corbyn and dismissing accusations that the Labour Party leader was personally antisemitic — a view held by the overwhelming majority of British Jews — as baseless smears, Eno doesn’t show any empathy for the Jewish community. Nor, based on his own evocation of antisemitic tropes in the op-ed, does Eno deem Jews’ unique, historically-informed understanding of what constitutes anti-Jewish racism to have even the slightest relevance.
To borrow from the title of British comedian David Baddeil’s book on antisemitism: within the “anti-racist” movement to which Eno identifies, ‘Jews don’t count.’
Adam Levick serves co-editor of CAMERA UK — an affiliate of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, where a version of this article first appeared.