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A boycott is not anti-Semitic

Europe has been experiencing increasing anti-Semitic incidents because anti-Semitism has never disappeared, just as other examples of radical nationalism, racism and xenophobia were not buried in 1945. These phenomena were silenced only by the memory of the war and the economic prosperity of the 30 years that followed it. Although there is in fact is a reciprocal relationship between anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli behavior, and Jews in Europe have long since been aware of this: It is becoming increasingly difficult to separate rejection of the occupation from anti-Israeli or anti-Jewish feelings. Those who reject the occupation find it hard to embrace the occupier.

At the same time, a clear-eyed look at the situation indicates that it is not anti-Semitism that lies at the basis of the boycott of settlements that is developing in Europe. The boycott is first of all a kind of uprising against the colonialism and apartheid that dominate the territories. The Europeans are more familiar with the situation than are the Americans, because they really want to learn about, and are trying to understand, the extreme right-wing ultranationalist viewpoint that shapes Israeli politics. The Europeans have also learned lessons from their colonialist past and the left is ashamed of it, just as it is ashamed of anti-Semitism.

Among the educated public in Europe, Israeli culture and science enjoy a unique status that is not shared by any other small or medium-sized country. Israeli scientists, writers and artists have thus far been able to counterbalance the religious-nationalist fanaticism that is spreading here, and they are the ones who are preventing the attempts at an overall boycott. But for the most part they despise Israeli colonialism, which is symbolized today more than anything else by Ariel “University.”

Israeli intellectuals are Zionism’s best ambassadors, but they represent Israeli society, not the colonialist reality. They believe that trampling the rights of the Palestinians in the name of our exclusive right to the country and by dint of a divine decree is an ineradicable stain on Jewish history. Anyone who becomes entrenched in these views will end up bringing about the international ostracism of all of Israel, and if that happens, it won’t be anti-Semitism.

Zeev Sternhell