Peter Slezak on BDS and its critics

BDS and its critics

Peter Slezak



Berlin pavement memorial to four of the 6 million


There has been a shameless tendency to exploit the memory of the Holocaust to silence criticism of Israel. By playing on deep sensitivity to the vast tragedy of European Jews, criticism of the Jewish State is regularly characterised as the new form of anti-Semitism. Following such remarks by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and other politicians, now Dyrenfurth (The Saturday Paper April 19) joins the chorus by using the Nazi slur against supporters of boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel (BDS). BDS is a rights-based movement explicitly against anti-Semitism and racism in all its forms. Conceivably, one might disagree with the widely employed tactic without descending to such vile and obviously inappropriate comparisons. To do so is to dishonour the memory of Holocaust victims and to cheapen the horrors of Nazi atrocities against Jews and others.

Dyrenfurth’s travelogue and fantasies on Berlin’s Unter den Linden suggest that he has missed the stark lessons that Germans themselves are so forcefully teaching. There are indeed moving experiences and profound lessons to be learned in Berlin today where the scourge of the Nazi regime is so publicly attested and atoned. Brass plaques on the pavements memorialize Jews who lived and worked there, and were murdered in Auschwitz. An exhibition ‘Topography of Terror’ documents the rise of Hitler with dramatic photographs of the period, including the Jewish shopfronts daubed with “Kauft nicht bei Juden” – Don’t buy from Jews – the slogan that is so disgracefully compared with the BDS movement. Particularly significant is the Holocaust museum dedicated to the murdered Jews and also the Jüdisches Museum where a documentary video includes the lesson that Germans confront unflinchingly: “We are responsible for the crimes committed in our name.” This is a lesson that Dyrenfurth evidently did not learn from his nostalgic visit to Berlin from where his family escaped the fate of those whose brass plaques we can read. However, it is a lesson that many other Jews have taken seriously as the true meaning of the slogan ‘Never again’ – that is, never again, not just to Jews, but never again to anyone. This is why, contrary to Dyrenfurth, many Jews who are children of Holocaust survivors are, indeed, at the forefront of activism and advocacy for Palestinian human rights, including especially BDS. My own mother, now 89, survived Auschwitz, and her experiences are the principal reasons for my own efforts to support Palestinians today in their struggle against the ongoing horrors of their dispossession and brutal occupation by the Jewish State. I join other Jews such as Israeli journalist Gideon Levy of Ha’aretz where he has called for BDS against Israel and documents the crimes of the occupation. Also writing in Ha’aretz, the true lessons of the Holocaust have been eloquently articulated and practised by Israeli journalist Amira Hass whose mother survived Bergen-Belsen. From her mother’s experience, Amira sees her responsibility as letting other Jews know what is being done in their name. She says her responsibility is to ensure that Jews can’t use the excuse for which we rightly held Germans in contempt when they protested “I didn’t know.” Dyrenfurth conveniently neglects to mention what BDS protest is about: Thousands of house demolitions, unarmed protesters including children regularly shot dead, children in harsh administrative detention, nearly a million olive trees destroyed, land confiscated, water diverted to illegal Jewish settlements, Jewish-only roads and hundreds of checkpoints throughout the West Bank, now mostly under complete Israeli control, and the crippling blockade which is collective punishment of Gaza.

The charge of anti-Semitism against supporters of BDS is not only cynical and absurd on the face of it but also deliberately misleading because foremost targets include non-Jewish organizations such Veolia, G4S, Caterpillar and others that profit from exploiting the illegal occupation. Among many other Jews who stand in solidarity with Palestinians is foremost political economist and expert on Gaza, Professor Sara Roy at Harvard’s Centre for Middle Eastern Studies – the daughter of Holocaust survivors. Jeff Halper is the director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) that rebuilds Palestinian houses – among the 28,000 demolished since 1967. Israeli historian and supporter of BDS Ilan Pappe extensively documents the hidden history of the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in 1948 and since. Many Jews like these in Australia and around the world stand with Palestinians in their struggle against the tragedy of their original expulsion and ongoing dispossession under an unprecedented, cruel occupation.



When Palestinians were denounced for violence, it is also the height of hypocrisy to denounce them and their supporters when they resort to peaceful, non-violent means of protest. Even the most ardent Zionist and opponent of BDS must recognize that comparison with the Nazi campaign voiced by leaders of the Jewish community and our politicians sinks to a level of depravity that reflects more on themselves.  It also exhibits an isolation from the real world of ordinary, decent people who can see the disgracefulness of such slurs against advocates of peaceful protest, human rights and international law. On Dyrenfurth’s own account of BDS and its goals, it is a glaring non-sequitur to compare it to the vile, racial discrimination of the Nazi regime. Above all, the willingness of Dyrenfurth and others to shamelessly rehearse these denunciations of advocates of human rights is a symptom of the bankruptcy of their case. If this is all they have to offer in defence of Israel against its critics, it’s not hard to see where truth and justice lie.


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