While demonstrating is not my preferred means of political action, I was more than happy to attend the pro-Israel demo last Friday outside the BBC as a show of support for the BBC’s correct decision not to heed the demands for a boycott of Eurovision, due to be held in Tel Aviv. It’s very simple: Israel won Eurovision, and thus won the right to host Eurovision. It is a cultural event, essentially light-hearted fun, and the vibrant, cosmopolitan city of Tel Aviv is the ideal place to hold it. Claims to the contrary smack of hypocrisy; no other cultural event in recent years has seen such calls for a boycott, no matter how odious a regime might be.
It was a disturbing couple of hours, to say the least. I genuinely try to sympathise with those on the boycott side. I am convinced that the anti-Israel boycott movement is based on a set of ideals that are inherently antisemitic. But I am willing to believe that significant numbers who support boycotts are simply misguided, perversely idealistic and naïve and suggestible enough to buy into deeply embedded antisemitic tropes within the Western cultural landscape. It is unreflective, unintentional and forgivable. They are certainly worth engaging.
But Friday dealt a blow to what is perhaps my own misguided, idealistic, and naïve beliefs about these people, the supporters of an anti-Israel boycott. Perhaps this was just a particularly extreme fringe of an already unpleasant movement that I witnessed. I hope so.
My despair derives from a specific chant to which these demonstrators kept on returning: “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”.
Let’s dwell on these words for a moment. It only needs a moment: the implications are glaringly obvious. “From the river to the sea” means a one-state solution: the nullification, at best, of the State of Israel, and the violent destruction of the State of Israel at worst. Not even Fatah, the supposed moderates in the Palestinian political movement, supports an Israel-wide cultural boycott, and Fatah has stated that it supports the two-state solution.
What is the Hamas position on boycotts and the two-state solution? They don’t equivocate. From the Hamas charter: “our struggle against the Jews is very great and very serious. It needs all sincere efforts… until the enemy is vanquished and Allah’s victory is realised”. It quotes a passage of the Hadith which exhorts the killing of Jews. It calls for the obliteration of Israel. But even more disturbingly, one of Hamas’s core slogans is the locution “from the river to the sea…” I need not finish that phrase.
Let that sink in. The anti-Israel demonstrators are calling for the destruction of a nation state; not just any nation state, but the sole Jewish nation state. And they have adopted the talking points of an internationally recognised, and utterly barbaric, terrorist group. This is an organisation which delights in the murder of Jews, and which sees the death of its own as a PR-coup. These protesters are not moderates even on the Palestinian spectrum of opinion, let alone the British spectrum of opinion. They are bona fide extremists, happy to align themselves with the Hamas position.
The anti-Israel boycott movement that I witnessed is not about peace; it’s not about human rights; it’s not about effecting positive change. It is instead driven by a truly deranged hatred of Israel.