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Why Boycott Israel?

By Richard Cohen

In Iran, the government overturned the convictions of six men who, among other things, killed a young couple because they were walking together in public. In China, local authorities seized about 60 women and forcibly aborted their pregnancies. In Russia, the Putin government expanded its control of the media. In Cuba ... oh, well, you already know. But what you may not know is that given such a vast palate of injustice and depredations, the British National Union of Journalists made a truly original move: It singled out Israel to boycott.

The boycott, mind you, is not a journalistic one. Instead, it will extend to lemons and melons and that sort of thing. The boycott was issued as "a gesture of support for the Palestinian people,'' some of whom, as it happens, are holding captive a BBC correspondent, Alan Johnston. His execution has been claimed by one group, although no proof has been offered. Suffice it to say the situation is dire.

What possessed the journalist union's board -- in a 66-54 vote -- to take such action? The question is worth posing because it followed a similar vote last year by British academics (later rescinded) to avoid, under pain of death or something, their Israeli colleagues. And, more important, it is yet another bleat, in Europe and in this country, from people and organizations that, for good reasons and bad, have simply had it with Israel. Why won't the pushy Jewish state shape up?

In some sense, it is a fair enough question. The wrongful and counterproductive occupation of the West Bank is now in its 40th year. Settlements continue to go up, and the government of Ehud Olmert, weak and hapless, is unable or unwilling to contain them. The government proved its incompetence in the Lebanon war of summer past, managing to enhance Hezbollah's standing and not managing to retrieve the two captured soldiers in whose name the war was launched in the first place. For Israel -- but really for Lebanese civilians most of all -- the war was a disaster.

But Sudan kills by the score in Darfur and Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe beats his opponents to a pulp, and in almost all of the Arab world there is no such thing as freedom of the press. In Israel, there not only is, but the press is as rambunctious as can be found anywhere.

The British journalists say they are moved by the plight of the Palestinian people and they are right to be. But the misery of a Gazan or a West Banker is not solely Israel's doing. The government of Gaza is the political arm of a terrorist organization and if the West Bank is suffering -- and it is -- the cause is not only Israeli land lust but also a morbid fear of terrorism. British journalists would no doubt approve similar measures if London's city buses had not once, but repeatedly, been blown to smithereens by passengers with the exact fare and a belt of explosives.

So what explains this fury at Israel -- and only at Israel? What explains this need to denounce, to boycott? Some of it surely comes from the uncritical support that Israel gets from the United States, which to lefties all over the world is a vile state, maybe worthy -- if it were not for jeans, movies and hip-hop -- of a boycott itself.

Some of it no doubt reflects frustration from the efforts of Jewish organizations to suffocate any criticism of Israel and to hurl the epithet "anti-Semite'' at anyone with an odd bent to his thinking. But some of it, surely, is anti-Semitism itself, a rage at the impudent, pushy Jew and this state created in the midst of the Arab world. Forgotten, conveniently and appallingly, is history itself and the reason for Israel's creation. This does not excuse injustice to Palestinians, it merely explains. But it is an explanation so soaked with the blood of Jews as to seem utterly concocted: It cannot be! But it was.

The British journalists, like the academics before them, dare to tread where an army of goons has gone before. If they do not recognize the ember of anti-Semitism still glowing within them, they ought to park themselves before a mirror and ask why, of all the nations, do they single out Israel for reprimand and obloquy? This business of assigning to Jews a special burden, for seeing in them both more of mankind's bad qualities and less of its good, has a dark and ugly pedigree: the Chosen People, again -- and again in the wrong way.

(c) 2007, Washington Post Writers Group

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