By Lawrence Davidson
Part I – Slander
On 24 April 2012 the New York Times (NYT) lent its editorial page to the propaganda of right- wing Zionist David Horowitz, thereby taking the "newspaper of record" down into the gutter for the price of a quarter-page advertisement. The ad , which purported to be "a public service" by the David Horowitz Freedom Center, told the following libelous story:
"The Holocaust began with boycotts of Jewish stores and ended with death camps. The calls for a new Holocaust can be heard throughout the Middle East and Europe as well. In the wake of the murders of a rabbi and three children in Toulouse, it is time for the supporters of the Boycott, Divest and Sanction Israel movement (BDS) to ask themselves what they did to contribute to the atmosphere of hate that spawned these and other murders of Jews."
What is wrong with this story?
1. The analogy of BDS with "boycotts of Jewish stores" is (no doubt purposely) misleading. The Boycott movement is directed against Israel as a racist state and the economic and social agents (Jewish and non-Jewish) who support it. If you want a proper analogy to BDS, it is the effort by Jewish and other groups before and during World War II to organize boycotts of Nazi Germany. The notion that the BDS boycotts lead to death camps is fantasy. Whatever the crazy logic of the Nazis on the one hand and David Horowitz on the other, the BDS movement is an effort to prevent persecution and not to promote it.
2. The notion that the BDS movement either "calls for a new Holocaust" or is associated with those supposedly doing so, is nonsense. In reality it is the right-wing Israeli fanatics who are calling for, and actually carrying out their own version of a holocaust against the Palestinians. In the place of concentration camps they have created ghettos and Bantustans. In place of gas chambers they have promoted homelessness, cultural genocide and periodic pogroms. Indeed, the same week Mr. Horowitz placed his ad, Israel launched 57 military raids into Palestinian territory resulting in multiple injuries and death, destroyed at least 13 Palestinian shelters while beginning construction on 20 illegal settler houses. Yet the perpetrators of these crimes persist in portraying themselves as victims because once, under completely different historical circumstances, their ancestors were victims. But that was in the past. In the present the Zionists are the culprits and BDS seeks to bring out this tragic and ironic fact.
3. It is a gross misrepresentation to accuse those supporting BDS of contributing to "the atmosphere of hate that spawned…murder of Jews." The BDS campaign has nothing to do with this atmosphere, but the actions of the Israeli leadership has everything to do with it. With the Zionist persecution of the Palestinians on-going one does not need a boycott movement to explain the upswing of anger. Some may unfortunately fail to make the proper distinction between political Zionists and Jews in general, just like Horowitz and his ilk fail to make the distinction between terrorists and Palestinians in general. Yet, if the Israeli leaders and their supporters want to know where this anger is coming from, they need look no further than their own behavior.
However, they refuse to look. Instead they attempt to confuse matters and shift the blame from fanatic Zionist settlers and racist Israeli politicians onto those who would publicly expose the viciousness of Israeli policies. That is one of the aims of the Horowitz ad in the New York Times and it pursues it in very specific ad hominem fashion. When in November 1938 the Nazis launched the pogroms which became known as Kristallnacht, they painted Jewish stars on the sites to be attacked. In a similar way Horowitz seeks to identify and label those he wishes to be "publically shamed and condemned." What does that mean? Should they lose their jobs just like the Jews who were forced out of their occupations by the Nazis? Should they be segregated out and impoverished like Palestinians? Perhaps Mr Horowitz would applaud physical attacks? Just how Nazi-like does he wish the situation to get?
Part II – The New York Times
William Thomson of the University of Michigan, one of fourteen academics slandered by the Horowitz advertisement, notes that "groups and individuals will resort to unfounded character assassination and ad hominem attacks when reasoned discussion is beyond their abilities." However, the country’s major national newspaper is not suppose to be an accomplice in such attacks. Yet, that is the case.
Ali Abunimah has pointed out that the New York Times has "advertising acceptability guidelines" which require advertisements to "comply with its (the NYT’s) standards of decency and dignity" and not be "misleading, inaccurate or fraudulent." Horowitz’s offering is blatantly all of this. Yet there it was, in the April 24th edition of the "paper of record." Of course Horowitz’s propaganda was placed on the editorial page and not identified as an ad. What are we to make of this? It seems clear that the editors actually believe that the piece meets their standards of acceptability. But is the NYT also telling us that this libel is an acceptable editorial? The entire affair calls into question (not for the first time) the judgment of the people who run this famous newspaper.
Paper III – Conclusion
David Horowitz probably wrote this propaganda piece not only to shift blame, but also to scare people. To frighten those named and scare off others from getting involved in the BDS movement. Yet he may well have overstepped and made himself the subject of critical attention rather than those he rails against. That is what happens when your message reflects a viewpoint that is ideologically driven and fanatical. Cast this viewpoint in a more normal light and it looks weird and distorted.
The 19th century British essayist William Hazlitt once remarked that prejudice can only be convincing when it can pass itself off as reason. This is Horowitz’s rather gross effort to do just that. But identifying those opposed to Israeli behavior with Nazis is wildly unreasonable. Hopefully, at this stage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, most Americans recognize this to be so.