Chomsky bashes BDS tactics modeled on South Africa

Academic says campaign could backfire without US sanctions, claims Palestinians worse off than South Africans

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

US academic Noam Chomsky (photo credit: AP/Nader Daoud)
US academic Noam Chomsky (photo credit: AP/Nader Daoud)

US academic Noam Chomsky decried the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement’s tactics against Israel, arguing that the organizers fail to account for the dearth of international sanctions, and specifically the continued cash flow from the US.

In an op-ed for The Nation, published Wednesday, the public intellectual and vociferous critic of Israel said with regard to the movement, “The necessary educational work has not been done,” and stressed that some of its main goals could ultimately backfire.

The BDS movement would be more aptly named the BD movement, Chomsky writes, “since sanctions, or state actions, are not on the horizon — one of the many significant differences from South Africa.”

The lack of US pressure on Israel undermines the “dubious” analogy drawn between Israel and South Africa, he writes, as in the latter case the sanctions preceded the boycott and divestment measures. Furthermore, the flaws in the analogy are more far-reaching since: ” In the occupied territories, the situation is far worse than it was in South Africa, where the white nationalists needed the black population: It was the country’s workforce, and as grotesque as the bantustans were, the nationalist government devoted resources to sustaining and seeking international recognition for them. In sharp contrast, Israel wants to rid itself of the Palestinian burden. The road ahead is not toward South Africa, as commonly alleged, but toward something much worse.”

Addressing Secretary of State John Kerry’s assertion months ago — later retracted after facing severe backlash — that Israel was headed toward an apartheid state if it didn’t reach a peace accord, Chomsky wrote that “this common belief is a mirage.

“As long as the United States supports Israel’s expansionist policies, there is no reason to expect them to cease. Tactics have to be designed accordingly,” he added.

With regard to ties between Israel and the US, Chomsky said “the United States should also be condemned and punished for providing the decisive military, economic, diplomatic and even ideological support for these crimes.”

Chomsky admonished the BDS movement for some of its policies that focus on boycotts within Israel’s internationally recognized borders, which he said have seen “near-uniform failure” since it “opens the door to the standard ‘glass house” reaction: For example, if we boycott Tel Aviv University because Israel violates human rights at home, then why not boycott Harvard because of far greater violations by the United States?

“Failed initiatives harm the victims doubly — by shifting attention from their plight to irrelevant issues… and by wasting current opportunities to do something meaningful,” Chomsky added.

Chomsky is a fierce critic of the US government and Israel, which banned him in 2010. Last year, during his first visit to the Gaza Strip, he called on Israel to end its blockade of the territory run by the Islamic terrorist group Hamas.

AP contributed to this report.

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