Turn­ing a cor­ner

Kuwait Times - - Analysis - By Dr James J Zogby

US sup­port­ers of Is­rael are in a bind: Pub­lic opin­ion is chang­ing; there are more ac­tors pub­licly chal­leng­ing Is­rael; and the crude, heavy­handed tac­tics they have suc­cess­fully used in the past to si­lence crit­i­cism now only ag­gra­vate the sit­u­a­tion. A few ex­am­ples:

A few weeks back, Airbnb an­nounced that they would no longer list rental prop­er­ties lo­cated in the oc­cu­pied West Bank. The re­ac­tion in Is­rael and among its sup­port­ers in the US was pre­dictably hys­ter­i­cal. They termed the ac­tion taken by Airbnb as “an­tiSemitic”. Is­rael an­nounced that it would en­force its anti-boy­cott law by ban­ning Airbnb from op­er­at­ing any­where within the coun­try. And some Amer­i­can political lead­ers said that they would press US states that have passed their own anti-boy­cott leg­is­la­tion to also take ac­tion against Airbnb.

This Airbnb de­ci­sion and the re­ac­tion to it are in­struc­tive in that they bring to­gether a num­ber of is­sues that de­fine ex­actly where the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict is to­day. Some­times, in or­der to see an is­sue clearly, it is im­por­tant to re­duce it to its essence. In this in­stance, the om­nipresent, ever-com­i­cal Rabbi Sh­mu­ley Boteach pro­vided us with just such an ex­am­ple of the core Is­raeli ar­gu­ment against Airbnb in a costly full page news­pa­per ad this past week. More than just re­duc­ing Is­rael’s case to its essence, Boteach has re­vealed its ab­sur­dity.

The ad fea­tures an open­ing head­line call­ing “Airbnb: Anti-Semitic”, falsely claim­ing that the com­pany has “sin­gled out Jews for dis­crim­i­na­tion...de­lib­er­ately pun­ish­ing Jewish res­i­dents of Judea and Sa­maria based solely on their na­tion­al­ity, eth­nic­ity, and re­li­gion.” He then ac­cuses Airbnb of a dou­ble-stan­dard be­cause they haven’t delisted rental prop­er­ties in other oc­cu­pied ter­ri­to­ries, giv­ing these ex­am­ples: Turk­ish-oc­cu­pied Cyprus, Rus­sian-oc­cu­pied Crimea, or Chi­ne­seoc­cu­pied Ti­bet (an in­ter­est­ing im­plicit recog­ni­tion of Is­rael as an oc­cu­pier in the great com­pany of other oc­cu­piers!). The ad con­cludes with the stark black ban­ner stat­ing that “Boy­cotting Is­rael Is Anti-Semitic.”

The en­tire ad is a de­lib­er­ate dis­tor­tion of re­al­ity. Airbnb isn’t boy­cotting Is­rael or Jews. They still list rentals in Tel Aviv and a host of other Is­raeli cities, and they con­tinue to list rentals owned by Jews ev­ery­where in the world. What Airbnb has de­cided not to list are Jewish set­tler-owned prop­er­ties in oc­cu­pied Pales­tinian lands. And as for Is­rael’s ar­gu­ment that Airbnb is guilty of a dou­ble-stan­dard since the com­pany con­tin­ues to list prop­er­ties in other oc­cu­pied ter­ri­to­ries, there are two things to point out: (1) Airbnb has al­ready said that they were “eval­u­at­ing how we should treat list­ings in oc­cu­pied ter­ri­to­ries around the world,” and (2) in none of the cases cited by Boteach is there com­pa­ra­ble ev­i­dence that the rentals in ques­tion are owned by set­tlers liv­ing in il­le­gal de­vel­op­ments built on con­fis­cated lands.

In the end, how­ever, it’s not about the lies con­tained in this ad or any of the other ef­forts to com­bat Airbnb. What is im­por­tant is that in the face of de­clin­ing pub­lic sup­port and di­min­ish­ing ca­pac­ity to dom­i­nate the nar­ra­tive about the na­ture of their con­flict with the Pales­tini­ans, Is­raeli sup­port­ers are flail­ing about, strik­ing blindly at op­po­nents in their ef­fort to pum­mel into sub­mis­sion any­one who would dare to chal­lenge them.

The cam­paign against Airbnb is but one re­cent ex­am­ple. Here is an­other: Just last week, sig­nif­i­cant pres­sure was brought to bear on CNN, forc­ing them to fire one of their on-air political com­men­ta­tors, Dr Marc La­mont Hill. Hill’s “crime” was that upon his re­turn from a visit to oc­cu­pied Pales­tinian lands he spoke at the an­nual UN-spon­sored “In­ter­na­tional Day of Sol­i­dar­ity with the Pales­tinian Peo­ple”. Af­ter de­tail­ing the abuses of Pales­tinian rights he had wit­nessed, Hill con­cluded his speech with a call for a “free Pales­tine, from the river to the sea”.

While it was clear from the en­tirety of his re­marks that Hill was call­ing for jus­tice and equal rights for Is­raelis and Pales­tini­ans, sup­port­ers of Is­rael im­me­di­ately as­sumed the role of vic­tim and leapt to at­tack. Hill was de­nounced for “in­cit­ing vi­o­lence”, “call­ing for geno­cide”, “pro­mot­ing anti-Semitism” and more. In­stead of re­fut­ing these out­ra­geous charges and stand­ing by their com­men­ta­tor, CNN cow­ered and fired Hill. Shortly af­ter that, the Chair­man of the Board of Trustees of Tem­ple Univer­sity, where Hill is a pro­fes­sor, ac­cused Hill of “hate-speech” and floated the pos­si­bil­ity of fir­ing him.

These two cases - the de­ci­sion of a ma­jor com­pany to re­spect in­ter­na­tional law and a main­stream com­men­ta­tor speak­ing out for jus­tice - are but two ex­am­ples of the chang­ing political land­scape in the US. Polls show that Is­rael is los­ing ground in US pub­lic opin­ion - most es­pe­cially among the de­mo­graphic groups that form the Demo­cratic coali­tion (young peo­ple, “mi­nor­ity” com­mu­ni­ties, and ed­u­cated women).

In re­ac­tion, pro-Is­rael lobby groups, af­ter re­al­iz­ing that they are un­able to si­lence crit­ics by strik­ing out against them in­di­vid­u­ally as they speak out, are now try­ing to pass bills in Congress to pe­nal­ize and/or crim­i­nal­ize crit­i­cisms or ac­tions against Is­rael. The bills in ques­tion are: the Anti-Semitism Aware­ness Act (AAA) and the Is­rael Anti-Boy­cott Act (IABA). Should they pass Congress and be signed into law, a com­pany like Airbnb could be pe­nal­ized and a per­son like Marc La­mont Hill could be fired.

NOTE: Dr James J Zogby is the Pres­i­dent of the Arab Amer­i­can In­sti­tute

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