Casting Jewish-American boycott activists as hypocrites

Israel’s top weekend news show forgets about journalistic integrity when painting American Jewish supporters of the BDS movement as hypocritical, ungrateful and misinformed. 

Jewish Voice for Peace activists protest the Veolia transportation company for operating bus lines serving settlements in the West Bank, Boston, November 14, 2012. (Tess Scheflan/ Activestills.org)
Jewish Voice for Peace activists protest the Veolia transportation company for operating bus lines serving settlements in the West Bank, Boston, November 14, 2012. (Tess Scheflan/ Activestills.org)

Last Friday, Channel 2’s popular weekend news show, “Ulpan Shishi,” ran a report by senior anchor Danny Kushmaro, who traveled to the United States to interview the Jews behind the boycott Israel movement [Hebrew]. Why Jews, specifically? Because Kushmaro believes Jews must have a special connection to Israel.

In fact, the report also included interviews with Israel-loving Jews, as well as a reminder to the viewers that prominent American Jews donate money to NYU, which, of course, is a reason why the university should support Israel. He also speaks nostalgically about the Rothschild family, which was known for its “Jewish philanthropy and investment in Israel.”

But when American Jews’ “special relationship” to Israel turns into a platform for criticism, Kushmaro draws the line. When Alice Rothschild, a Jewish activist against the occupation who lives in Boston, says she does not want to donate to Israel like other members of her family and that she boycotts and criticizes the country, Kushmaro accuses her of hypocrisy for singling out Israel.

When Rothschild says that she cares about Israel and is worried about the direction it is going, Kushmaro interrupts: “You will tell us what the right way is? You, living in the comfort of Boston, will tell us what the right way is?!” It turns out that only a multi-billionaire from the comfort of Las Vegas who funds the prime minister — along with the most widely-read newspaper in Israel and a number of other American politicians — can tell us what the right way is. It turns out that only members of AIPAC, who live in the comfort of Washington D.C. and try to ensure continued U.S. support of Israel can tell Israelis what the right way is.

Why us?

Kushmaro attacks Rothschild and reminds viewers of American support for other countries. Channel 2 even went so far as to create an infographic showing a map of several countries that receive aid from the U.S. Afghanistan tops the list with $13 billion, $1.5 billion goes to Egypt, while half a billion dollars go to South Sudan and the Palestinian Authority, respectively.

But there is something strange about this map: Israel is not mentioned. Why? Doesn’t Kushmaro wants to compare Israel to these other countries, to show that we are all given equal support, which means we should all be criticized equally.

Participants in the Open Hillel Conference, Harvard University. (photo: Gili Getz)
Participants in the Open Hillel Conference, Harvard University. (photo: Gili Getz)

But that’s just the thing. For years Israel has received more aid from the U.S. than any other country, and according to Congressional statistics, it received 55 percent of all U.S. foreign aid (it is unclear which years the statistics refer to, although it is undeniable that Israel has received over $100 billion of aid from the Americans). Today, only Afghanistan receives more aid from the U.S.

But remember, these are statistics from 2014, the year the U.S. (officially) ended its war in Afghanistan, which was also the longest war the U.S. has ever fought. It is not surprising that huge sums of money were spent there. Kushmaro, however, prefers not to mention this.

What does anti-Semitism have to do with it?

Kushmaro’s report is one of many in the Israeli media whose headlines almost always read: “The Jews/Israelis who are behind the boycott.”

These reports all take part in the Israeli media’s original sin: blindness toward Palestinians. Because no matter how sexy and dramatic it sounds, Israelis and American Jews aren’t the ones “behind the boycott.” Behind the boycott stand Palestinians. The same people who live under a military regime in the West Bank, under Israeli and Egyptian siege in Gaza, in refugee camps across the Arab world or as second-class citizens inside Israel. The boycott is a political tool to resist this situation; Danny Kushmaro chooses to ignore this fact throughout the entire report.

Like BDS leader Omar Barghouti recently told +972, the boycott movement is a Palestinian one, but it has an increasing amount of Jewish supporters. And that’s just the thing: they are supporters.

Those same supporters from Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) who appear in Kushmaro’s report, openly state that their Jewish identity and values push them to support justice, equality and peace. These people certainly do not “hate themselves” — they are proud of themselves.

Illustrative photo of BDS Movement co-founder Omar Barghouti in Brussels, April 30, 2015. (Photo by intal.be / CC 2.0)
Illustrative photo of BDS Movement co-founder Omar Barghouti in Brussels, April 30, 2015. (Photo by intal.be / CC 2.0)

So why does Kushmaro tie them to rising anti-Semitism? At one point, Kushmaro interviews a professor of Jewish studies who explains that there is an increase in anti-Semitism in the U.S., and that Jewish students are forbidden from sitting on student councils in different schools across the country.

Anti-Semitism certainly exists in the United States, and there are anti-Semites who criticize Israel and support the call for boycott. The BDS movement, like nearly any movement, includes racist and ignorant people who hold a shallow, uncritical view of the world. Anti-Semitism must be denounced wherever it is found, and the anti-occupation movement must do all it can to eradicate it. There is no doubt about that.

But what does anti-Semitism have to do with educated, articulate, and knowledgable American Jews (some of whom even lived in Israel) who support the boycott? Are they the ones preventing Jewish students from sitting on student councils? Of course not.

Hasbara disguised as journalism

In one of the report’s more dramatic moments, Rothschild tells Kushmaro about her visit to Gaza after the war, and how she was shocked by the utter devastation she witnessed. Journalistically speaking, this was a special moment. How often does a leading news anchor in Israel get to meet people who were in Gaza? How many opportunities does he have to hear about what happened during the war from the point of view of someone who saw the Strip from the inside?

Channel 2 itself barely showed what was happening inside Gaza during Operation Protective Edge, so much so that the Prime Minister’s Office even called the station and begged it to show more images of destruction, so that Israelis would know that the military was doing its job.

But Kushmaro does not ask Rothschild about her experiences. He does not try to find out how those experiences affected her. He immediately goes on the attack, making sure she understands that “we” never wanted the war, and — like the best of Israel’s spokespeople — does not even stop to think about how we could have prevented it, not to mention minimized casualties. In fact, while Rothschild speaks about the destruction she witnessed, the screen shows Qassam rockets being launched, as if this is the only illustrative photo that befits last summer’s war.

When Rothschild says that parts of Hamas have expressed support for an agreement with Israel based on ’67 borders, Kushmaro makes a face that cannot be described as anything but scornful — as if Rothschild just landed from the moon, while acting as if he himself has never heard about similar proposals by Hamas.

Kushmaro speaks about Israeli policies as belonging to the collective “we.” “You are boycotting me,” he accuses Rothschild, despite the fact that she is doing the exact opposite by meeting with him. This isn’t a journalistic interview by any stretch of the imagination. This is an emissary of hasbara speaking on behalf of the state.

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