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The menacing truth about the ‘boycott Israel’ campaigns

The calls to erase every trace of the Jewish State are deeply sinister.

Daniel Ben-Ami

Topics Politics World

A man goes into a store to buy a can of Pepsi. The proceeds of the sale go through a chain of cash-thumbing, financial intermediaries. Eventually the money is handed over to someone to pay for the manufacture of a missile. The missile is fitted on to a combat aircraft, which closes in on its target. Eventually the missile locks on to a (presumably) Palestinian child. As it explodes, the word ‘boycott’ flashes up on screen.

This video, distributed on X by Palestine Online, is just one of countless anti-Israel clips on social media. But it bears closer examination as it helps to illustrate the nature of contemporary anti-Semitism. Here, as in many other cases today, Jews are not overtly identified. There is not even an explicit mention of Israel. Instead, the video assumes the target viewer will recognise the not-so-subtle anti-Semitic pointers, such as references to financial speculation and the age-old ‘blood libel’ of child murder. Not identifying Jews directly also gives some degree of deniability to anyone who wants to claim they are not anti-Semitic.

That’s not to downplay the existence of overt anti-Semitism. This has increased dramatically since 7 October. In the past few days alone, an Orthodox Jewish man has been stabbed in Zurich while another was beaten outside a Paris synagogue. But a great deal of Jew hatred still tends to take a disguised form.

Its most common manifestation, as the ‘boycott’ Pepsi video indicates, is an animus towards Israel. An animus that long predates its current war with Hamas. In the warped view of anti-Israel activists, Israel is the epitome of evil. It is said to be manipulating finance for its own ends and slaughtering children. Supposedly, it is a ‘genocidal’, ‘apartheid’ state – morally charged terms that tend not to be applied to other nations.

Seeing Israel as evil incarnate, today’s anti-Israel activists target its every manifestation. They try to cancel Israeli dance companies in New York. They demand Israel’s expulsion from the Eurovision song contest. And they attempt to banish it from the Olympics and the football World Cup. In short, they seek to erase Israel from the world. That is the true meaning of today’s boycott campaigns. To purge the world of any Israeli presence. To eradicate any signs of Israeli culture.

Sometimes, anti-Israel individuals take matters into their own hands. That was presumably what happened when a UK civil servant recently crossed out Israel as the place of a father’s birth on an application for a British passport.

All this still leaves the question as to why iconic brands such as Pepsi often face the ire of anti-Israel campaigners. Barclays, McDonald’s, Starbucks and Zara have no special connections to Israel. But, as international firms, they do have operations or sell products there. And that is enough for them to face protests and boycotts by campaigners who accuse them of ‘profiting from the genocide of the Palestinian people’.

This all speaks to an incredibly conspiratorial mindset in which Jews supposedly dominate the world through their control of international finance (a view propagated by Hitler in Mein Kampf, as well as by many other anti-Semites). Indeed, for European anti-Semites in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the international networks associated with finance – and indeed modernity itself – were seen as somehow Jewish in character. From this unhinged premise, they drew the conclusion that Jews somehow needed to be purged. That Jews should be sacked from senior positions, that Jewish businesses should be boycotted. Eventually the full genocidal conclusions of this approach were drawn out in the Nazis’ Final Solution.

Today, activists focus on those who are Israeli or are deemed to have Israeli connections. In the form of Israel, Jews are once again perceived to be the epitome of evil in the world. And once again they are faced with a political movement, in this case Hamas, which openly pledges to destroy them. This murderous Islamist group has plenty of support in the West, too.

Amid the calls to boycott Israel, to erase all trace of Israel from culture, sport and beyond, it is hard not to be reminded of the horribly prophetic words of 19th-century German writer Heinrich Heine: ‘Wherever they burn books they will also, in the end, burn human beings.’ When, in 1933, the Nazis actually started burning books, many were written by Jewish authors, including Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud and Franz Kafka. Just a few years later, the Nazis started incinerating actual Jews.

The warning signs are there right now. We need to see the increasingly strident calls to boycott Israel, to erase its presence, for what they are. A threat to Jews everywhere.

Daniel Ben-Ami is an author and journalist. He runs the website Radicalism of Fools, dedicated to rethinking anti-Semitism. Follow him on Twitter: @danielbenami

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Topics Politics World

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