Wednesday, July 24, 2024 | 20:02 WIB

The Gaza war calls into question the moral rectitude of Western democracies


Nevertheless, Israel’s successful effort, aided by Western politicians, to impose its narrative on public debate has undermined freedom of expression in democracies and elevated support of Israel to the status of loyalty to one’s own country. 

It turns on its head the anti-Semitic allegation that Jews cannot be trusted because they have double loyalties to their country of origin and Israel. 

A recent survey of 963 scholars, two thirds of whom are based in the United States, illustrated the impact of the Israeli effort. 

Eighty-two per cent of all US-based respondents said they self-censor when they speak about the Israeli-Palestinian issue. That figure rose to 98 percent among more junior assistant professors. 

Just over 81 per cent of those self-censoring said they primarily refrained from criticising Israel, while 11 percent said they held back from criticizing Palestinians. 

Moreover, Israel has managed to enshrine the limiting or banning of criticism of the Jewish state and anti-Israeli activism in the laws and regulations of Western democracies. 

Twenty-seven US states have adopted laws or policies that penalize businesses, organizations, or individuals that engage in or call for boycotts against Israel. 

The German parliament condemned as anti-Semitic the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctins (BDS) movement that calls for economic pressure on Israel to end the occupation of Palestinian land, grant Arab citizens equal rights, and recognize Palestinian refugees’ right of return. 

Israel views the call for the right of return as a veiled quest for the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state because Jews would no longer be a majority. 

While having merit in the past, the argument increasingly rings hollow with Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territory threatening the viability of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. 

Doubts about the feasibility of a two-state solution have revived debate about one state in which Jews and Palestinians would have equal rights. 

Responding to the Israeli concern, the German state of Saxony-Anhalt decided by ministerial decree that applicants for German citizenship must declare their support for Israel’s right to exist. The Bundestag, the German parliament is considering making the requirement mandatory nationwide. 

Read: Gaza War Calls Middle East De-Escalation Into Question

Although the German measures may be explained in part by what The New Yorker describes as the “politics of memory” of the Holocaust, they, like the steps taken by US states, amount to an undefendable restriction on freedom of expression. 

Moreover, criticism of anti-BDS moves does not by definition constitute support for a boycott of Israel. It is, first and foremost, a defense of freedom of choice, including the freedom to choose whose products one buys, with whom one does business, and what one invests in. It is also a defence of democracy. 

“The unprecedented carnage in Israel and Palestine is having repercussions in the United States, testing pillars of democracy including the fundamental human rights to free speech and assembly,” warned Human Rights Watch’s US program director Tanya Greene.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture.


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