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Boycotting Israeli settlements is antisemitic, says US envoy

Elan Carr, who was tasked by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to identify groups that support BDS, says hatred for Israel is 'hatred for the Jewish people'
US special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism says it is "flatly wrong" to deny that Israel has right to West Bank (AFP/File photo)
By Ali Harb in Washington

Boycotting Israel's illegal West Bank settlements is antisemitic, the US special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism said on Friday, claiming that anti-Zionism is a form of antisemitism.

In a virtual interview with the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington-based think-tank, envoy Elan Carr reiterated the US State Department stance that boycotting businesses in Palestinian territories controlled by Israel is a form of bigotry against the Jewish people.

He was specifically addressing the issues of settlements in response to a question sent by Middle East Eye. 

The US diplomat suggested that the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is bigoted because it targets Israel while ignoring other countries that abuse human rights - an argument often dismissed by Palestinian rights advocates as a form of "whataboutism".

"Boycotts, isolation, de-legitimization, that's not the way you get peace. That's not the way you solve any conflict in the world. And so those who want to boycott Israel in effect are isolating Israel, and that's not coexistence. That's not peace. That's not how you get to a better world. That's the tactical side," Carr said.

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"Now, let's talk about antisemitism. Why is it that we say very clearly now, BDS is a manifestation of antisemitism - then we define BDS, by the way, as boycotts not only of Israel, but of territories that Israel controls - because typically these boycotters of Israel don't boycott anybody else. And you know, there are horrendous human rights abusers in the world. Israel is not one of them." 

'Antisemitism, pure and simple'

Last month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a decree labelling Israel BDS a "manifestation of antisemitism". He also tasked Carr with identifying groups that boycott Israel or territories that the Israeli government controls in order to deprive them of any US funding.

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On Friday, Carr went on to say that people calling for boycotts of Israel do not call for boycotting governments with records of human rights violations, including Iran and China.

In reality, many groups have called for boycotting Chinese products and events over Beijing's abuses against Uighur Muslims, while Iran is under severe US sanctions that prohibit most forms of trade with Iranian businesses. 

Moreover, boycotts are not an uncommon form of political expression in the United States. For example, the feminist anti-war group Code Pink has an initiative for boycotting Saudi Arabia. Leading human rights defenders called for a boycott of the G-20 summit in the kingdom over the imprisonment of activists and dissidents.

BDS is modelled after the boycott campaign against apartheid in South Africa

On Friday, Carr said debating the legitimacy of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, which he called by its biblical name "Judea and Samaria," is not inherently antisemitic, even though he remarked that denying Israeli claims to the Palestinian territory is "flatly wrong".

"But when you start to say don't buy from Jews, buy from Arabs next door, but don't buy from Jews, while at the same time not boycotting anyone else, not concerned with territorial disputes anywhere else in the world... and you focus on the one Jewish state -  there's only one of those - the one Jewish state, target Israel for unique opprobrium and sanctions and boycotts, well that's antisemitism, pure and simple," he added.


Carr also stated unequivocally that there is no difference between antisemitism and anti-Zionism. "We've been very clear that hatred of the Jewish state is hatred of the Jewish people," he said.

Many Palestinian rights defenders argue that a Jewish state inevitably undermines the rights of non-Jews, not only in areas under occupation but also Palestinian citizens of Israel. 

Some advocates call for a single democratic state for Israelis and Palestinians that ensures the equality as well as the religious and civil rights of all citizens.

Proponents of a two-state solution have rejected the Pompeo State Department's policies towards the conflict. The US administration's critics have pushed back against its anti-BDS efforts, not only because of the threat they pose to free speech, but also for blurring the line between Israel and the Palestinian and Arab territories that it occupies.

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Leading human rights organisations have denounced businesses that operate in Israeli settlements in violation of international law. 

Late in 2016, the UN Security Council condemned Israel's West Bank settlements, calling them a "flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle" to peace.

Jonathan Kuttab, a Palestinian-American attorney specialising in international law, called the anti-BDS campaign a "deliberate effort" to prevent non-violent opposition to the occupation.

"They want to make the occupation so standard, so legal, so legitimate that those who question the legality of the settlements become themselves under attack; they become themselves criminal; they're called antisemitic; their activity is called hate speech," Kuttab told MEE last month. 

"It's a way of turning international law on its head."

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