Anti-Israel activists are much more guilty of “washing” abominable practices than Israel.
When the Israeli government or Israel’s supporters promote some of the best aspects of Israeli society their main concern is that it comes across as a normal nation. In contrast, activists in the Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement all too often help to whitewash the murderous practices of Islamic fundamentalist movements.
Take, for example, the accusations that Israel is “pinkwashing” in presenting Tel Aviv as a gay-friendly city. It is hard to imagine how Israel can win either way. If it was viciously anti-gay then it would be – rightly – criticised. But, since it has a relatively tolerant attitude to gay rights, it is in effect condemned for that instead.
It is of course true that Israel’s supporters sometimes use its generally relaxed attitude towards homosexuality to help project a positive image in the West. But it is far from alone in trying to use cultural “soft power” to help present itself in a good light.
Richer countries do that on a far larger scale. Think, for instance, of the British Council, Germany’s Goethe Institut or the Institut Francais. Their role is precisely to project “soft power” on behalf of their country.
In fact BDS activists have pathologised Israel’s involvement in a wide range of normal activities. This involves using terms such as artwashing, greenwashing (weaponising environmentalism), purplewashing (appealing to women’s rights and feminism) and sportswashing .
The activities these refer to are generally a normal part of life in democratic societies. Engaging in art and sport are generally seen as positive activities. And green campaigning or supporting women’s rights is usually viewed as within the realm of democratic discourse (I am a critic of green politics but I would not dream of undermining debate on the topic). Yet when Israelis engage in them their activity is tainted as somehow illegitimate.
This is in line with the trend to judge Israel by double standards. The labelling of Israel as an “apartheid state” – even when human rights organisations accept it does not resemble the old discriminatory regime in South Africa – is another good example. Whatever Israel does is regarded, almost by definition, as fundamentally illegitimate.
In contrast, many BDS activists, and indeed woke activists more generally, refuse to discuss the dangers associated with political Islam. Anyone who raises such problems is likely to find themselves condemned by the catch-all category of Islamophobia. This is a term that muddles together attacks on Muslim individuals or communities (which clearly should be condemned), challenging Islam as a religion and criticism of Islamist movements.
This is despite the fact that Islamist movements, such as Hamas and Islamic State, are often avowedly genocidal. Also, as it happens, homosexuals typically face criminal sanctions or worse under the rule of such movements.
BDS activists, whatever their intentions, are at the forefront of helping to keep murderous organisations such as Hamas looking relatively respectable. Their opposition to Israel is so blinkered they cannot see the immense harm they are doing to the cause of freedom more broadly.