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Ignorance of history

Claims made by Democratic New York City mayoral candidate, Andrew Yang, in a recent op-ed in the Jewish weekly, ‘The Forward’, point to the prevailing ignorance that continues to dominate the US discourse on Palestine and Israel.

Yang, a former Democratic Presidential candidate, is vying for the Jewish vote in New York City. According to the reductionist assumption that all Jews must naturally support Israel and Zionism, Yang constructed an argument that is entirely based on a tired and false mantra equating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism.

Yang’s pro-Israel logic is not only unfounded, but confused as well. “A Yang administration will push back against the BDS movement which singles out Israel for unfair economic punishment,” he wrote, referring to the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

Yang compared the BDS movement to the “fascist boycotts of Jewish businesses”, most likely a reference to the infamous Nazi boycott of Jewish businesses in Germany of 1933. Not only does Yang fail to construct his argument in any historically defensible fashion, he claims that BDS is “rooted in anti-Semitic thought and history.”

BDS is, in fact, rooted in history, not that of Nazi Germany, but of the Palestinian General Strike of 1936, when the Palestinian Arab population took collective action to hold colonial Britain accountable for its unfair and violent treatment of Palestinian Muslims and Christians. Instead of helping Palestine achieve full sovereignty, colonial Britain backed the political aspirations of White European Zionists who aimed to establish a ‘Jewish homeland’ in Palestine.

Sadly, the efforts of the Palestinian natives failed, and the new State of Israel became a reality in 1948, after nearly one million Palestinian refugees were uprooted and ethnically cleansed as a result of a decidedly violent campaign, the aftershocks of which continue to this day. Indeed, today’s ongoing military occupation and apartheid are all rooted in that tragic history. This is the reality that the boycott movement is fighting to change. No anti-Semitic, Nazi – or, according to Yang’s ahistorical account, ‘fascist’ – love affair is at work here; just a beleaguered and oppressed nation fighting for its most basic human rights.

Yang’s ignorant and self-serving comments were duly answered most appropriately, including by many anti-Zionist Jewish intellectuals and activists throughout the US and the world. Alex Kane, a writer in ‘Jewish Currents’ tweeted that Yang made “a messed up, wrong comparison”, and that the politician “comes across as deeply ignorant about Palestine, Palestinians and BDS”. US Muslim Congresswoman, Ilhan Omar, and the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) added their voices to numerous others, all pointing to Yang’s opportunism, lack of understanding of history and distorted logic.

But this goes beyond Yang, as the debate over BDS in the US is almost entirely rooted in fallacious comparisons and ignorance of history.

Ramzy Baroud, "Ignorance of history," The News. 2021-02-12.
Keywords: Political science , European Zionists , Political aspirations , Economic punishment , Military occupation , Human rights , Andrew Yang , Ilhan Omar , Israel , Palestine