Menachem Kellner: “Resisting Falsehood and Protecting”- A Reply to Omar Barghouti’s :”Resisting Israeli Apartheid: Why the Academic and Cultural Boycott?

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Omar Barghouti’s call for an academic and cultural boycott, “Resisting Israeli Apartheid: Why the Academic and Cultural Boycott?” is a sustained attempt to demonize Israel, intended to bring about its destruction.

I shall reply to Mr. Barghouti’s essay calling for an academic and cultural boycott of Israel. At the outset, let me grant him one important point. If, for a moment, I believed that Israel was as bad as he describes, I would support his call for a boycott. Unlike many of my colleagues, I do not believe that such boycotts are never justified. But I do believe that such boycotts are destructive of the trust upon which the scientific endeavor must be based, and may be used only in the most extreme cases and if there is some reasonable expectation that they will accomplish something positive. So, the question between us boils down to the following: is Israel the evil incarnate that Mr. Barghouti pretends it to be — or not?

Mr. Barghouti seeks to convince his readers that Israeli Jews are inveterate racists, and that Israel is an apartheid state. In the space allotted to me, I cannot possibly correct all of the deceptive falsehoods he uses — as the Hebrew expression has it, it is easier to throw mud than clean it up. By characterizing more accurately than Mr. Barghouti the true nature and history of the Israel-Palestine conflict, and then addressing his two main charges, racism and apartheid, I will undermine his call for a boycott.


Reading Omar Barghouti’s essay brought to mind a series of experiences I had when serving as Dean of Students at the University of Haifa in the 1990’s. I used to organize various sorts of Arab-Jewish dialogues and discussions. Conducted by persons of good will from both communities, the discussions invariably foundered on questions of perception and context. Arab students saw themselves as a beleaguered minority on a campus in which roughly 80% of the students were Jewish (about the same ratio as in the general population), at which the language of instruction was not their own, and in a country which seemed to them to field a huge and frightening army. The Jewish students saw themselves as a beleaguered and threatened minority in a Middle East in which the vast majority of states not only refused to recognize Israel’s right to exist, but remained in a state of war with Israel, supported terror organizations which wrought death and destruction on Israelis in school, on buses, and in cafés, and which drew upon the support of a billion or so Muslims around the world. Even then, a period of relative peace and optimism with the Oslo process in full swing, Jews and Arabs each saw themselves as victims of the other. Over the last seven years, since the late (unlamented by me) Yasir Arafat launched the so-called ‘al-Aksa Intifada’ [2] the situation has grown markedly worse, and the conflict of perceptions has grown deeper. Over these same years, my own perception of the world has grown closer to that of those Jewish students whom only a decade ago I thought were paranoid. [3] Unlike the Arab students at the University of Haifa who sincerely sought for an honorable and constructive modus vivendi with their Jewish colleagues, Mr. Barghouti seeks for the utter destruction of Israel and has put together a pastiche of distortions to generate support for that aim among readers of his article. [4]

[1] My thanks to Paul Bogdanor, Harvey Chisick, Ofir Frankel, Linda Montag, Jonathan Rynhold, Wendy Sandler, Edwin Slonim, and especially Amy Rosenbaum.

[2] I write “launched” and not “broke out” because of the widely accepted Palestinian claim that Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount (the holiest site for Jews as well as the location of the Al-Aksa mosque, third holiest site for Muslims) on September 28, 2000 was deliberately provocative, triggering the subsequent violence. Less well known is that Sharon’s visit occurred after assurances were made by Yasir Arafat to then-Prime Minister Barak that the visit would go smoothly as long as Sharon did not attempt to enter the mosques. Further, in a speech made in December 2000 by Imad Falouji, PA Communications Minister, Falouji explains that the violence had been pre-planned since Arafat’s return from Camp David in July, months before Sharon’s visit. (The speech can be viewed at The day before Sharon’s visit, IDF Sgt. David Biri was killed, arguably the start of the Intifada. Further on this, see Barry Rubin and Judith Colp Rubin, Yasir Arafat: A Political Biography (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), pp. 203-207.

[3] For an account of the changes in my thinking, see my essay, “Daniel Boyarin and the Herd of Independent Minds,” in Edward Alexander and Paul Bogdanor (eds.), The Jewish Divide Over Israel: Accusers and Defenders (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2006): 167-176. Other essays in this book refute charges brought against Israel by many of the people whom Mr. Barghouti cites as authorities, such as Ilan Pappe, Tanya Reinhart, and Noam Chomsky, among many others. See also:

[4] In what is arguably his most horrifically untrue statement, Mr. Barghouti avers that “Israel treated Palestinian children as dispensable creatures.” And the horror of it is only exceeded by its hypocrisy. If any group has treated Palestinian children as dispensable creatures, it is Palestinians. USA Today correspondent Jack Kelley reported: “Children serve as infantry in the confrontations between Israeli and Palestinian soldiers. In scenes reminiscent of Iranian children sent to the Iraqi front equipped with plastic keys to heaven, Palestinian children are sent close to Israeli positions with rocks and molotov cocktails, while the gunmen and snipers fire from positions hundreds of yards back” (10/23/00). The Jordanian newspaper “Al-Rai” (citing an interview with the Kuwaiti newspaper “Al-Zaman” on June 20, 2002), quotes Abu Mazen, then deputy chairman of the Palestinian authority, who spoke of how Palestinian children are being exploited into carrying out terror attacks: ‘at least 40 children from the city of Raphah have lost their arms as a result of the explosions of pipe bombs. They received five Israeli shekels (about one US dollar) for throwing them.” The PA has provided children with military training. The New York Times reports that 25,000 children were trained in the summer of 2000 in PA camps in the use of firearms, the making of molotov cocktails, the methods of kidnapping Israeli leaders, and conducting ambushes (New York Times, 8/3/00). For other corrections to many of Mr. Barghouti’s incendiary claims, see the article by Amnon Rubinstein, cited below in note 24.

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Menachem Kellner: “Resisting Falsehood and Protecting”- A Reply to Omar Barghouti’s :”Resisting Israeli Apartheid: Why the Academic and Cultural Boycott?

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