Cat Boyd

Cat Boyd

What Scotland Can Really Learn from the Israeli State

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In recent years advocates of closer ties between Scotland and Israel have increased their activities. Cat Boyd responds to a puff-piece from an Israeli official in the Herald.

On Tuesday (6 October), Herald readers were treated to a curious piece of pre-match propaganda ahead of Scotland’s tie with Israel last night. The article, written by Israeli ambassador Sharon Bar-Li, was a puff-piece rejoicing in the shared connections between the two nations.

A more critical editor in a more critical news environment may have asked, where does shared connection start becoming complicity?  In the recent past, Israel has accelerated its state expansion, annexation and ethnic oppression. Added to the usual litany of violations of international law, we have the growing abuse of Palestinians during the pandemic and the downgrading of Arabic to a special status language.

Put simply, Israel in 2020 is an ethnostate dominated by hard right political forces. Netanyahu himself admits as much. In March last year, he declared that Israel was “not a state of all its citizens” but rather the state of the Jewish people, even though a fifth of those living inside Israel are Palestinian, having remained on their land after the creation of Israel in 1948.

Under any other circumstances, Netanyahu’s increasingly crazed right-wing racist agenda wouldn’t deserve column inches in our most liberal national newspaper. Yet it truly is difficult to publicly critique the Israeli state today. Many prominent left-wingers have fallen foul of this, with Jeremy Corbyn being the prime example. And the dangers of telling the truth about the Israeli state go far deeper. The pro-Israeli Canary Mission website tracks activists, primarily in academia, who are critical of the Israeli State, labelling them terrorists. The lists created by the anonymously run site are reportedly used by the FBI.

This is the truest example of cancel culture I can think of: careers ruined, mental health in tatters. All for legitimate expressions of dissent. Would the Herald stoop to publish a piece from another British ally’s ambassador with a terrible free speech and human rights record, like Saudi Arabia? Almost certainly not. 

But the media, reflecting the prejudices of the Western liberal establishment, refuse to recognise Israel as an ethnostate. Instead, often with government and media complicity, Israel is portrayed as a beacon of human rights in the Middle East. 

Bar-Li knows how to play this game and how to appeal to national vanity. She writes: “Scotland is well known for its progressive and diverse society, values which are part and parcel of the Israeli way of life”. The “wokewashing” of Israel’s international reputation is nothing new. Since the launch of “Brand Israel” 15 years ago, Israel has been portraying itself both at home and abroad as a cosmopolitan, “right on” paradise, using sophisticated PR to erase the state’s brutal origins, its racist core and its hard-right government. It is a government strategy to cynically deploys social liberalism to project a progressive image while concealing Israel’s occupation and apartheid policies.

This points to a specific problem with the current “woke” discourse, namely its tendency to ignore the existence of imperialism. In the 2016 US election, plenty of right-on, socially progressive leftists uncritically opted for the war-hawk Hilary Clinton, preferring to see a woman in the White House, rather than Bernie Sanders, one of the few politicians in the US to speak on Palestinian plight. For them, the window dressing of women in leadership held more significance than landing a blow on America’s war machine. 

Scotland has become a more socially liberal nation in the last fifty years – naturally, this is a good thing. More recently, social liberalism has been at the heart of the SNP’s strategy, even if all parties essentially agree on these progressions. Nonetheless, our First Minister finds her role models in Henry Kissinger and Madeline Albright, two unrepentant representatives of American brutal adventures abroad, the latter famously saying of a sanctions regime which killed 500,000 Iraqi children that the “price was worth it”. 

Match-making Scotland and Israel through identity politics should be a grave warning for all socially conscious citizens. Israel is an imperial state using identity politics to disguise its colonial past and present, and offers a terrible lesson for Scotland, a nation with our own horrific colonialist past, our major cities built on the back of the slave trade and land grabs. 

Israel markets itself internationally to the “woke” crowd. Right wing governments who slaughter innocent protestors and colonise more and more Palestinian land will never appear in glossy tourist brochure ads. That’s why it really matters that Scots take the risk to speak the truth about the Israeli state, despite the consequences.

Scotland can and should do better than this. After the explosion of consciousness through the Black Lives Matter movement, we were beginning to get a grip on our own racist past. The only lesson we should learn from Israel’s superficial cosmopolitanism is that it’s everything that Scotland should aspire not to be. 

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