Hearst on boycott

May 28, 2006

As a vote by British educators on whether to boycott Israeli teachers gets closer, opinions on the subject multiply. A typical one is professor Neuberger’s highly articulate Jeremiad based on his experience as a visiting professor at Oxford, which vividly describes the anti-Israeli atmosphere at that venerable institution. What appears to particularly rile him, is the double-standard he witnessed while there. Egregious human rights abusers like Saudi Arabia, Syria and China were left unscathed, while Israel got more than a lion’s share of indignation.

While it is not unreasonable to attribute such double standard to anti-Zionism or anti-Semitism, as is the common approach of those commenting on the issue, I would suggest that such explanation is, if not simplistic, than at least very incomplete. Drilling down on the logic of such double-standard reveals much more than trivial anti-Semitism; far more importantly, calls for a boycott lay bare the unsightliness – not to say ugly inhumanity – of the very foundations of the so-called “multiculturalism.”

Because the good and kind British teachers do only what is natural to all nice people – they perceive an injustice, and cry out. Why do they not cry out against the Saudi and other abuses, as complained by the professor? One theory is, that they are anti-Semitic, and so focuss only on the Jews. But it could also be, that they simply don’t perceive Saudi, etc. behavior as abuse; that they see it as natural.

Remember William Randolph Hearst’s pithy definition of a sensation? “Sensation is not when a dog bites a man, it is when a man bites a dog.” Mr. Hearst was so absolutely right – we do hold dogs and people to a different standards; and we never comment on normal behavior. Biting a man is a natural behavior in a dog, and should be left without a comment; biting a dog is not a natural behavior in a man, and deserves a huge headline.

This may be the reason why it does not occur to the good people of Oxford to protest the abuses which appall the professor: by pigeonholing people into different “cultures,” they get rid of the absolutes. An act of killing is not universally bad – it depends on the culture. What the Saudis do is ok for the Saudis to do – but not ok for the Israelis to do. That’s the reason for the double standard.

If so, Israelis are held to a higher standard not so much because of anti-Semitism, but simply because they are unconsciously perceived as being on a higher plane of civilization. It is not expected of the Israelis to bite; but Saudis, Chinese and their ilk are treated as mere savages – as the dogs to whom biting is just second nature. And campus tensions and newspaper headlines merely reflect that attitude.

Underlying all the talk of boycott is a subconscious perception of inherent inferiority of people of non-Western “cultures,” who thus appear not to deserve being treated on the European standard. Such de-humanization of a vast chunk of humanity is, to think about it, a natural outcome of the dismissal of absolutes that is inherent in the very notion of “multiculturalism.”

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