BDS ‚ÄĒ 05 November 2012
By Nathan Geffen
4 November 2012
The Guardians Jonathan Freedland has written a piece titled: We condemn Israel. So why the silence on Syria?

Freedland laments the lack of response to the Syrian crisis. He writes, When Israelis kill Arabs there is outrage. But Assads brutal campaign has cost 30,000 lives and thereve been no protests. In a nutshell he dispenses with the argument that western treatment of Israel is supportive and therefore requires a specific civil society response. He concludes with this, Of course we reserve a special kind of outrage for the targeting of one ethnic group by another. Yet there is a risk here. Its not simply a bias against Jews that regards an Arab or Muslim death as only deserving condemnation when Israel is responsible. It is demeaning of Arabs and Muslims themselves ‚Äď implying that when members of those groups kill each other it somehow carries little moral weight.

Freedlands arguments are wrong and his conclusion is a mischaracterisation of what is driving the global outrage against Israels policies. The situations in Israel and Syria are not symmetrical  and it is ludicrous to suggest that a similar response from activists is required.

Lets first look at the asymmetry:There are numerous very strict sanctions against Syria enforced by the US, UN and EU. See, for example, this site: www.sanctionswiki.org/Syria
There are barely any substantive sanctions against Israel. On the contrary, Israel, a wealthy country, is one of the largest recipients of US aid.

The amount of money collected by Pro-Assad advocacy groups for Syria is an insignificant fraction of the amount of money collected by Zionist groups in the EU, US, South Africa and other democratic countries. The influence of pro-Assad groups working in these countries (if they even exist) is infinitesimal. Tourism from the west to Syria is insignificant. Zionist organisations operating in the west are, by contrast, well organised and influential. There is a thriving tourist trade between western countries and Israel which supports the Israeli economy. The organisations campaigning for human rights in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) are a necessary countervailing force to this.

Hilary Clinton has made it clear that the US is struggling to find an armed group in Syria to support. The US State Department is rightly sceptical of the groups fighting against the Assad regime. From what Ive read on Syria, human rights activists based in the country (or in exile) also do not support the belligerent warring parties. The situation was very different in Lybia, which is why the US and EU correctly supported the armed resistance against Gaddafi. (Incidentally, there are also several human rights groups active in the OPT who need money, but are not supported by the US government and are given very little support by EU governments.)

Finally, Freedlands article creates the impression that the activist response to Syria is non-existent. It isnt, although it is very hard for civil society activists in democratic countries to do something useful about the Syrian conflict. Nevertheless, there are some human rights groups trying under difficult circumstances to operate in and outside of Syria. Avaaz, for example, has run several petitions about Syria.  It also put out a plea for funds to support Syrian human rights activists several months ago. I hope Freedland responded to that plea; I certainly did and encouraged others to as well. To materially support Syrian activists, go to this link:
https://secure.avaaz.org/en/smuggle_hope_into_syria_q/?dty

Nathan Geffen is the editor of groundup.org.za. He is also the drafter of this petition to the South African government about Syria: http://www.change.org/petitions/south-african-government-must-act-on-syria

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