The new Israeli law banning foreigners who call for a boycott against the country over its treatment of Palestinians and the occupation of their land suggests that the Israeli right-wing government is in a state of “panic” and “hysteria,” Cornel West, one of the U.S.’s most prominent intellectuals, said in an interview Tuesday.
“lt’s a sign of panic, a sign of hysteria, a very sad response to an intense situation,” West told the left-leaning Israeli newspaper Haaretz. “Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel would turn in his grave thinking about the spiritual blackout that is occurring in Israel. Einstein turns over in his grave, too."
West said that if Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, a Jewish theologian who marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma, and renowned Jewish Scientist Albert Einstein were alive today they would likely approve of the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, BDS, movement.
Both Rabbi Heschel and Einstein "had deep commitment to Jewish self-determination, Jewish self-respect, but always had a universal vision, and embraced Arabs, Palestinians and others,” he argued.
Israel's Parliament passed a law Monday barring foreigners who publicly support boycotts on Israel and its illegal Jewish settlements in occupied Palestinian lands from entering the country.
West questioned if this new law meant that Israel was “ready to turn its back on some of its prophetic figures, who themselves were Jewish? It’s a sad moment when an Einstein would not be able to get into the country of his own people."
The African-American intellectual is one of the BDS movement's most prominent figures and therefore could be denied entry into Israel under the new law.
He argued that the BDS movement is one of the few peaceful actions against “the very ugly occupation” and contains diverse opinions and views. The BDS is “getting stronger” West argued, saying that the law casts doubt over the future of the Israeli democracy. "What about the people inside the country?" he wondered.
"Are you going to have internal aliens? Critics of the occupation, people who live right there, in Tel Aviv, are you going to say they don’t have the right to be inside their own country? That is what authoritarian regimes do.”
But West struck an optimistic tone as he argued that the backlash against the ban from within Israel as well as abroad has the potential to “bring out all the best in Israelis” who care about democracy and human rights in a similar fashion to what is happening in the United States after the election of Donald Trump.
“Trump is actually bringing out the best of America, those who want to oppose these neo-fascist laws. The kinds of laws passed by the Knesset are going to bring out the best in Israelis. They may not be able to win at the moment, but there is going to be a round two,” West told the newspaper.