Whom the gods would confuse, they first set to thinking about how to justify selectively punitive treatment of Israelis. The case in hand is that of Peter Tatchell who has criticized the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer Youth and Student Organization (IGLYO) for deciding to hold its general assembly in Israel. Let me be clear, before going any further, that Tatchell's criticism of IGLYO doesn't occupy the more noxious part of the boycotter terrain. He gives Israel some of its due and takes a clear distance from the apologetics standard on the international anti-Zionist left. Thus, implicitly acknowledging the fact that Israel is a democracy that protects liberal rights, Tatchell says:
I applaud the equality achievements of Israeli LGBTI groups, and the support they offer to LGBTI Palestinians. Their efforts are remarkable and have done much to improve the lives of LGBTI people.
He also condemns 'indiscriminate rocket and suicide attacks on innocent Israeli civilians by Islamist organisations', and he laments the 'double standards' of those who criticize Israel but are 'silent about the neighbouring Arab dictatorships', or who propose boycotts of Israel but not of various tyrannies in the region and elsewhere. 'It is wrong', he says, 'for Israel to be singled out for special, unique demonisation and protests.' He supports a two-state solution as the only realistic option for the time being.
Still, Tatchell is against holding the IGLYO assembly in Israel, and here is a central part of his reasoning for being opposed to it:
Since human rights are universal, we cannot divorce LGBTI rights from the national rights of the Palestinian people. These are two aspects of the same struggle for universal human rights.
It is true that on LGBTI rights Israel is, by far, the most progressive nation in the region. However, human rights should not be viewed from a gayist perspective. LGBTI rights do not trump all other human rights.
Or, as he also says, 'human rights are universal and indivisible'.
Human rights are indeed universal, but what is meant by saying they are 'indivisible'? If all Tatchell meant was that every human right is important and we shouldn't neglect any of them, one could agree with this. But what he appears to mean, beyond it, is that if a country has a comparatively good record with respect to some human rights and not others, then you may not treat its citizens in a normal way on account of the good record, but must withhold participation in, or organization of, events in that country on account of the bad one. Rather than rewarding Israel and its LGBTI community for being 'the most progressive nation in the region' on these matters, one must punish them for their human rights derelictions towards the Palestinians.
It would presumably follow from this same indivisibility of human rights that if one opposed the Iraq war - as Tatchell did, along with a large segment of the international left - one should have opposed any conferences being held in the US, Britain, Australia and sundry other 'coalition of the willing' countries. Waging aggressive war - which is what opponents of the Iraq war held that war to be - against a country is certainly a violation of the right to national self-determination. One should also oppose events being held in the US, on account of Guantanamo, or in any country implicated in extraordinary rendition, or in France, on account of the law forbidding (Muslim) women from covering their faces. And so on. Yet this practical consequence of human-rights-indivisibility seems always to home in on Israel - as it does here, despite Tatchell's reservations about double standards. Perhaps I am in ignorance and he opposes the holding of conferences everywhere where there is an issue about an important human right. But I doubt it.
Then there's also this:
If the IGLYO conference goes ahead in Israel, LGBTI people will, rightly or wrongly, be seen as endorsing Israel. This could increase and inflame the already existing homophobia in the Arab world, potentially putting the freedom and lives of LGBTI people at risk and profoundly damaging the emerging LGBTI movements in the Middle East and North Africa. Is this what we want?
That 'rightly or wrongly', it contains multitudes. Imagine if you could never undertake anything when someone else wrongly took it to imply something bad or putatively bad - which in fact it didn't. Why should participating in a conference in Israel imply overall endorsement of Israeli policy, any more than participating in an event anywhere else implies endorsement of everything about the country concerned? One can even make it clear what one's participation does and doesn't entail, thereby better enabling others not to see it wrongly. Tatchell says, 'we should avoid appearing to sanction Israel's illegal occupation of seized Palestine territories'. You don't wish to appear to sanction that? Then don't sanction it; condemn it. This is the usual way in politics (and life more generally) of not being taken amiss, other than by people who deliberately want to misconstrue you.
The 'rightly or wrongly' notion is a feeble aid to the thesis of indivisibility. Between them they set up a standard of moral purity that is impossible to maintain. If we may not do anything which others will wrongly construe and if we must punish those in proximity to every good human rights record because it is marred by something bad, then all of us are going to be staying home most of the time.
Postscript: I wonder if Peter Tatchell has given any consideration to the following. If he takes this view about the venue of the IGLYO assembly, some people, rightly or wrongly, will take him to be stirring up anti-Semitism. Therefore he shouldn't. (Thanks: E.)