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Boycott Calls Against Israel
New pariah on the block

   http://www.economist.com/world/international/PrinterFriendly.cfm?story_id=9804231
 
 
Boycotting Israel

Sep 13th 2007 | JERUSALEM
From The Economist print edition


The campaign for sanctions against Israel is growing. But it faces resistance and is less effective than it looks

FOR once, Israel's critics and cheerleaders agree on something: the Jewish state risks greater international isolation. Pro-Israel groups such as NGO Monitor and the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs say a new assault is on the way. In the other camp, Shir Hever of the Alternative Information Centre, an Israeli-Palestinian activist group in Jerusalem, says that advocating a boycott is no longer always treated as anti-Semitism. Both sides have a motive to exaggerate such claims. But “boycotts, divestments and sanctions” (known in the activist world as “BDS”) do seem to be growing.

AFP
 
 
Stop playing that tune
 


Pro-Israel lobbyists see this as part of what they call the “Durban strategy”, devised by activists at a United Nations anti-racism conference there in 2001, which marked a new high point for Israel-bashing. The real trigger, though, seems to have been a call two years ago by a coalition of Palestinian outfits to boycott products made in Israel or in its West Bank settlements, and to divest from (ie, sell shares in) Israeli firms, or foreign ones seen as profiting from Israel's occupation of the West Bank and (then) Gaza. Caterpillar, whose earth-movers are used for demolishing Palestinian homes and building on settlements, and Motorola, whose clients for communications equipment include the Israeli army, are popular targets.

This year two big British trade unions and the much smaller National Union of Journalists (NUJ) called on their members to boycott Israeli products. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions backed divestment. The public-sector union in the Canadian province of Ontario voted to support BDS last year; local activists are campaigning against Indigo, a retail chain that sells books and music. Its majority owners run a charity for Israeli veterans. In February an “Israeli Apartheid Week” was held on North American and British campuses for the third year running. Motions to boycott Israeli universities have passed at the conferences of two British teaching unions. A handful of American churches and the ecumenical World Council of Churches have considered divestment from companies like Caterpillar, as has the Church of England, Britain's established church.

Many more minor events—from a protest against Israeli products outside a German food store to the Dutch government's warning to a company that was helping to build the separation barrier in the West Bank—show how
hostility to Israel, or at least to its treatment of the Palestinians, is finding expression.

Under closer inspection, the boycotts look flimsy. Most of the motions passed have been non-binding recommendations, or instructions to
investigate the practicalities of BDS. Activists' votes at conferences may be slapped down by the membership, as with the NUJ's boycott, which was reversed after furious complaints from members. After pressure from Jewish groups, American Presbyterians, who voted in 2004 to look into divesting from up to five American firms, backed off last year without having removed a dollar. The two British teaching unions merged and voted anew to consider suspending links with Israeli institutions only to provoke a huge counter-attack by American college presidents.

All this recalls the haphazard campaign against South Africa before sanctions got UN backing in 1962. But the anti-Israel movement shows little sign of getting such official support. One reason for this is that Israel has more powerful lobbyists—both in Jewish organisations and in America's evangelical Christian movement, to whom the birth of the Jewish state is a fulfilment of prophecy (some BDS motions passed in American churches really reflect internal Christian rows). Unlike the African National Congress, which acted as both a moral beacon and an organiser for sanctions, the Palestinian leadership does not support BDS—fearing that it will hurt Palestinians as much as Israelis—and is much weaker and more divided.

The chief difference between the Israeli and South African cases is, however, in the moral sphere. Israel is a robust democracy with vibrant academic freedom. Whereas it was plain to most South Africans that “separate development” was a cover for a gross system of racism, the rights and wrongs in Palestine are both murkier and more fiercely
contested. For all these reasons left-leaning diaspora Jews and
campaigners against the occupation often argue against BDS and for more “constructive” engagement. Boycotting Israeli universities, they note, actually hurts some of the occupation's most trenchant critics (and may thus be unlikely to bother Israeli hawks).

Even fans of BDS do not fully agree on the best way forward. While some call for broad boycotts, others think “smart sanctions”, such as banning goods produced from settlements in the occupied territories, or from specific firms, will have more effect and sidestep claims of
anti-Semitism. Israel's economy, they say, is more vulnerable to pressure than South Africa's—smaller, more globally connected and with fewer natural resources. “I don't think the boycotts will be as widespread as with South Africa,” says Mr Hever, “but a small and specific economic impact can change many people's minds.” Perhaps. But blaming Israel alone for the impasse in the occupied territories will continue to strike many outsiders as unfair.

 

 
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Subject: Boycott for No Reason? A reply to The Economist article:
"Boycotting Israel: New Pariah on the Block"


Boycott for No Reason?

Written by Nancy Hawker

Nancy Hawker is a researcher studying the economies of refugee camps in the Jerusalem region.

“Boycotting Israel : New Pariah on the Block,” the 13 September article in The Economist, is ostensibly a balanced piece that presents the positions of those who support and those who oppose sanctions against Israel :

The campaign for sanctions against Israel is growing. But it faces resistance and is less effective than it looks

FOR once, Israel 's critics and cheerleaders agree on something: the Jewish state risks greater international isolation. Pro-Israel groups such as NGO Monitor and the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs say a new assault is on the way. In the other camp, Shir Hever of the Alternative Information Centre, an Israeli-Palestinian activist group in Jerusalem , says that advocating a boycott is no longer always treated as
anti-Semitism. Both sides have a motive to exaggerate such claims. But “boycotts, divestments and sanctions” (known in the activist world as “BDS”) do seem to be growing (The Economist, 13 September 2007).


However, the article gives the impression that the sanctions taken by various organizations throughout the world against Israel and in protest of its 40 year occupation of the Palestinian territories and the Golan Heights, is a form of ‘picking on’ Israel , a sort of new fashion to criticize Israel . The article even suggests that the churches in the United States that decided to divest from Israel did this “really” as part of the internal struggle amongst the churches themselves.


What the author neglects to note is that there are significant reasons that voices calling for boycott, divestment and sanctions from Israel are multiplying throughout the world: the utter disregard of the Israeli government and military to criticism; the continued illegal building of settlements, the blatant violations of Palestinian human rights; building of the Separation Wall (in violation of the ruling of the International Court of Justice); and a continuation of the deadly attacks against unarmed Palestinian civilians, including children; are the reason that Israel is gradually being disowned by the international community.


Israel continues to enjoy broad support from the United States (and the oil and weapons industries working with the American Congress have a budget several times larger than that of the Jewish and evangelical lobbies mentioned in the article) while world leaders tow the line in accordance with American demands (and in accordance with their own economic interests in Israel), but the voices demanding clear answers from Israel are increasing.


The comparison to South Africa is indeed apt. Concerning the question of the effectiveness of boycott, there is no lack of proof that a boycott against Israel can be more effective than the boycott against the
apartheid regime (and The Economist article does not argue with this). However, the contention in the article, that Israel is a democracy, in contrast to apartheid South Africa , is highly problematic. In Israel , there is a 100% right for Jews to vote, but only 25% of the Palestinians under Israeli rule possess this fundamental democratic right. So, while Israel is formally an electoral democracy, it is highly partial and obscures the lack of substantial democracy or equality of rights.


Moreover, Israel, having declared itself to be in a “state of emergency” since its inception, conducts extrajudicial executions, allows its military to functi'on with no real judicial oversight and awards extra legal rights and privileges to the Jews. Much of the discussion of Israel as a “democracy” is intended for public relations, and has little basis in reality. While Israel may not call what it does “separate development,” its socio-economic policies identify “national priority areas”—which include settlements and their industries in the West Bank—but neglect Palestinian citizens of Israel . The Israeli occupation policies suppress Palestinian industries in the occupied Palestinian territories, and distort economic development there to the advantage of Israel .  


The Economist article further notes that the Palestinian leadership objects to boycott, but does not mention that a majority of Palestinian civil society organizations, political movements and non-violent protest groups widely support the boycott, and that more than 200 organisations signed a petition calling on the international community to boycott Israel.


The economic boycott of Israel is not a step intended solely to promote Palestinian interests. It requires great naivete to believe that the Palestinians will agree to live under Israeli military occupation without resisting. The boycott opens the option for non-violent resistance, and it does not kill anyone. Thus, it represents an alternative form of struggle, which forces Israel to take responsibility for its actions and also forces it, in non-violent ways, to bring an end to its continuing occupation.

 

 

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