In the wake of US Secretary of State John Kerry’s public warning that the campaign to boycott and delegitimize Israel will only get stronger if the current peace talks fail, a number of high-powered columnists have taken it upon themselves to discredit the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.
Roger Cohen, a columnist at The New York Times, noted that since the BDS movement includes as one of its objectives the right of return to Israel of all Palestinian refugees and their descendents – about 5 million people – they are calling for the end of Israel as a Jewish state. “This is the hidden agenda of BDS, its unacceptable subterfuge: beguile, disguise and suffocate,” writes Cohen. The movement’s anti-Zionism can easily be a cover for anti-Semitism.
At Bloomberg, Jeffrey Goldberg noted that Kerry’s comments were made in Munich, “not the best place to raise the threat of a boycott that targets Jews.”
Goldberg also pointed out that the international BDS movement has no targets other than Israel – not even Syria, Iran, Egypt or other countries in the region with much worse human rights’ records – making it difficult to ascribe more benevolent intentions its leaders.
The Times’ Tom Friedman, writing earlier this month from Ramallah, noted that the push to boycott Israel is being led by “the European Union in Brussels and other opponents of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank across the globe,” not by Palestinians in Ramallah.
There is much truth in that. When Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was in Johannesburg attending Nelson Mandela’s funeral and was asked his position on the BDS campaign during a press conference, he said he does not support the boycott of Israel, though he does support the boycott of settlements.
Despite claims to the contrary by Palestinians figures such as Hanan Ashrawi, who supports BDS, and Omar Barghouti, who is instrumental in organizing the BDS campaign, many Palestinians share Abbas’s view, as The Jerusalem Post’s Palestinian Affairs correspondent Khaled Abu Toameh pointed out in a recent article for the Gatestone Institute.
That is why many Palestinians continue to do business with Israelis on a daily basis. More than 60 percent of the Palestinians Authority’s imports come from Israel, and most of the PA’s exports are sold to Israelis. Thousands of Palestinians have regular work inside the Green Line (and in the settlements) and Palestinians and Israelis continue to hold joint seminars and conferences in Israel and in different parts of the world.
There are other forms of exchange as well. For instance, Barghouti, the big promoter of BDS, received his master’s degree from Tel Aviv University.
It is downright absurd to think that Israelis and Palestinians can occupy the same piece of land but live apart from one another economically. With the all the problems connected to Israel’s continued control over Palestinians’ lives, economic ties are one of the few gleams of hope.
There is, after all, something decent and intimate in the reciprocal relations imposed by the discipline of the market. The idea that businessmen produce tolerance as a by-product of their self-interested innovations might be an oversimplification of the situation. There are extremists – particularly on the Palestinian side but not only – who are bitterly opposed to any form of normalization between Palestinians and Israelis. And the conditions under which Palestinian businesses must operate are hardly conducive to economic growth.
BDS is not, however, the solution. If anything it is more economic cooperation and mutual development.
Any two-state solution will inevitably entail strong ties between Israel and Palestine. Fostering such ties could even be a means of moving toward a two-state solution organically, gradually and with mutual respect. BDS only hampers this process.