In the case of McDonald’s recent decision to boycott the settlement of Ariel, the hamburger is the message.

Clearly, other brands can well satisfy the locals’ yen for greasy, calorie-laden fast food. Just as the Golden Arches were not missed in this Samarian town so far, so they likely won’t be in future.

But that is hardly the point. The point is in the cumulative layers of delegitimization that successive boycott ventures stack up. On its own, each boycott’s damage is negligible, but the aggregate ingrains an impression of odium connected with given places and people.

In this the message, even if skewed, is detrimental.

Boycotts are intrinsically harmful and counterproductive, even if they are really old news. The fuss over McDonald’s was occasioned by the opening of a shopping mall in Ariel, from whose food court the Big Mac will be demonstratively absent. But McDonald’s never crossed the Green Line up to now and hence this is no reversal of policy.

It needs to be stressed that Israel’s McDonald’s franchise is private and is owned by Omri Padan, one of the founders of Peace Now and among the most vociferous and politically active in this milieu. The meat patty is not the only thing he made political. When he ran Kitan Textiles, he firmly vetoed the very notion of opening a plant beyond the Green Line. His nixing a McDonald’s Ariel branch, then, should come as no surprise to anyone in the know.

Homegrown boycotters unfortunately get great resonance overseas where Israel has become the world’s whipping boy. Not a day goes by without more reports about economic/academic/artistic/athletic boycotts, diverse “divestment” schemes, investment pullbacks, event cancellations, theatrical snubs, supermarket blacklists etc. All these gain inexorable momentum and indisputably stimulate a potent negative dynamic that is hardly limited to beyond-the-Green-Line targets.

Sadly, it has become profitable for an array of Israeli professors, authors, filmmakers and artistes, for example, to whip up anti-Israel sentiment abroad and directly incite to boycotts. Such activity is undeniably lucrative. It assures academics a hearty welcome on the most prestigious campuses, if they only vilify Israel vehemently enough. It sells books and movies, stage shows and mount exhibitions.

Ariel has experienced its share of boycotts, considerably more than any other Israeli locale in Judea and Samaria. This is likely because the city is a success story.

Ariel is slapped with assorted boycotts precisely because it looms large in the settlements bloc blueprint and is slated to remain Israeli under any deal. Its solid status within the consensus does not mitigate the antagonism toward it but intensifies it.

In recent years major Israeli repertory theaters have refused to stage productions in Ariel; the same theaters are boycotted abroad as part of the visceral anti-Israel onslaught that inevitably burgeoned from the “antisettlement” pretext.

Most memorable is the staunch opposition to granting Ariel University full academic accreditation. It was headlined by none other than Israel’s veteran universities, some smaller and significantly more limited in scope than Ariel.

The fact that Ariel has a student body of more than 14,000 did not quite matter. The premise seemed to be that these students need not be considered or catered for, regardless of the courses they take, research they perform or degrees they earn. Some are less desirable than others, especially if the objectionable sorts attend class beyond the Green Line.

This had much less to do with supposed principles than it did with coveting government budgets and endowments that might be earmarked for Ariel. But it was the façade that mattered and which made it appear that Ariel University is regarded as intrinsically illegitimate even within Israel.

Boycotts that arise in Israel proper help defame Israel as a whole – including Israeli boycott-accomplices – and banish us all beyond the pale. But the greatest harm caused by Israelis who instigate, promote or assist boycotts is that they critically diminish Ramallah’s incentive to compromise.

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