Analysis: Boycott puts social cohesion at risk

Israeli Arabs are starting to discover leverage.

May 6, 2010 05:16
3 minute read.
A MOTHER and child use the Snoezelen multi-sensory

arab israeli mother child 58. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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While it is too early to tell if Israel’s Arab population will answer the call to boycott goods made in the settlements, the mere suggestion is enough to anger large portions of Israeli society, which see the Arabs siding with the Palestinians as proof that they cannot be trusted.

Arab-Israeli disapproval of the settlements is not new. Nor is Arab-Israeli identification with the Palestinian people. Many in the Arab population consider the Palestinians their brethren; and even if they don’t wish to join them, they do seek to support their quest for national sovereignty.

What’s novel about the new initiative is that like other social groups in Israel, Israeli Arabs are beginning to discover the leverage that combined purchasing power can wield in a capitalist society.

These Arabs, who make up roughly 20 percent of the country’s population, may not be represented in the government, but their money is honored everywhere. And while a 15-20% cut in income overnight may not ruin the settlement industries, it will affect their bottom line, especially when combined with the recently announced Palestinian boycott and the ongoing boycott calls in Europe.

The government is aware of the financial power Arab Israelis wield and has, in the past, channeled it in constructive ways. For example, Israel acknowledges that by allowing Arab Israelis into the West Bank territories, it can help boost the Palestinian economy. It recently did so, in fact, by opening the Jalameh crossing, near Jenin, to Arab Israeli citizens in the hope that they would spend their money in the Palestinian Authority and help raise employment levels and living conditions there.

What may bother many Israelis, especially those on the Right, is the proximity of the Arab-Israeli boycott to President Mahmoud Abbas’s call for a Palestinian boycott. Some see the reinvigorated boycott movement, which has been in existence – but largely silent – for the past decade, as a provocation aimed at inflaming an already tense situation. The timing of the boycott calls, on the eve of proximity talks, lends some credence to this.

The Arab-Israeli boycott initiative highlights the extremely divergent positions that exist in Israeli society regarding the settlements. On the one hand you have the settlers and their supporters, who see the Jewish presence in the West Bank as an ideological, some might even say religious, imperative. On the other hand are the Arab Israelis and those on the Left, who see the settlements as an ongoing crime and a continuation of 19th-century colonialism, worthy of opposition by any means.

In the past, the means the Arabs adopted to express their solidarity was violent confrontation. The memory of the Arab-Israeli uprising in October 2000, which saw 12 Arab Israelis and a Palestinian from the Gaza strip killed in confrontations with police in the Galilee and a Jew killed by Arab youth while driving on the Haifa-Tel Aviv freeway, left a deep scar on the Israeli psyche and sowed seeds of doubt about the Arabs’ loyalty to the state.

Since then, there have been no casualties of organized violence by Israeli Arabs, despite ongoing tension between the state and the PA.

While there have been protests, they have tended to be nonviolent and even less forceful than organized demonstrations by other groups – for example, the recent haredi protests over the opening of a Jerusalem parking lot on Shabbat, or the weekly demonstrations by left-wing activist in Bil’in.

Placing lists of settler-made products in stores to alert shoppers to what not to buy may not be a popular move, but few would argue the point that it is preferable to other forms of political protest.

Assuming that many will not heed the call and will continue to buy settlement-made products – whether out of habit or ignorance or apathy – the financial harm to the settlers will be minor. What may cause more significant harm is if the Arab boycott becomes a wedge issue, further damaging the cohesion of Israeli society.  

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