ANTI-ISRAEL protesters hold placards and a Palestinian flag during a demonstration to mark the annual al-Quds Day in Istanbul in July 2016. The placards read, ‘Free Jerusalem, a World without Israel’ (left) and ‘Down with Israel.’.
(photo credit: MURAD SEZER/REUTERS)
We can all oppose both the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and comprehensive boycotts for both moral and practical reasons, and still oppose Israel’s freedom-chilling denials of entry.
BDS has become increasingly irrelevant because America’s and Europe’s increasingly Christian Zionist and other forms of rightist politics make it more ineffectual than ever.
But it is also more relevant than it used to be as a political battering-ram that the Israeli Right is using to harm democracy and liberties and to whip up artificial fear and loathing and hatred against this vanishingly small, weak and futile movement.
The US, Europe and Israel are interrelated through family, social, travel, communications, business, scholarly and university and scientific and medical, and media ties in a way (for example) that South Africa never was part of in the 1980s when it could be successfully boycotted. And our world has grown even more interconnected with still more reinforced ties since the Internet than it was in the earlier “South Africa” period.
Also Israel – as a haven for Jewish victims of traditional antisemitic boycotts and persecutions culminating in the Shoah – would bring out enormous ethical problems for any comprehensive boycott such as BDS seeks.
All these factors together make any comprehensive boycott both politically infeasible and incoherent in our world of such deep and diverse ties, and ethically impossible.
But if BDS is so impossible, why is the government fighting it so hard? The only reason seem to be to advance its political agenda of cultivating the public’s sense of victimhood and defiant belligerence against the entire outside world. So that it can better push forward its aims of occupation, settlement and settlement expansion, land confiscation and annexation of the Palestinian territories.
If the government fought the occupation as hard as it fought BDS, it would have long gotten rid of the empty and only rhetorical threat.
The fact that it fights BDS rather than the conquests that sustain it and when it could have instead destroyed BDS, itself exposes its hypocrisy.
The most insidious argument the government and its allies make for BDS is that its supporters would lose Israel’s technology, if they – impossibly – succeeded. This argument is a form of ignominious and unseemly blackmail to make opponents choose between their political morals and their consumerism and understandable desire to be healthy.
Still more, the argument underscores how much richer first-world and “start-up nation” Israel is than the poor, powerless and third-world people whom it occupies and conquers, and so only exposes its own political unscrupulousness, ambition to occupy and arrogance.
But no one thinks boycotts and economic pressures are themselves intrinsically immoral. Ironically, nobody wants boycotts more than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government, whether against Iran or their own legislated and enforced boycotts against pro-BDS groups themselves.
Meanwhile the liberal and also Jewish world often supports boycotts, such as, historically, Martin Luther King’s Montgomery Bus boycott; Caesar Chavez’s United Farmworkers’ grape and lettuce boycotts; against the State of Florida for its Stand Your Ground law discriminating against African Americans; against the state of Arizona for its proposed anti-immigration law, and against the state of Indiana for its proposed anti-gay law – boycotts (whether threatened or actual) which succeeded in achieving more justice.
And the US still has sanctions (boycotts and disinvestments) against President Vladimir Putin’s Russia for its occupation of Crimea.
The liberal world participates in ethical investment in – and, tellingly, disinvestment from – corporations with unethical policies.
And Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968 in Memphis where he went to support its sanitation workers’ strike – and strikes are a form of economic pressure against injustice similar to boycotts and sanctions.
Israeli liberals like Amos Oz and David Grossman and thousands more support boycotts restricted to settlement products, and so can we. That Netanyahu’s government deliberately conflates these only underscores its Trump-like world of “fake facts.”
Meanwhile any comprehensive boycott of “Israel proper” would be so impossible that the government and rightist media only pretends to be afraid of it.
But they can’t really be afraid since, if they were, they would realize that at some point we would all begin to ask under what scenario we should consider other related forms of economic pressure – in the same spirit of Martin Luther King’s Montgomery Bus Boycott. Consider this after 800,000 settlers? 900,000 settlers? A million? West Bank total annexation alongside totally unlimited settlement? But the government knows there even these conquests will not produce an international Western boycott of the State of Israel. And so it continues the expansionism and only uses the pretend fear of ineffectual BDS as an excuse to undermine freedoms, such as blocking entry to the entirely ineffectual and Quixotic groups of BDS supporters.
Ironically, ineffective BDS still never stop the rightist takeover of the Palestinian territories.
It is the Right whose takeover aims will be the most likely political force – if they remain unchecked – eventually to doom Israel as the world’s only distinctively Jewish state.The author has a master’s degree in world religions from Harvard Divinity School.