A distinguished group of Israeli authors, artists and academics has called upon actors to refrain from performing in a new public theater in the West Bank town of Ariel as a protest against Israeli settlement policy.
I am an adamant opponent of Israeli settlement policy. I watch the growth of Israeli settlements with despair, particularly those settlements outside of the major settlement blocks. At some point in the not-too-distant future, the growth of settlements will become irreversible, and Israel will become a bi-national state. The Zionist movement did not come into being to create a state with an Arab majority.
Nonetheless, I find the Ariel boycott to be idiotic. It is an ineffective protest; indeed, it is a protest that is more likely to create enemies for Israel and endanger her existence than to put an end to settlement expansion.
In general, boycotts should be avoided; they are a blunt instrument that is certain to claim many innocent victims, including in Ariel. I assume that the residents of Ariel are living there for many reasons, in some cases economic and in some cases ideological. I assume that they have diverse political views. I do not see how denying them access to cultural performances will win support, either in Ariel or the rest of Israel, for settlement opponents.
The most important reason to oppose the boycott, however, is simply that it is impossible to distinguish between different types of boycotts. There is a growing global BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) movement; its intention is to isolate and delegitimize the State of Israel. It is already a threat, and with time, could become a mortal threat to Israel’s existence. Those who claim that they only support the boycott of Ariel but oppose the BDS movement are making distinctions that will not be clear to anyone but themselves. If an internal boycott in Israel is the way that Israelis deal with the question of settlement expansion, what is the basis for objecting when countries and groups hostile to Israel call for a boycott of Israel’s academic institutions?
David Grossman is a man that I greatly admire, and I share his urgency about the settlement question. I am deeply distressed when I hear Israeli and American Jewish leaders say that “settlements don’t matter,” when they manifestly do. But I don’t share Mr. Grossman’s proposed solution, which might very well lead not to the boycott of Ariel but of Israel itself.
Of course, individual artists who do not want to perform in Ariel are free to make that choice. And collectively, there are things for artists to do. I support that proposal put forward, I understand, by Yair Lapid that Israeli actors should present anti-settlement plays in every settlement in the territories and join in a discussion afterward about what settlements mean for a Jewish and democratic Israel.
But please, no boycotts. Israel’s enemies don’t need any help.