Boycotts and BDS

Israel’s challenged democracy faces a lot of true concerns. One of those challenges which is often presented, which I don’t agree with, is Israel’s Law of Return.

BDS (photo credit: WIKIPEDIA)
(photo credit: WIKIPEDIA)
Throughout all of my 40 years in Israel, I have made conscious efforts not to buy products and services from Israeli settlements in the occupied territories. I believe that Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are one of the largest obstacles to ability to reach a two-state solution that would enable Israel to genuinely be the democratic nation-state of the Jewish people. I also believe that Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are illegal under international law. I boycott settlements. I do not make social visits to friends who live in settlements. I am happy to receive them in my home in Jerusalem. If I am invited to settlements to talk politics and to try to enable people there to hear my point of view, I show up and do my best to explain why I think that their presence where they are is an obstacle to peace.
I grew up in the United States, a child whose political awareness came of age in the end of the 1960s. As a child, I boycotted, together with my family, lettuce and grapes because of the abuse of migrant workers. We boycotted products from apartheid South Africa. We boycotted products from the Soviet Union because of the abuse of Soviet Jews. This was a legitimate form political action and it was based on active non-violence.
I do not support the BDS campaign (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) against Israel, although I believe it is a legitimate form of nonviolent protest. I also do not support the anti-normalization campaign run by Palestinians against all contact with Israelis. I will explain why. When I meet someone who supports BDS, the first question I ask is, “When does it end? When do you stop boycotting Israel?” The answer to that question is very telling regarding the political motives behind their support of BDS. Some might say, “When Israel ceases its occupation over the lands it conquered in 1967 and allows the Palestinians to have a state of their own.” This is something I can agree with and even support. Others will say, “When Israel ends its occupation of Palestine, which began in 1948.” Here is where we get into real problems.
If in the not-too-distant future, Israel and the Palestinians end up without any viable options to advance a peace agreement between them that would involve partition, then the one-state non-democratic bi-national reality that has existed since 1967 will become a one-non-democratic-bi-national state and we then must transform into a struggle for true democracy – one person, one vote and full equality for all. We are headed in that direction and the current trends in Israel that could lead to annexation will place us directly there. If the international community drops its support for the two-state solution because it is deemed no longer viable, we will find ourselves in a global campaign for a non-ethnic-based democracy, which will face an international campaign of BDS, supported not only by civil society around the world but seen as more legitimate, then many governments will also join in.
The BDS campaign is by design ambiguous regarding the solution to the conflict. It has never supported the two-state solution and believes that Israel, even within the 1967 borders discriminates against 20% of its citizens, the Palestinian citizens of Israel and provides preferential treatment for Jews in almost all aspects of civil and political rights in Israel. It is true that there is vast discrimination against the non-Jewish Palestinian citizens of Israel, this is a fact – admitted to by the Israeli government itself. But within sovereign Israel, there is no apartheid. There is a very challenged democracy – but it is democracy. That is not the case regarding the occupied territories.
Israel’s challenged democracy faces a lot of true concerns. One of those challenges which is often presented, which I don’t agree with, is Israel’s Law of Return (under which I became a citizen of Israel). This law is one that determines who can become a citizen of Israel and not one that discriminates between citizens. Furthermore, if and when there will be a recognized Palestinian state that controls its own borders and immigration policies, it too will probably have a Law of Return that will grant automatic citizenship to all Palestinians from all over forever. But there are many other laws in Israel that do discriminate against Palestinians and provide preferential treatment for Jews – most recently the Nation-State law. These are not acceptable in a modern western democracy.
I could also speak about the BDS campaign’s lack of an effective strategy – boycotting Sabra hummus or Psagot wine will not convince anyone in Israel to change their point of view in favor of ending the occupation. I think it is also important to mention the Soda Stream example. Soda Stream was founded in the occupied territories. Even though it had a very good employment policy with very favorable conditions for its Palestinian workers, I supported the boycott against them. When Soda Stream moved into Israel, next to Rahat, one of Israel’s poorest communities (of Bedouin Arabs) and employs hundreds of them and also continues to employ a good number of its workers from the West Bank, I not only called on people to buy Soda Stream, I told my father to buy one and I bought one for my own home. Soda Stream is still boycotted by the BDS campaign. Why? I don’t have an answer that can give credit or credence to the BDS campaign. Soda Stream did the right thing.
A last word on anti-normalization. I have never normalized the occupation. I have worked for 40 years to build bridges and partnerships of understanding between Israelis and Palestinians and to work to end the occupation. I truly do not understand how by not engaging with me and people like me, helps to end the occupation. My advice to them has always been to engage all Israelis, especially the right wing in Israel. Those are the people they need to convince and by preventing engagement and contacts, they are not convincing anyone. The anti-normalization campaign speaks specifically about the occupation from 1967, but it has no nuance and no coherent strategy. When they attack meetings, organizations and activities that seek to end the occupation, their attacks against them and threats against their own people who are involved are counterproductive and only further the Israeli narrative that there are no Palestinian partners for peace. This issue needs to be addressed courageously by Palestinians who do support peace with Israel – they are the majority but their voices are not being heard.
The author is a political and social entrepreneur who has dedicated his life to the State of Israel and to peace between Israel and her neighbors. His latest book, In Pursuit of Peace in Israel and Palestine, was published by Vanderbilt University Press.