Think about it: Anti-Semitism and the boycott of Israel

There are those who believe that the boycott’s sole motive is the objection to all aspects of Israel’s settlement policy.

Israel boycott 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel boycott 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In his exceptionally warm speech in the Knesset last Monday, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper rightly pointed out that the attacks that Israel endures in the international community regarding its alleged or actual wrongdoings are totally out of proportion by any measure, and are frequently motivated by a new variety of anti-Semitism that comes in the guise of hatred for Israel, which is blamed for all the problems of the Middle East.
Anyone who has any understanding and knowledge about the Middle East knows that while Israel’s existence has certainly affected the region’s status quo in general, and the lives of the Palestinian Arabs (unquestionably mostly for the worse) in particular, it is not responsible for the rise of the various forms of radical Islam, inter-Arab conflicts that all too often have turned into bloody affairs with hundreds of thousands of victims (many times more than the victims of the Arab-Israeli conflict since 1948), the absence of democracy in the Arab world, and most recently the disappointing results of the so-called “Arab Spring.”
It even isn’t the only one responsible for the absence of a Palestinian state. It was the Arab world in general and the Palestinians in particular that rejected the 1947 UN partition plan which called for the establishment of an Arab state in part of Palestine, and it was the Arab world in general and the PLO in particular that refused, after the Six Day War – before any Jewish settlement activities began in the occupied territories – to have any dealings with Israel, when the Khartoum Arab Summit Conference of September 1967 issued the famous “three nos” declaration: “no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with Israel.”
The new anti-Semites are inclined to blame Israel for all of the above, and it doesn’t matter whether they do so out of ignorance or malice. Anti-Semites are anti-Semites, and their anti-Semitism has nothing to do with facts.
Ever since the conflict between Arabs and Jews began in the Middle East, with the advent of Zionism, and certainly more so after the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, the Arabs have been responsible for fostering and encouraging this brand of anti-Semitism, which formally claims that it is only the Zionists/Israel who are the enemies of the Arabs/Muslims/Palestinians, and not the Jews in general.
HOWEVER, ALL too often both the Arabs and their supporters have failed to stick to this distinction. The current wave of Muslim-inspired anti-Semitism in France is ample proof of this.
In his speech Harper mentioned civil-society leaders (presumably civil-society leaders in western countries) who call for the boycott of Israel (and one might add Israelis as individuals) because of Israel’s policy vis-à-vis the Palestinians, which in their opinion includes apartheid.
He said nothing – either positive or negative – about the Israeli policy, but insinuated that the motives of the civil-society leaders are anti-Semitic, and the type of boycotts he was apparently referring to were academic boycotts of Israeli academic institutions and academics, and consumer boycotts of all Israeli products, services and cultural activities.
The impression one got from media reports of Harper’s speech, and especially from the statements of various right-wing commentators, was that he had said that all proposals for boycotting Israel in one form or another are motivated by anti-Semitism.
But that was not what he said. Though Harper might object to the new trend in the policy of the European Union and many of its individual member states, of not only boycotting products produced by Israelis in territories occupied by Israel during the Six Day War (that includes the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights), but also of boycotting Israeli companies that are engaged in producing, constructing, or providing funds and services that serve the Jewish settlement activities in these territories – he said nothing on the subject.
Though it is no secret that Canada has objected to Israel’s settlement activities beyond the Green Line ever since the Six Day War, as have all the other states in the world, Harper said nothing about how the enlightened world ought to confront Israel’s persistence in ignoring this unanimous opposition, which in the past was mostly verbal, but is currently assuming increasingly more tangible forms.
Though it cannot be ruled out that among those who determine the policy of the EU, and among the leaders of its member states, there are some anti-Semites – of the old or new varieties – in general terms the new boycott is not motivated by anti-Semitism, though it certainly pleases the anti-Semites, and helps their own, more general boycott campaign.
The new, targeted boycott, if seriously implemented, will undoubtedly have a negative effect on the Israeli economy, though certainly not a devastating effect. In the past Israel survived a much worse and painful boycott – the Arab Boycott. With its primary, secondary and tertiary manifestations, the Arab Boycott kept the Israeli economy pretty isolated until the early 1990s, when the Madrid Conference and Oslo Accords brought about a major change in Israel’s international standing.
How many still remember the fact that the only Japanese car on sale in Israel was Subaru, that Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola refused to manufacture in or sell to Israel, and most of the world petrol market was closed to Israel? The purpose of those who imposed the boycott – the Arab states – was to weaken and ultimately to destroy Israel, and companies in the western world gave in for purely economic reasons, while the western governments didn’t move a finger to declare cooperation with the boycott to be illegal.
Within the Israeli Finance Ministry there was an Economic Warfare Authority whose main activity was to monitor the boycott. There was not much more that could be done.
Today the new boycott has been initiated by western international institutions and governments – not the Arab states – and its purpose is to try to get Israel’s government to change its settlement policy in what they view as occupied territories, or alternatively to get the Israeli business community to avoid supporting this policy by acting in these territories as if they were an integral part of the sovereign territory of Israel. The intention is not to destroy Israel.
Israel’s business community is naturally unhappy about the potential harm to the Israeli economy from the new boycott, which is already manifesting itself. However, members of this community are divided on ideological grounds with regard to what ought to be done about it.
lemOn the one hand there are those who believe that the boycott’s sole motive is the objection to all aspects of Israel’s settement policy, which is perceived as a major obstacle to an Israeli-Palestinian settlement, and call for serious negotiations with the Palestinians toward a settlement.
One may assume that those who hold this position (mostly supporters of the political Left and Center) will also do their best to end, or at least limit, any business activities they might have in the territories, though presumably most of them are not active in the territories.
On the other hand, there are those (mostly supporters of the political Right) who believe that the initiators of the new boycott have ulterior motives that go beyond Israel’s settlement activities, and that the settlement activities are not the real obstacle to progress in the negotiations with the Palestinians, or alternatively, reject any settlement based on territorial compromise and the establishment of a Palestinian state.
I wonder how the Canadian prime minister would have reacted had he been asked for his opinion on this debate.
In his speech he elegantly avoided the issue of Israel’s settlement policy altogether.
The writer is a retired Knesset employee who worked for the Economic Warfare Authority in the early 1980s.