Reconsidering BDS

Boycotters seem to think they know better than Israelis or their democratically elected government. There is condescension and lack of trust in Israelis’ moral judgment here.

BDS logo (photo credit: BDS)
BDS logo
(photo credit: BDS)
The classic argument in favor of boycotting Israel goes something like this: Israelis – even the secular, liberal variety – have fallen into apathy. Their economy is good, their military is strong and their geopolitical situation is stable. Israelis, as a result, see no reason not to continue managing the conflict with the Palestinians indefinitely.
Therefore, true lovers of Israel have no choice but to save Israelis from themselves by punishing them in various ways until they do the right thing and either make the concessions necessary for the creation of a Palestinian state or give up on Zionism and establish a binational state that provides Palestinians with full democratic rights.
There are, however, a number of major flaws in this bizarre argument.
Boycotters seem to think they know better than Israelis or their democratically elected government. There is condescension and lack of trust in Israelis’ moral judgment here.
But there is also no small amount of chutzpah. If the boycotters are successful, men, women and children will be forced to take the risks and pay the consequences for the policies advocated by the boycott lobby.
Jewish-American professors Steven Levitsky and Glen Weyl, and more than 300 “scholars associated with British universities,” who recently advocated boycott will continue to live comfortably in Boston, Chicago, Cambridge or London, while Israelis living in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Beersheba and Haifa will be exposed to the many dangers inherent in the creation of a Palestinian state under Palestinians’ corrupt, violent and autocratic political leadership.
Even if Israelis manage to avoid a civil war while dismantling thriving, peaceful Jewish settlements in order to create another failed Arab state, Israelis will have to contend with waves of terrorist violence emanating not from the relatively isolated Gaza Strip but from the West Bank.
Advocates of a boycott misread reality. They portray Israelis as intransigent and at best indifferent to Palestinians’ suffering, while in reality they are acutely aware of the dilemma they face in ensuring that Israel remains both Jewish and democratic.
Israelis have tried repeatedly to reach a diplomatic arrangement with the Palestinians. But Yasser Arafat in 2000, then Mahmoud Abbas in 2008, rejected comprehensive peace overtures from Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, respectively.
After Israel withdrew from Gaza, it was taken over by the Islamist and virulently anti-Semitic Hamas. Ever since, Palestinian leadership has been split. Since Hamas’s rise to power in the 2006 Palestinian elections, the democratic process has collapsed.
No Palestinian leader has a mandate from the people.
And this brings us to another major flaw in the pro-boycott argument: Palestinians’ utter lack of agency. The “occupation” explains every Palestinian ill. Hamas’s landslide victory in elections that took place in the midst of a wave of horrific suicide bombings is blamed on the occupation, as is the present glorification of Palestinians who knife, shoot and commit vehicular attacks against Israeli men, women and children.
Yet, Palestinians have free will that all other human beings and they have been choosing violence over compromise since well before the West Bank fell under Israeli control in the wake of the Six Day War.
Palestinians massacred Jews in 1929 and in 1936. The Palestinian leadership rejected the UN Partition Plan in 1947 and carried out attacks against Israel throughout the 1950s. The PLO was established in 1964 with the express goal of “liberating” Palestine through the destruction of Israel.
At no time in these years did a majority of Palestinians choose a pragmatic, democratic-minded leadership untainted by corruption that permitted lively debate and that advocated peace with Israel. Why is the creation of a Palestinian state that will continue this tradition morally preferable to the status quo? Why should Israelis be forced to take the heart-wrenching step of uprooting Jewish settlements, retreating from sites resonate with religious and historical importance and exposing themselves to existential dangers in order to establish such a Palestinian state? By calling for a boycott, particularly one directed at Israel’s cultural and academic community, BDS advocates are forfeiting their chance to try to answer these questions and others posed by Israelis truly conflicted by the dilemma they face.
As Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling argued, “Severing contact with Israel’s cultural and academic community means refusing to engage with some of the Israelis who are most pro-Palestinian, and most critical of Israel’s government.”
Promoters of a boycott should reconsider.