Boycott: the strongest political act we have against Israel

On Saturday 5th June, somewhere between 3000 and 5000 people gathered in Edinburgh city centre to protest against the actions of the Israeli State.

We were there because we are angry, appalled and disgusted at the way the Israeli State continues to flaunt international law and opinion, not least by boarding the flotilla carrying humanitarian supplies for blockaded Gaza, just a week ago. This behaviour and the further killings that happened over the weekend show just how determined the Israeli government is to maintain its siege.

The siege brings death and destruction on the people of Gaza every day. Whether as a result of disease, malnourishment, or at the barrel of a gun, the people of Gaza face an everyday threat to their existence.

I am a South African. In South Africa we had a government that denied human rights to people on grounds of race. This was widely condemned by the international community. The boycott of apartheid South Africa, its sporting, economic and cultural activities, forced that government to negotiate not only the end to apartheid, but also the consequent democratic reform that saw Mandela welcome South Africa back into international legitimacy. Eventually international condemnation and an international boycott brought down the apartheid regime. Only similar international condemnation will stop the racist Israeli state from denying human rights to Palestinians.

When I was last in Palestine, I saw the results of the devastating oppression Palestinians suffer at the hands of the Israeli state, demonstrating to me the urgent need to promote peace and justice for Palestinians. I saw children ill and malnourished, students terrified to go to class for fear of being shot in the back as they made their way between home and university, fields and fields of olive trees cut down at ground level so that Palestinian farmers could not make a living for themselves.

But, I also saw something else in the people I met: an extraordinary hope, an overwhelming optimism, and a solid belief in reconciliation that means peace is possible. But that peace can only be secured with the full participation of the Israeli state.

It is very easy, and very tempting, to want to punish the Israeli state with violence, to kill Israeli civilians, to do to them what they’ve done to so many thousands of Palestinians. However, violence will only serve to legitimise – in some people’s eyes – an escalation of violence and terror by the Israeli state. The resolution to the siege on Gaza, the occupation of the West Bank, the ever-extending Israeli settlements, has to be achieved peacefully. I believe that peace in Israel/Palestine is possible, and that it can be a just peace; a peace in which all people enjoy freedom and human rights, where no one is blockaded, where everyone is able to pursue their lives free from military threat, where the ill can get medicine, and where justice is central.

This does not mean that we should stand by and watch as Israel continues the injustices that it has got away with for decades. It does not mean that we should not be angry. It means that we need to channel our anger in productive and constructive ways. We must be angry at the wilful violence of the Israeli state, and let the world know that we are angry; by demonstrating peacefully, by visiting Palestine to show solidarity, by being on the next aid flotilla to Gaza, by supporting the Israeli peace movement, by making our politicians and our government act to support Palestine and against the vested interests of the Israeli state.

But perhaps the most powerful tool we have as communities and individuals is the choice to refuse to prop up the Israeli economy, and so to boycott Israeli products and organisations. We must encourage others we encounter to do likewise. The anti-apartheid boycott of South Africa was a no-brainer in the 70s, 80s and early 90s. A boycott of Israel should be just as obvious. We must continue to act; for peace, for justice and for Palestine.

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5 thoughts on “Boycott: the strongest political act we have against Israel

  1. Leaving aside my own feeling that Boycott is not an effective way of working towards peace in this situation (I don’t think, among other things, the positions of White South Africans and Israeli Jews are analogous), I agree with your call to work with the Israeli peace movement. My understanding is tha,t as opposed to the majority of the South African anti-apartheid movement, the Israeli peace movement is not in favour of such a boycott.

    But looking on websites, it’s difficult to find much info either way.

    For those with a knee-jerk opposition to supporters of the UK Palestinian Solidarity movement, the movement is often characterised as a ‘far Left’ one. But in my mind Left Solidarity is exactly what is needed, both to end the terrible siege of Gaza and the effective lack of sovereignty and citizenship of Palestinians, and to work to recognise that the actions of the Israeli State are those of a hawkish administration, and that our co-inhabitants in the UK are just as capable of getting whooped up into that sort of military mindset with the right circumstances in play.

    Back to my prejudices… my issue with BDS is that not only do I think that it has no potential for a positive outcome (and that it may well entrench Israel’s military position, and that it plays well into the founding-history/mythology of the Jewish diaspora) but that given Israel’s nature as a particular special kind of Ethnic State, it plays unwittingly into anti-Semitism which hinders proper dialogue on both sides. I.e. I believe it acts to hinder any lasting peace.

    Israel may be the Left’s Iraq. How is the Left going to leave the area better than we found it?

  2. Israel will not change it’s position without real pressure. It was pointed out for example, that the f16s Israel uses in it’s bombing raids get their spare parts from the UK.
    Asking Israel “nicely” to stop it’s policy of ethnic cleansing is a wast of time.

    Frank

  3. Frank,

    Arms Embargoes are not the same as boycott unless you’re suggesting that you have a garage full of spare F16 parts that you’ve just decided not to lend to Israel. I don’t think the UK should be giving arms to anyone. So there’s that red herring dealt with.

    The question of what will make Israel change is its position is up for debate. But the question in this case is “Will BDS make Israel change its position?”

    To be valid, I’d say the arguments have to go beyond case studies, which while informative, have limited predictive use (especially as it it seems we are essentially going with one case study) and be worked into the context of either economic diplomatic theory.

    Questions:

    a) Did sanctions bring Iran or Iraq (or Cuba) to the table?

    b) Have Israel’s sanctions against Gaza made the lives of the citizens of Israel safer?

    I would say “No, no, (no), and no”. I’d be disinclined to think that sanctions against Israel would be of any use (especially given the economic strength of Israel as compared to the Palestinans).

  4. Gordon,

    I think the crucial difference between Iran, Iraq and Cuba and Israel is that none of the three depended on exports to the West to support their economy.

    Iran and Iraq can and could find other markets for their main exports like oil, and Cuba had Comecon to trade with.

    The boycott hit Apartheid S. Africa so hard because it damaged its relationship with its main trading partners.

    That’s a position the US and Europe enjoy with Israel. That’s why a boycott makes sense.

    Given that 40 years of working with the Israeli left has delivered only worse condidtions for Palestinians, isn’t it time to try something else. Something that worked to end apartheid.

    We’re not talking about something that is going to lead (as has the blockade of Gaza) to people literally starving.

    But over time it might just create an incentive to stop the occupation.

    How else can we put pressure on Israel?

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