In so doing they have joined a smattering of other unions and some church groups from Western and Northern Europe that have also supported boycotts in recent years. The only really noteworthy equivalent in the US has been the divestment campaigns conducted by some of the Episcopalian churches, although these it must be noted were pinpointed against companies directly involved in facilitating the occupation, and have anyway been partially dropped. The boycott approach is normally attacked (quite viciously) as singling out Israel for unfavorable treatment, while ignoring wrong-doing elsewhere in the globe and particularly in the Arab world. It is even equated with support for terror groups. The most devastating criticism is to charge the boycott promoters with tactics against the Jewish state that are reminiscent of the methods used against the Jews during the darkest days of 20th century Europe. I think these approaches are wide of the mark and sometimes outright offensive. Undoubtedly, some boycott fellow-travelers and perhaps even instigators have ulterior and unpleasant motives. Still I think most of its supporters are making a genuine, humanitarian-based statement of opposition to the occupation. But I, too, oppose the boycott and here’s why:
Leave aside for the moment the essential ineffectiveness of the boycott policy, which has zero economic impact. Boycotting Israel to me represents a fundamental misunderstanding of what it will take to achieve peace in the region, to end the occupation, and to deliver security for Palestinians and Israelis alike. Of course for some, this is not the goal and a boycott is part of a broader strategy of de-legitimizing Israel and its very existence in the Middle East. They should at least be told that Israel is not going anywhere, that a new Middle East dispensation without an Israel is a recipe for generations of bloodshed with plenty of injustice all around, and that they are taking up a position that is hostile to the aspirations of the vast majority of Jews around the world. This is probably why most Palestinian leaders support a two-state solution and place boycott-promotion pretty low on their list of priorities (even Hamas is fumbling towards a two-state formula). For that not insignificant body of international opinion that staunchly opposes the occupation without being Israel-haters, who believe in human rights for Israelis and Palestinians alike, and who, in wanting to be helpful, flirt with the boycott idea, the following might be helpful:
Support for the boycott amongst Jewish Israelis, both at home and in the diaspora, really is virtually non-existent and there is no nascent movement around which such support is likely to be built. Ending the occupation and realizing a viable and an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel will require an Israeli partner. Israelis will need to either be active partners or at least acquiescent in achieving a realistic two-state solution based on the ’67 lines. The international community will probably need to intervene or at least be engaged to achieve such a solution. If Israelis view the outside world as implacably hostile – and a boycott encourages that thinking – then the prospective international role fades further into the distance. Of course, the flip-side to this is that the international community begins to actively push a resolution to the conflict, including setting out its own parameters for peace.
It is much more effective to be understanding of legitimate Israeli concerns and aspirations, while not ceding an inch regarding the illegitimacy and counter-productive nature of the occupation. That is the kind of tough-love that takes into account Israeli psychology and that could actually be of help. The alternative only encourages the most unhelpful, hunker-down, garrison state mentality amongst an Israeli public whose self-perception is already one of persecution. The most dovish Minister in the current Israeli government, Yuli Tamir, who happens to have the education portfolio, was the first one to come out against the new UK boycott. The coalition for two-states and against occupation and war should be broad-based enough to embrace a large Israeli peace-camp, the majority of Palestinian and Arab pragmatists, and the global peace movement. And quite simply, a boycott-based agenda cannot do that.