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The Problem with the Boycott

Britain’s University and College Union (UCU) have just voted to boycott Israeli academic institutions. The motion passed by a majority of 158 to 99.

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.


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Comments (5)


Well anonymous, I read your comment, but I guess you need to get your facts well before you try to refute arguments, and also read the whole argument, not just pick bits and pieces.
In any event, I just want to point out some inaccuracies your comment. Israel never initiated talks. Everybody remembers when James Baker was in a press conference and gave the phone number of the White House and said if Israel wants to negotiate, its leaders know the number. That does not sound like an initiative to me. Also everybody remembers the quote from Shamir saying that he will spend the next 10 years negotiating, the does not sound like good faith.

So Israel offered a fair and lasting agreement? Three bantustans is fair? No right of return is fair? Keeping the illegal colonies is fair?

Palestinian rejected offers because they were unacceptable, and the Palestinian positions were clear and constituted offers. 242, 338, 194 and international are the offers. Did Israel accept these offers?

Israeli are indeed apartheid profiteers. Israel literally steals Palestinian water, so that Israel's can a lower price for water to water their lawns while Palestinians in Gaza drink water that is 40% sewage and sea water. Israel literally looted the lands and the property of the Palestinian refugees. Israelis are enjoying a relatively less crowded country while the population in Gaza quadrupled as a result of the expulsion of the refugees in 1948. Israel exploits the natural resources of the West Bank for the benefit of its citizens. Israel restricts the Palestinian electro magnetic sphere. Israel uses the West Bank as a big market for its products. Israel steals the archeological artifacts found in the West Bank, and the list goes on and on and on. The Wall is another part of its apartheid policies and plans.

The 22,400 terrorist attacks you are talking about include throwing stones at Israel army patrols. Is that terrorism?? Enlighten me please.

Israel has been working for peace for decades?? How insightful. Home demolition is peace? War crimes is peace? Apartheid is peace? Collective punishment is peace? Ethnic cleansing is peace? 650,000 prisoners in 40 years is peace? Illegal for-Jews only colonies is peace? Systematic discrimination of Palestinians in Israel is peace?

The only confused one here is you, substituting the word "peace" for "apartheid".


I wanted to respond to Mazen's comment, found below, which I find ridiculous.

Mazen: "Well, let me tell you that if it is up to the Israeli public, nothing will happen."

Response: When has Israel ever stepped away from the table? When has Israel not done everything in its power to reach a fair and lasting agreement that would save thousands of lives? Perhaps Mazen is not familiar with the history of the region; lest he forget, Camp David I & II, Oslo I & II. Every time, Israel initiates the talks. Every time, Israel makes offers that are rejected. Every time, the Palestinians fail to come up with even a counter-offer. If you keep making offers, and someone keeps saying 'no,' but doesn't say why, you might start to wonder.

Mazen: "Do not forget that the Israeli public is also the biggest apartheid profiteer."

Response: The lives Israel loses are not worth whatever profits you seem to be imagining. Any Israeli would agree.
We need to focus on why Israel is building a barrier in the first place. Since the
onset of the Intifada in 2000, Palestinian terrorists have initiated over 22,400 terrorist
attacks. Israel’s first priority is the security and protection of its citizens. The security fence is
working; since construction, it has helped thwart over 50% of terror attacks.

The bottom line is that the people who support the boycott are utterly confused. They are pressuring Israel, the side that has been working for peace for decades, and they are pitying the side that cries because it keeps trying to beat up its neighbor and ends up hurting itself in the process.

Nasi Lemak:

This is *completely* wrong - the UCU vote was to pass the issue to branches for discussion, NOT to start a boycott. There is no chance of the discussion process resulting in a boycott.

See: http://www.ucu.org.uk/index.cfm?articleid=2595


If they are going to boycott Israel or divest, if this is what they really believe, then they should do the same thing for every oppressive government anywhere. The Arab countries in the middle east are certainly some of the most despotic... lets start with them.


Once again the argument that Israelis should be convinced to make peace, and that should rights should be emphasized (usually at the expense of the rights of the Palestinian, is invoked as an argument against boycott. Well, let me tell you that if it is up to the Israeli public, nothing will happen. Do not forget that the Israeli public is also the biggest apartheid profiteer. They enjoy all of the the rights that are denied from the Palestinians and at their expense. Look at the water allocation for example, land allocation, the refugee issues. Therefore as it is today, the Israeli public "wants" peace, but one that would maintain its superiority and the inferiority of the Palestinians and their future state. The Israeli public is wreaping the "benefits" of apartheid and it will not change unless they are pressured to do so. One form of pressure could be violence, but violence is not a good long term option for the Palestinians (although they have the right to resist occupation using violence). Therefore the only other way to pressure Israel is to make the apartheid system very expensive to maintain. This could only be done through BDS Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions.
Opposing boycotts and at the same time opposing violence means that you are asking the Palestinians to accept the current situation. No one will accept such a situation that strips people from their humanity. Basically, those who oppose violence and boycotts are telling the Palestinans to cease to be humans, not to act as human beings and not to react to events as human beings. So while the writer here is stressing and upholding human rights of the Israelis, he is in essence dennying Palestinians their human nature.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on May 30, 2007 7:05 PM.

The previous post in this blog was Rounding Up the Brothers.

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