Jewish Journal


August 20, 2009

“Boycott Israel” Nope: Boycott the Arabs [VIDEO]


[video below]
I opened today’s LA Times to read a headline I last saw at electronicintifada.com:  “Boycott Israel.” 

This topped an op-ed piece by Neve Gordon, an Israeli peace activist who lives in Israel with his two children. 

I tried to follow Gordon to his logical conclusion, but it seems he stopped short.  If the point is to use a boycott to force an immediate settlement, why boycott just Israel, right? 

In the LA Times, Gordon writes that he “reluctantly” has come to conclusion that only crippling boycott and isolation can save Israel from itself:

It is indeed not a simple matter for me as an Israeli citizen to call on foreign governments, regional authorities, international social movements, faith-based organizations, unions and citizens to suspend cooperation with Israel. But today, as I watch my two boys playing in the yard, I am convinced that it is the only way that Israel can be saved from itself.

I say this because Israel has reached a historic crossroads, and times of crisis call for dramatic measures. I say this as a Jew who has chosen to raise his children in Israel, who has been a member of the Israeli peace camp for almost 30 years and who is deeply anxious about the country’s future.

Gordon says the justification for his conclusion is that Israel has become “an apartheid state.”  He is speaking of “Greater Israel,”  the land between the Jordan Valley and the Mediterranean Sea which Israel has controlled since 1967.

Within this region about 6 million Jews and close to 5 million Palestinians reside. Out of this population, 3.5 million Palestinians and almost half a million Jews live in the areas Israel occupied in 1967, and yet while these two groups live in the same area, they are subjected to totally different legal systems. The Palestinians are stateless and lack many of the most basic human rights. By sharp contrast, all Jews—whether they live in the occupied territories or in Israel—are citizens of the state of Israel.

The question that keeps me up at night, both as a parent and as a citizen, is how to ensure that my two children as well as the children of my Palestinian neighbors do not grow up in an apartheid regime.

This is indeed one of Israel’s major problems.  It may not rival an Iranian nuclear bomb in terms of immediacy, but there isn’t an Israeli politician or general who does not recognize that somehow, some way, Israel is facing a ticking demographic time bomb: Jewish state or apartheid state.

For Gordon, the “moral answer” is clear.

There are only two moral ways of achieving this goal.

The first is the one-state solution: offering citizenship to all Palestinians and thus establishing a bi-national democracy within the entire area controlled by Israel. Given the demographics, this would amount to the demise of Israel as a Jewish state; for most Israeli Jews, it is anathema.

The second means of ending our apartheid is through the two-state solution, which entails Israel’s withdrawal to the pre-1967 borders (with possible one-for-one land swaps), the division of Jerusalem, and a recognition of the Palestinian right of return with the stipulation that only a limited number of the 4.5 million Palestinian refugees would be allowed to return to Israel, while the rest can return to the new Palestinian state.

Geographically, the one-state solution appears much more feasible because Jews and Palestinians are already totally enmeshed; indeed, “on the ground,” the one-state solution (in an apartheid manifestation) is a reality.

Ideologically, the two-state solution is more realistic because fewer than 1% of Jews and only a minority of Palestinians support binationalism.

For now, despite the concrete difficulties, it makes more sense to alter the geographic realities than the ideological ones. If at some future date the two peoples decide to share a state, they can do so, but currently this is not something they want.

So if the two-state solution is the way to stop the apartheid state, then how does one achieve this goal?

Gordon says, “I am convinced that outside pressure is the only answer.”

Over the last three decades, Jewish settlers in the occupied territories have dramatically increased their numbers. The myth of the united Jerusalem has led to the creation of an apartheid city where Palestinians aren’t citizens and lack basic services. The Israeli peace camp has gradually dwindled so that today it is almost nonexistent, and Israeli politics are moving more and more to the extreme right.

It is therefore clear to me that the only way to counter the apartheid trend in Israel is through massive international pressure. The words and condemnations from the Obama administration and the European Union have yielded no results, not even a settlement freeze, let alone a decision to withdraw from the occupied territories.

I consequently have decided to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement that was launched by Palestinian activists in July 2005 and has since garnered widespread support around the globe. The objective is to ensure that Israel respects its obligations under international law and that Palestinians are granted the right to self-determination.

In Bilbao, Spain, in 2008, a coalition of organizations from all over the world formulated the 10-point Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign meant to pressure Israel in a “gradual, sustainable manner that is sensitive to context and capacity.” For example, the effort begins with sanctions on and divestment from Israeli firms operating in the occupied territories, followed by actions against those that help sustain and reinforce the occupation in a visible manner. Along similar lines, artists who come to Israel in order to draw attention to the occupation are welcome, while those who just want to perform are not.

Nothing else has worked. Putting massive international pressure on Israel is the only way to guarantee that the next generation of Israelis and Palestinians—my two boys included—does not grow up in an apartheid regime.

There are many anti-boycott arguments, none of which Gordon takes seriously because—well, it’s not clear why.  He doesn’t really refute them, he just raises them and ignores them.  Here’s a good summation (not from Gordon): 

Critics have claimed that singling out Israel is “outrageous and biased”  “lop-sided” and “unbalanced”  as well as “deplorable and offensive.” 

Some opponents of a boycott claim similarities with the Nazi boycotts of Jews of the 1930s and claim this is a form of anti-Semitism.
They have also been called “profoundly unjust” and relying on a “false” analogy with South Africa. One critical statement has alleged that the boycotters apply “different standards” to Israel than other countries, that the boycott is “counterproductive and retrograde” and that the campaign is antisemitic and comparable to Nazi boycotts of Jewish shops in the 1930s. 

The Economist contends that the boycott is “flimsy” and ineffective, that “blaming Israel alone for the impasse in the occupied territories will continue to strike many outsiders as unfair,” and points out that the Palestinian leadership does not support the boycott.on whatever terms Israel must accept.

But none of these matter because, clearly, Gordon is frustrated.  He wants a two state solution.  Of course so, officially, does Israel’s prime minister.  So do most Israelis.  So does most of the world. But Gordon wants it NOW, and since he and some other on the Israeli Left have not been successful in making their case to their own countrymen or to many Palestinians, and certainly not to Hamas, they seem to have decided that the only way to get what they want is to squeeze, pressure and perhaps even destroy their country from the outside. Kill, or cripple, the patient in order to save it.

Will that work?  I don’t see how. I’m no political scientist, but Gordon is.  And it seems to me even a passing familiarity with the history of the Middle East would demonstrate that Israel has only made peace from a position of strength.  This gives Israelis the willingness and the confidence to make concessions, and Israel’s enemies the motivation to sit down with Israel rather than try to destroy it.

With this in mind, I suggest the opposite: Don’t Boycott Israel, Boycott the Arab World.

That’s right.  Refuse to deal with its repressive regimes.  Go Green and develop alternatives to their oil. Freeze all their assets in US banks.  And tell them they can have normal relations with the West when they recognize Israel within adjusted borders, share Jerusalem, help with the refugees, and open their countries to full diplomatic and cultural relations with Israel.

Why not? If what Gordon wants is a settlement for Israel’s own good, won’t this work just as well—even better, in my opinion—than hurting his children’s own country?

After all, if Gordon thinks boycotts are so effective, why single out Israel? Why not boycott every Middle East country and the Palestinians until they all reach an immediate settlement?

Crazy idea?  Of course it is.  But so is boycotting Israel.

Meanwhile—and how’s this for irony—across the country in The Washington Post, an op-ed by the Crown Prince of Bahrain called on the Arabs to exercise just the kind of openness toward Israel which Gordon claims Israel alone has been resisting.

“We need fresh thinking if the Arab Peace Initiative is to have the impact it deserves on the crisis that needlessly impoverishes Palestinians and endangers Israel’s security.,” wrote Shaikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa in an July 16 op-ed. “Our biggest mistake has been to assume that you can simply switch peace on like a light bulb. The reality is that peace is a process, contingent on a good idea but also requiring a great deal of campaigning—patiently and repeatedly targeting all relevant parties. This is where we as Arabs have not done enough to communicate directly with the people of Israel.”

So let’s get this straight: an Israeli wants to twist Israel into submission, while an Arab wants to open a fair and honest dialogue with it.  And, frankly, the Crown Prince, head of a monarchy, sounds more sensible and flexible, while the professor from the democracy sounds less informed and more dictatorial.

“The two communities in the Holy Land are not fated to be enemies,” write the prince. “What can unite them tomorrow is potentially bigger than what divides them today.”

Both sides need help from their friends, in the form of constructive engagement, to reach a just settlement.

What we don’t need is the continued reflexive rejection of any initiative that seeks to melt the ice. Consider the response so far to the Arab peace plan, pioneered by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. This initiative is a genuine effort to normalize relations between the entire Arab region and Israel, in return for Israel’s withdrawal from occupied territory and a fair resolution of the plight of the Palestinians, far too many of whom live in refugee camps in deplorable conditions.

We must stop the small-minded waiting game in which each side refuses to budge until the other side makes the first move. We’ve got to be bigger than that. All sides need to take simultaneous, good-faith action if peace is to have a chance. A real, lasting peace requires comprehensive engagement and reconciliation at the human level. This will happen only if we address and settle the core issues dividing the Arab and the Israeli peoples, the first being the question of Palestine and occupied Arab lands. The fact that this has not yet happened helps to explain why the Jordanian and Egyptian peace accords with Israel are cold. They have not been comprehensive.

We should move toward real peace now by consulting and educating our people and by reaching out to the Israeli public to highlight the benefits of a genuine peace.

Would that this piece had appeared in The Los Angeles Times.

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