Israelis and supporters of Israel are increasingly concerned about international pressure — and with good reason. There was last year’s directive from the European Union, which threatened important Israel-EU cooperation; the recent uproar about SodaStream, which brought Israel unflattering media attention; and the almost daily news of some European country singling out an Israeli company for negative treatment.
Are these victories for the global BDS movement — the movement calling on people and nations to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel? Absolutely not.
The BDS movement treats Israel and the occupied territories as a single entity, seeing everything Israeli as a legitimate target for activism and thus, in effect, ignoring the Green Line — the 1949 Armistice line between Israel and the occupied territories. Supporters of this kind of BDS can find their mirror image in settlers and Greater Israel ideologues who want to erase the Green Line, in order to promote permanent Israeli control of the occupied territories.
In contrast, the current wave of pressure on Israel is a resounding rejection of efforts to ignore or erase the Green Line. This pressure, which has so shaken up Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he recently attacked U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry for merely pointing out the danger of isolation facing Israel, is at its core a powerful affirmation of Israel’s legitimacy as a state, coupled with an equally powerful condemnation of Israel’s actions and policies beyond the Green Line.
Let’s look at what this pressure is really about. The EU directive targeted Israeli support for settlements, not Israel itself. The SodaStream uproar was solely about its policy of manufacturing its products in a settlement, not its Israeli ownership. These and other recent developments are a clear challenge both to those who support BDS against Israel and to those who support settlements. These developments are, on the other hand, a victory for Israel — an affirmation of support for Israel as a legitimate, sovereign nation that can only survive and thrive if the occupation ends.
Israel’s Shalom Achshav movement and its U.S. sister organization, Americans for Peace Now (APN), have long worked to shine a bright light on the Green Line, delineating our strong support for Israel within its recognized, sovereign territory but our rejection of occupation. We do this precisely because we are committed to Israel and its survival as a healthy democracy and a Jewish state.
When APN and Shalom Achshav first came out endorsing boycotting settlements and settlement products, many in Israel and the American-Jewish world were critical and dismissive. Some said such a policy was meaningless, as settlement-related economic activity is limited. Today, it is indisputable that highlighting the Green Line and targeting settlements is having real impact.
Some said such a policy would only encourage BDS against Israel. In truth, decades of international indifference and impotence in the face of deepening Israeli occupation has led many people of conscience, including people who care deeply about Israel, to despair of finding a way to change Israel’s pro-settlement policies — and neither hasbara nor anti-boycott legislation will counteract this phenomenon. Given this reality, the only convincing answer to calls for BDS against Israel is supporting Israel by boycotting the settlements and challenging the occupation.
Make no mistake: Getting the world to adopt policies that distinguish between Israel and the occupied territories is a victory against those whose goal is to challenge the legitimacy not simply of settlements, but of Israel’s very existence. If we can’t succeed in doing so, others will succeed in isolating and delegitimizing Israel.
Steven Kaplan is a Los Angeles labor lawyer and Americans for Peace Now regional co-chair. He is one of the founders of Progressive Jewish Alliance. Sanford Weiner is a regional co-chair and national board member of Americans for Peace Now. He is co-founder of Social Studies School Service and active in the Jewish community and political activities.