The case for boycott

A strong sense of uneasiness should accompany any citizen who calls for a boycott against his own country. This means that a long process of contemplation should preface such a call. The call is a political act, yet even in acts carried out in a non-ambivalent manner doubts regarding the wisdom, effectiveness and morality of the move may linger on. This is where I am today, after long years in the Israeli peace camp in which I shunned such calls, believing in the ability of an internal Israeli coalition to bring an end to the occupation of Palestine. v By Palestine, I mean here the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. This means that boycott is recommended here as a strategy whose overall objective is to change a policy and not the identity of the state of Israel. Although I am a firm believer in a one-state solution, and although I see the return of the Palestinian refugees as a condition sine qua non for any lasting peace–I wish these visions to be materialized only through negotiations and not coercion. The device of external pressure should be employed exclusively for changing a policy of destruction, expulsion and death.

The Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip was always oppressive and inhuman, but ever since October 2000, and particularly since April 2002, it has become a horror story of abuse and callousness. Every passing day brings with it demolition of Palestinian houses, confiscation of land, poverty, unemployment, malnutrition and death. The trend is for worse to come, with a sense of an Israeli government that feels it has a "green light" from the US to do whatever it wishes in the occupied territories. This "free pass" atmosphere has legitimized the discourse of transfer in Israel and could herald the making of another Palestinian Nakbah in the form of a partial or a comprehensive ethnic cleansing in Israel and in Palestine. There is an urgent need to stop this suffering and prevent future Israeli plans of inflicting more massive and irreversible damage on the Palestinian people and their society.

There are three options for bringing an end to such a brutal chapter. One is armed struggle. This has been adopted as the exclusive agenda by many Palestinians, and it has been a subject for internal debate within Palestinian society with regard to its productivity. It is not difficult to see why from a humanist and universal point of view, suicide bombs or military operations have not yielded an end to the occupation and are not likely to bring it about in the future. Such action has led to more innocent victims being drawn into the conflict, thereby entrenching rejectionist positions within Israeli society.

The second option is change from within the society of the occupier. The peace camp in Israel has always been a story of a few thousand activists divided among dozens of NGOs and with very few parties in the parliament representing their agenda. In many ways this line of action, despite its vitality and necessity, is even more hopeless than military action.

The third option is a call from the inside to the outside to exert economic and cultural pressure on Israel to bring home the message that there is a price tag attached to the continuation of the occupation. This means that as many Israeli Jews as possible should realize that their state has become a pariah, and will remain so, as long as the occupation continues, or more concretely until Israel withdraws to the June 1967 lines, or at least to where its forces were in September 2000.

This movement has started, even without such a call from within. Veterans of the anti-Apartheid movement in the US and Europe began boycotting Israeli goods, calling for divestment and initiating a boycott on academia. More has to be done to turn it into an effective movement. As in the case of the boycott on South Africa, there is a need to begin at the grassroots level and NGO spheres of action with the hope of eventually affecting the higher political echelons. As in the case of South Africa, there will initially be only partial successes, but there is much to be gained from generating a trend of ostracizing the official Israeli presence abroad. This can empower the internal opposition to the occupation, persuading hesitant voices and maybe convincing others to join the soldiers’ and reservists’ refusal movement.

This brings me to the question of a more specific boycott on Israeli academia. I think by now it is clear from this article that such a discrete action has value only if it is part of a call for an overall campaign for external pressure. Without such a call it makes no sense for an activist like myself to advocate sanctions or pressure on some sectors of society while demanding immunity for my own peers and sphere of activity–academia. This is dishonest. It should be recognized that activists for boycott are themselves likely to suffer if the campaign they call for succeeds. In fact it makes more sense to try and affect academia since it plays such a major role in the local elite, and its record of opposing the occupation is quite dismal.

How exactly should academics around the world show their discontent and dismay at both Israeli policy and the lack of moral courage within Israeli academia in the face of continued atrocities? This is a question that should be directed to those who are willing to take the move. We in Israel should first voice our moral support for such an act. This is a very clear and convincing way of trying to put across the message that crimes against humanity are being committed in our name and we would like to join forces with anyone willing to bring an end to them, without violence or terror, but through pressure and persuasion.