We gratefully acknowledge the work of the Olympia BDS Committee, whose work we have borrowed (with permission) here.
Boycott is a nonviolent tool for social change that has been tested and proven effective in a variety of campaigns. It is an essential part of the engaged civilian’s toolkit and is an empowering process that everyone can participate in. When governments have failed—or in this case, have been fundamentally complicit—boycott helps level the playing field.
There is a rich history of boycotts for social change, from the Indian “Swadeshi” boycott of British goods, to the Montgomery bus boycott in the 1950s, to the California grape boycott in the 1960s, or the more recent Coalition of Immokalee Workers boycott of Taco Bell.
Perhaps the best example of this nonviolent tactic used to change the policies of a country is the boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaign on apartheid South Africa.
Some of us were not around to participate in these boycotts, but there are boycott campaigns today that are worth considering.
Why an Israeli boycott?
The Israeli boycott is part of a nonviolent international grassroots campaign of boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) to compel Israel to follow international law and respect Palestinian human rights.
The campaign’s clearest statement comes from a 2005 call for international action, signed by nearly 200 Palestinian civil society organizations and endorsed by prominent activists from Desmond Tutu to Arundhati Roy to Naomi Klein.
After 60 years, the roots of the conflict still remain unaddressed. There have been several rounds of US-sponsored “peace talks” that have actually served to suspend peace. International law has been clear on the solution, but the solution has been stymied by US support for the Israeli status quo.
The situation has only gotten worse:
Expansion: The number of illegal settlements and Israeli settlers taking over the Palestinian West Bank and East Jerusalem has consistently and continuously expanded — even during the Oslo “peace process” and even during the current Israeli “moratorium” on settlements.
Expulsion: The Israeli expulsion of Palestinians from Palestinian lands has grown. Palestinians continue to be driven out of their own land today, through a combination of Israeli military tactics, discriminatory legal rulings, and an Israeli bureaucracy deliberately designed to drive out Arabs from their own lands. The Palestinian refugee crisis that began with the initial expulsions in 1947 continues to this day, with more refugees being created to make way for a dominant Israel.
Strangulation: The siege of 1.5 million people in the Gaza Strip is into its fifth year. Israel has enacted what it calls “economic warfare” by trapping the population in the world’s largest open-air prison, prohibiting Gazans from fishing off their own waters, from importing books and livestock, from farming near the border, from exporting goods, and from creating their own economy or producing their own food. The plan was described by a senior Israeli advisor in 2006 as “like an appointment with a dietician. The Palestinians will get a lot thinner, but won’t die.”
Israel will continue to act with impunity until the world collectively responds. BDS is how the people of the world are responding right now.
But why should I honor the boycott? What does it have to do with me?
Simply put, we have the responsibility, and we have the means.
People living in the United States have an exceptional responsibility for the conflict in the Middle East. For decades, the United States has guaranteed the power imbalance that makes it impossible for the Palestine/Israel conflict to be resolved. The US backs Israeli aggressions through the following policies:
Military and financial aid: The US gives Israel about $3 billion annually—usually more—making Israel the largest recipient of US aid, receiving roughly the same amount that the US gives to all of sub-Saharan Africa. However, Israel is not a developing country in need of financial assistance. Instead, Israel uses the money to expand its dominance in the region.
Diplomatic immunity: The US shields Israel from international criticism. In the history of the UN Security Council, half of all US vetoes have been performed on behalf of Israel. The US ensures that existing Security Council resolutions, World Court rulings, and other aspects of international law do not apply to Israel, making it possible for Israel to continue to commit war crimes and human rights abuses, at the expense of the Palestinians and Israel’s neighbors.
Political support: The US directs the situation in Palestine/Israel by encouraging Israeli supremacy in the region and co-opting the peace process for its own ends. Israeli actions are committed with US consent and approval.
In othe words, the Palestine/Israel conflict is our conflict, whether we like it or not. It’s our responsibility. Shirking that responsibility only makes us more complicit in the actions of our government.
Honoring the boycott demonstrates to Israel that US support is not unconditional and not absolute. It sends a message to Israel that we are putting Israel on notice and that we will not look the other way while our government colludes with them. If Israel sees the US people disapprove of its actions, then they will know that US support for its impunity is not guaranteed.
While other people around the world are participating in the BDS campaign, it’s the people of the US that Israel worries about the most.
Why should the Co-op honor the boycott?
The Port Townsend Food Co-op operates with an awareness of economic, ecological, and social justice, which is imbued in its mission and in its policies. The Co-op has a history of factoring in social ethics to its merchandising decisions — choosing not to carry certain products due to a workers’ strike or an existing boycott campaign. The Co-op has also refused to stock items that contain packaging construed as racist or sexist.
Because the Co-op understands that social ethics and social justice are inseparable from providing the community with goods, it is only appropriate that the Co-op honors the boycott campaign, which fits perfectly with its existing boycott policies.
Honoring the boycott help the Co-op live up to its goal to “encourage economic and social justice.”
But Israel won’t change its ways just because the Co-op boycotts, right?
Of course. A boycott doesn’t work if only one establishment chooses to boycott on its own. A boycott requires a campaign, a movement, and broad participation. All these items are already in place. The co-op would not be initiating a boycott. Rather it would be respecting, observing and participating in an existing boycott. It’s through collective power that a boycott resonates.
Here is a sample of the grassroots actions that have occurred or are occurring in the BDS movement:
- The Olympia Food Cop has voted to boycott Israeli goods (with one exception, Peace Olive Oil).
- The Methodist Church of Great Britain recently voted to boycott Israeli settlement goods.
- The Swedish Dock Workers Union instituted a weeklong blockade of Israeli cargo from Sweden.
- The Evergreen State College student body voted overwhelmingly to call on the Evergreen Foundation to divest from companies that profit from the Israeli occupation.
- A similar call was passed at the University of Michigan—Dearborn.
- Hampshire College divested from companies that were engaged in human rights abuses with the Israeli military. (Incidentally, Hampshire was the first college to divest from apartheid South Africa.)
- The Northern Illinois Conference of the United Methodist Church also voted to divest from companies profiting from the occupation.
- Code Pink leads a campaign to boycott Ahava products, produced by an Israeli company from stolen Palestinian natural resources. Oxfam drops Sex and the City actor Kristen Davis as Goodwill Ambassador due to Davis’s role as a spokesperson for Ahava.
- Jewish Voice for Peace unveils its campaign to call on TIAA-CREF to institute its socially responsible investment policy and divest from companies profiting from the occupation.
- Britain’s largest union, Unite, votes to engage in boycott and divestment from Israel, “similar to the boycott of South African goods during the era of apartheid.”
- Italy’s largest supermarket chains, COOP and Nordiconad, announce a boycott of products exported by Israeli Carmel Agrexco.
- Germany’s largest bank, Deutsche Bank, along with the Norwegian State Pension Fund, the two largest Danish pension funds, Danske Bank and PKA Ltd, Sweden’s largest asset manager, Folksam, and ABP, a Dutch asset manager, have all divested their funds from Elbit Systems, an Israeli arms manufacturer.
- In Oakland, hundreds of labor and community activists enacted a 24-hour blockade of the port to prevent the unloading of an Israeli Zim Line ship on June 20, 2010 in protest of the Israeli siege on Gaza and the recent attacks on the Free Gaza flotilla. The June 20 blockade was honored by the Oakland ILWU.
- Echoing the apartheid-era calls to not play in Sun City, Gil Scott-Heron, Elvis Costello, the Klaxons, Gorillaz, Santana, the Pixies, and Devendra Banhart all cancel tour dates in Israel in response to the international call for BDS.
- Hollywood actors Meg Ryan and Dustin Hoffman cancel their appearances at the Jerusalem Film Festival in response to the Gaza flotilla massacre.
- Numerous filmmakers, authors, and artists, including Eve Ensler, Alice Walker, David Byrne, Danny Glover, Howard Zinn, John Pilger, and Harry Belafotne, sign the “Toronto Declaration,” protesting the use of the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival as part of the “Israeli propaganda machine.”
- John Berger, Arundhati Roy, Eduardo Galeano, Brian Eno, and several other artists and writers sign on to a separate declaration, calling for the cultural boycott of Israel.
- The South African Municipal Workers Union (SAMWU) declare efforts to make every South African municipality an “Apartheid Israel free zone.”
- The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU) refuse to offload an Israeli ship in response to Israel’s invasion of Gaza. COSATU declares that it will strengthen BDS efforts on Israel.
As with every movement, as with every struggle, boycotting is a long term campaign. Although many people have made sacrifices, and many others have not seen peace in their lifetime, the struggle continues. All that is asked of the Co-op is that it honors the boycott.
How could boycotting make a difference?
Boycotts have been proven effective in other campaigns. And we know that BDS is something Israel has been paying close attention to.
Recently, a bill was introduced in the Israeli Knesset, submitted by 25 Knesset members, that would “criminalize” BDS. That is, Israeli activists who support boycott could be arrested for engaging in “illegal” activity. Israeli activists have risked their livelihoods and have endured death threats in order to tell the world that BDS is necessary. Now they also risk imprisonment.
This demonstrates how much Israel is concerned with BDS, that the government would consider curtailing free speech in order to make BDS disappear.
Israel is a country that is particularly consumed with PR. Its media and society constantly argue over whether Israel is “winning the PR war.” Even apart from AIPAC, the preeminent Israel lobby, tens of millions of dollars are spent on advocacy groups in the US to whitewash Israeli abuses and drown out criticism. Israel also hires prominent PR firms in the US and Europe to help manage its image.
Israeli PR moves have consisted of everything from producing a reality TV show (called “The Ambassador”), in which contestants compete to see who can best sell Israel to the world, to sponsoring a “Women of the Israeli Defense Forces” bikini spread in Maxim magazine, in order to make Israeli soldiers appear “sexy.”
Boycotting makes a statement to Israel that it cannot continue to act with impunity. Israel’s well documented and massive human rights violations can no longer be whitewashed or swept under the rug.
Isn’t this “anti-Israel”?
Criticizing US foreign policy is not “anti-American,” whatever that means. Israeli supporters of BDS are not “anti-Israel.” The term “anti-Israel,” as with “anti-American,” is rhetorical.
Supporting BDS is no more “anti-Israel” than boycotting South Africa is “anti–South Africa” or “anti-White,” or boycotting China is “anti-Chinese.” Boycott is a nonviolent people-powered tool for change. This is about changing Israel’s destructing policies and working for peace and justice in the region.
As Naomi Klein explains, “Boycott is not a dogma; it is a tactic.” The British author John Berger explains further: “As Nelson Mandela has pointed out, boycott is not a principle, it is a tactic depending upon circumstances….A boycott is directed against a policy and the institutions which support that policy either actively or tacitly. Its aim is not to reject, but to bring about change.”
Boycott is the means to an end, not an end to itself. How do we change Israel’s destructive policies, and how do we do it nonviolently?
When BDS was leveled on South Africa, the goal wasn’t to “delegitimize” South Africa, to eliminate white South Africans, or to destroy South Africa. The goal was specific: To end Apartheid and the human rights abuses associtaed with it. That was the goal. BDS was the tactic.
We want to boycott for change. We want to boycott for human rights.
But aren’t we taking sides? or I don’t want to take sides.
This argument makes the following faulty assumptions:
- That by doing nothing, we are not taking sides.
- That both sides are equal, that there are no power dynamics.
- That there is no right or wrong, no international law, no sense of justice or human rights — only partisanship.
- That we understand what the “sides” are all about.
A boycott is a boycott for justice and human rights. Apathy or “neutrality” actually sides with the status quo, which is not a pleasant status quo. If we don’t “take sides,” then we give a green light for atrocities to continue.
Shouldn’t we all take sides for social justice? Can we be neutral when it comes to racism, sexism, queer rights, apartheid, marriage equality, abortion, civil rights, torture, slavery, increased government surveillance, corporate globablization, and ethnic cleansing?
If we consider the “sides” to be Israel vs. Palestine, then one side is the occupying power, while the other side the occupied, the disempowered, and the dispossessed.
If we consider the “sides” according to what each party wants, it gets a little more complicated. As with all peoples, Israelis and Palestinians are not monolithic. In fact, 20% of Israelis are Palestinian, too. However, virtually all Palestinians are united against occupation. In Israel, even beyond the 20% Palestinian population, there are many conscientious Israelis who are opposed to the actions of their government. Some of these Israelis are openly asking for us to participate in the boycott campaign.
So on one side, there are Palestinians, conscientious Israelis, international law, human rights, and world opinion. On the other side is the government of Israel, backed by the government of the United States. Is it too much to favor one side?
Unfortunately, due to racism and perhaps lack of exposure to other peoples of the world, there are many people who fail to see the Palestinians as human beings who deserve freedom by virtue of being alive. They shouldn’t need to prove that they deserve freedom and human dignity.
The point is not that Palestinians are worth more than Israelis, but that Palestinians are entitled to human rights as much as Israelis are. To some, any acknowledgement of Palestinians as human beings seems partisan. We need to work against that, and “neutrality” won’t get us there.
But why single out Israel?
Israel is not being singled out. There are thousands of social justice issues that people work on all the time. Yet when anyone brings up Palestine, they are immediately accused of “singling out” Israel, of “picking on” Israel—as if none of the other social justice issues ever came up.
By those standards, no matter what cause you’re working on, you’re “singling out” that cause. No one can address all the concerns in the world at the same time.
Is Israel the worst human rights abuser? No. But neither was South Africa under apartheid. That’s certainly no reason to not work against apartheid. Whatever cause you work for, someone can come by and claim that there’s a more important cause.
That’s not really a defense of Israel, but a defense of apathy.
There are several reasons why Israel is important for us in the US, however. Foremost, the problem is that the US does single out Israel. The US singles out Israel as the largest recipient of US aid, as the country which receives unconditional support, and which gets to be the world’s only undeclared nuclear power. So the best way to not single out Israel is to make Israel adhere to general principles such as human rights and international law, and hold Israel accountable for its actions.
Won’t a boycott hurt regular Israelis?
The short answer is no—not individually. Here’s the long answer:
The goal of the boycott is not to literally strike at the pocketbooks of the average Israeli. Boycott is a tactic that communicates to Israel as a whole that it cannot assume business as usual while oppressing a people. It demonstrates a diplomatic and political cost, by way of disrupting economic exchange. This disruption is experienced on a macro level, rather than on the micro level of individual Israeli citizens.
There are several dimensions of the boycott that must be addressed.
Israel already receives $3 billion a year from the United States. This doesn’t include additional grants and loan guarantees. And this has transpired every year for decades, totalling more than US aid to sub-Saharan Africa within that timespan. A boycott will not offset that, but will indicate to Israel that the US public is becoming aware of that $3 billion bounty, and that the aid might not continue indefinitely and unconditionally.
A boycott is in no way comparable to what Israel is doing to the Gaza Strip, which is true collective punishment. In the 2009 attack on Gaza, Israel destroyed the Gazan infrastructure. It has continued to maintain a blockade that prevents Gaza from rebuilding its economy. Exports are prohibited. Imports are limited to the barest necessities to stay alive. Books and livestock are not allowed in. Shoes and clothes were not allowed in for three years. Because of the blockade, 95% of Gaza’s factories are closed, 98% of Gazans suffer from rolling power blackouts while the remaining 2% have no electricity at all. 93% of Gaza’s water is polluted. Unemployment is over 40%. Gaza is not allowed to produce its own food.
A recent Israeli poll found that 73% of Israeli Jews support this “economic warfare” on Gaza (non-Jewish Israelis were not polled because their opininons do not matter).
Goods imported into Gaza are at the whim of Israeli officials. A number of Israeli food manufacturers and growers compete to have access to the literally “captive” Gazan market. The same applies to the West Bank, where Israeli-imposed checkpoints, roadblocks, curfews, and Israeli-only “bypass” roads make Palestinian-produced goods more expensive to consume than the same products produced in Israel.
Israeli taxes are invested considerably more for Israeli Jews, at the expense of Palestinian citizens of Israel. VAT and customs collected from Palestinian financial exchanges and meant to be transferred to the Palestinian Authority are often held by Israel. “Free trade zones” located between Israel and the West Bank employ cheap Palestinian labor without according them any workers’ rights.
There are many ways in which the average Jewish Israeli citizen benefits from the exploitive relationship with Palestinians.
The problem is that we are currently rewarding Israel financially, politically, and militarily for its oppression of the Palestinians. A boycott seeks to correct that problem.
Here, we must address the nature of the original question, because it presents doubts about boycotts and activism in general. Almost every type of activism inconveniences someone who is not a direct target. Thus lunch counter sit-ins, boycotts, marches, phone call-in campaigns, pickets all impact people beyond the inteded target to some extent. Does that inconvenience compromise the action? If so, then one has made the case against almost all nonviolent direct action—certainly against the Civil Rights Movement as a whole.
The assumption is that one should not engage in actions for social change if it ruffles a few feathers. The fact that it inconveniences people who are not the intended target means the action is not “noble.” This is an unhealthy, idealized, and sanitized impression of what is required to create change. One cannot create change and not upset the status quo. It’s a contradiction.
One must decide which is preferable: the false “calm” of the present—in which the only people oppressed are the people who have been continuously oppressed—or the “messy” struggle for progress, in which the oppressed are uplifted at the temporary inconvenience of those who have been benefiting from the status quo.
Moreover, regardless of one’s stance on the Palestine/Israel conflict, there is often an automatic consideration for Israel and a mere afterthought afforded to Palestinians. Perhaps this is due to perceptions of Israel as a fellow western society, or perhaps it is due to the familiarity of centuries of anti-Semitic persecution of Jews. It could also be attributed to the fact that many people in the United States who are not Jewish, Arab, or Muslim have regular interactions with Jews but very few interactions with Palestinians, Arabs, or Muslims. Regardless, it is often easier to identify with a Jewish state than with a Palestinian refugee camp.
Thus, when the idea of a boycott on Israel is proposed, people automatically consider the feelings of the average Israeli, or even of their Jewish friends. This deference is considered first before any regard is granted to the Palestinians.
So when the original question is raised, is it raised because of concerns about boycotts in general, or because of concerns about bocyotts on Israel?
Would one have the same concerns about a boycott on South Africa, or China, or Sudan? Would one have the same concerns over an Arizona boycott? And would the concerns weigh the same as such concerns over Israel? And do we measure that against how much and how long the occupation has hurt Palestinians?
Finally, we must acknowledge the demographics of the region. Rougly 20% of Israelis are Palestinian, who are considered second- or third-class citizens and are routinely discriminated against. A number of prominent leaders among the Israeli Palestinian community endorse BDS. They have subsequently been denounced as a “fifth column,” have been imprisoned and beaten, and have even been threatened with deportation.
Conscientious Israelis are also calling for BDS. They have been threatened with firings, have received death threats, and now they might be facing imprisonment, too.
Yet these people making the BDS call from within, presumably the ones who will bear the brunt of BDS, are asking the international community to heed their call. We must acknowledge their sacrifices.
If the Co-op institutes this boycott, will it cause a backlash?
Recently, students at The Evergreen State College overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling on the college to divest from companies that profit from the Israeli occupation. It made news internationally. Evergreen students braced themselves for a backlash, but it never came. Instead, they received literally thousands of messages of support from around the world, including from many in Israel.
It is hard to predict what amount of backlash will result, and a reactionary response is a common side-effect of working for justice. However, it is important to not let the possibility of a backlash muddy the virtue of a just cause.
The biggest potential threat to a boycott comes from StandWithUs, a racist, anti-Muslim organization with a chapter in Seattle. StandWithUs engages in fearmongering, threats, misinformation, and smear campaigns to push their agendas through. They have been known to resort to homophobic insults and immature (and incomprehensible) email attacks.
If they did respond, one can take pride that one has upset such an appalling and reprehensible organization.
I agree with the intent, but I’m concerned about the timing.
The initial group of activists met to discuss the need for a boycott about a year ago. As time goes by, it only becomes more important than ever.
Unfortunately there is never a “convenient” time to act because there is never an appropriate time for injustice, oppression, and human rights abuses.
The occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip has gone on for 43 years. The ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians began 63 years ago and continues to this day. The ongoing imprsionment and strangulation of the 1.5 million people of Gaza is now in its fourth year. Every new generation is worse off than the prior one, with fewer hopes and fewer prospects.
However, there is a solution, but only if we commit to it.
No time is a “good” time to do the right thing. There’s only the right thing to do. The only “better” time would have been yesterday rather than today—and today rather than tomorrow.
I don’t like how this makes me feel. / This makes me feel unsafe. / This makes me feel uncomfortable.
Without discounting people’s personal feelings, we must distinguish between the actions that make one feel discomfort and the actions that cause people to be imprisoned, killed, malnourished, and oppressed. Activism is sometimes uncomfortable territory. It compels us to utilitze the powers and privileges that we possess. Standing up for what is right can be scary.
Those who feel uncomfortable because they feel it strikes at their sense of personal identity or makes them feel victimized or persecuted should be encouraged to express their feelings. However, it is important to recognize where those feelings come from, and distinguish those feelings from the efforts behind the boycott campaign and from the physical suffering of Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
I read on the internet (or heard from someone who heard from someone) that boycotting is illegal. Is that true?
No. This is a myth being propagated to scare people into supporting Israel. In the US, the Export Administration Act and the Ribicoff Amendment restrict the observance of boycotts “imposed by foreign countries that are unsanctioned by the United States.” The ongoing BDS movement is a worldwide grassroots movement, not imposed by any country and not beholden to any country.
Just to be sure, one activist emailed the Bureau of Industry and Security at the US Dept. of Commerce. She received confirmation that “[t]he Regulations relate to unsanctioned foreign boycotts. The Regulations are not applicable to boycotts of domestic origin.” That is, if the Co-op wants to boycott, it has that right — as it should.
No individual or organization has ever been penalized by the US government for participating in the grassroots BDS movement, and it demonstrates the lengths to which some people try to employ fear tactics in order to maintain the status quo and obstruct social change.
BDS is an international movement to affect change where governments have failed to do so. Its power comes from the people. It’s simple. It’s safe. And it’s the right thing to do.
I can’t use the drama, it’s messy, it’s complicated, we don’t need this right now
These aren’t actual arguments against boycott, but rather arguments against action, against taking responsibility, and arguments in support of the status quo. For us to honor the boycott in Port Townsend and throughout Jefferson County is much safer than Palestinians and Israelis requesting the boycott from their end. It is also much less dramatic and messy than the everyday trials of a military occupation.
What local drama may transpire will eventually pass, to be replaced no doubt with other drama. Yet the mark it makes on progress in Palestine will be permanent.
If we want to boycott Israel, then we would have to boycott cell phones, because Israel invented the cell phone. So there!
We didn’t make this one up. This argument is more common than you think. The problem with this argument is twofold:
- It’s not true.
- It doesn’t make sense.
The point is not to reject all things Israeli. The point is to employ consumer-based activism to work for peace and justice.
Israel did not invent the cell phone, as is commonly argued. But even if it did, it does not mean we would necessarily reject cell phones. Nor does inventing the cell phone make it okay for Israel or the US (where the cell phone was actually created) to commit human rights abuses.
The first heart transplant was performed in apartheid South Africa. That did not make a boycott of South Africa any less releveant, nor did it mean that opponents of apartheid had to reject heart transplants.
A boycott is so negative. Can’t we encourage change in the Middle East through positive energy? The Israeli government will change if we are nice to it. Why can’t we all get along?
A boycott is not a negative action. It is proactive action. It was not negative during the Civil Rights movement, and it was not negative during South Apartheid. It was people taking action, nonviolently, where their governments failed or were complicit.
The argument is often made that Israel simply requires positive encouragement. This was the same argument that the Reagan administration used to reject BDS against South Africa. They termed it “constructive engagement,” and it failed miserably. During the period of constructive engagement, the apartheid government increased its repression against black South African resistance, knowing that it could get away with it. Popular pressure eventually forced the Reagan administration to abandon constructive engagement and embrace BDS.
With Israel, the US has provided every gift imaginable, from the largest lump of US aid in the world, to UN Security Council veto power, to diplomatic cover, to concessions of every kind. This has only encouraged Israel to act with impunity. That is why the Israeli government was not afraid to humiliate the Obama administration with a “slap in the face” by declaring settlement expansion during Joe Biden’s visit. The Netanyahu government finally agreed to a temporary settlement freeze but then proceeded to violate that freeze.
Israel has even taken secret US military technology and offered to sell it to China. It was only US pressure, not constructive engagement, that caused Israel to cancel the China contract.
Netanyahu has been caught on tape telling Israeli settlers, “I know what America is. America is something that can easily be moved…80% of the Americans support us. It’s absurd.”
“Constructive engagement” enables Israel to act with impunity. The only recent time that the US has pressured Israel signigicantly was in 1992 when Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir refused to cease settlement expansion. Bush Sr. then rejected Israel’s request for $10 billion in loan guarantees. This was viewed as a monumental event and is credited with causing Shamir’s Likud party to lose to Labor in the subsequent Israeli elections.
Israel has been shown to only respond to international pressure. BDS is nonviolent international pressure.
Israel is not the worst human rights violator in the world. Why don’t you go after [insert Arab or African country here]?
This question implies that it is hypocritical to work for change anywhere unless one works for change everywhere. Or else, it implies that only the absolute worst violations in the world should ever be addressed.
The problem is that the argument can be applied to just about any activism, not just activism on Israel/Palestine. That is, one can level these arguments against doing anything about Arizona, or about immigration in general, or about civil rights, queer rights, environmental justice, racism, sexism, AIDS, poverty, Iraq, Afghanistan, health care, etc.
No matter what cause you engage in, there is always some other cause that could be deemed “more worthwhile.” Someone can always point to a greater atrocity or more “dire” situation elsewhere.
In other words, the question implies that you have to address all the problems in the world, or else you’re a hypocrite. The only way to not be a hypocrite then is to do nothing at all. Thus the argument promotes apathy as the morally superior option.
For some reason, this question is often posed to say that a true activist’s priority is some random Arab or African country. Ironically, the person who poses this question is never engaged in working for change in the region that they cite. Thus the Arab or African atrocity is used only to deflect criticsm of Israel. That in itself is exploitive.
The question before deciding to engage in a cause is not “Is it the worst thing in the world?” Rather, the questions should be:
- Is it bad enough to do something about?
- Is it a problem that you can do something about?
And bonus points for this question:
- Is it a problem that you are already complicit in?
Still, isn’t it hypocritical for us to be boycotting Israel when our own government has committed tons of atrocities? Why don’t we boycott the US?
Boycott is a tactic, not a principle. The questions assume that the reason for the boycott is out of hatred or out of retribution for past deeds. No, the boycott is to produce change. Boycotting the US for its past atrocities is not asking the US to change.
As for boycotting the US for its current crimes, it is difficult to boycott the US while living inside the US. At the same time, Israeli activists are calling for an international boycott on Israel. They themselves cannot participate in the boycott because they live in Israel, but they challenge their own government in ways that are only possible for Israeli citizens to do. They hope that an international boycott will buttress the work that they do from the inside. This is no different than Arizonans asking for a boycott of Arizona.
For a boycott to achieve its goals, it requires a campaign. Even if the Co-op were to successfully boycott the US, it would mean nothing if there weren’t a whole campaign to back it up with a unified message and broad support. An Israel boycott is worthwhile because it is backed by an international movement. Trade unions, pension funds, European supermarkets, celebrities, and others are participating in the boycott. The Israeli government is aware of the campaign and its goals.
Boycotting Israel does not mean that one cannot protest the United States for change. Boycott is a tactic, and it should be employed where the tactic seems possible to affect change. It doesn’t mean you boycott everything that you disagree with. Different protests require different tactics.
Finally, we must acknowledge that the United States is instrumental in keeping the Palestine/Israel conflict going. As previously discussed, the US provides massive aid, diplomatic cover, and political encouragement to Israel to continue its abuses and forestall a just settlement. Addressing Israel’s occupation is resisting our own government’s complicity. For decades, people inside the US have been working for change through demonstrations, lobbying, mobilizing, education, and direct action. This work continues, but it should not preclude further action in the form of boycotts. All these things work together.