Israel: Boycott, Divest, Sanction

It's time. Long past time. The best strategy to end the increasingly
bloody occupation is for Israel to become the target of the kind of
global movement that put an end to apartheid in South Africa.

In July 2005 a huge coalition of Palestinian groups laid out plans to do
just that. They called on "people of conscience all over the world to
impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against
Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era."
The campaign Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions--BDS for short--was born.

Every day that Israel pounds Gaza brings more converts to the BDS cause,
and talk of cease-fires is doing little to slow the momentum. Support is
even emerging among Israeli Jews. In the midst of the assault roughly
500 Israelis, dozens of them well-known artists and scholars, sent a
letter to foreign ambassadors stationed in Israel. It calls for "the
adoption of immediate restrictive measures and sanctions" and draws a
clear parallel with the antiapartheid struggle. "The boycott on South
Africa was effective, but Israel is handled with kid gloves.... This
international backing must stop."

Yet many still can't go there. The reasons are complex, emotional and
understandable. And they simply aren't good enough. Economic sanctions
are the most effective tools in the nonviolent arsenal. Surrendering
them verges on active complicity. Here are the top four objections to
the BDS strategy, followed by counterarguments.

1.Punitive measures will alienate rather than persuade
The world has tried what used to be called "constructive
engagement." It has failed utterly. Since 2006 Israel has been steadily
escalating its criminality: expanding settlements, launching an
outrageous war against Lebanon and imposing collective punishment on
Gaza through the brutal blockade. Despite this escalation, Israel has
not faced punitive measures--quite the opposite. The weapons and $3
billion in annual aid that the US sends to Israel is only the beginning.
Throughout this key period, Israel has enjoyed a dramatic improvement in
its diplomatic, cultural and trade relations with a variety of other
allies. For instance, in 2007 Israel became the first non-Latin American
country to sign a free-trade deal with Mercosur. In the first nine
months of 2008, Israeli exports to Canada went up 45 percent. A new
trade deal with the European Union is set to double Israel's exports of
processed food. And on December 8, European ministers "upgraded" the
EU-Israel Association Agreement, a reward long sought by Jerusalem.

It is in this context that Israeli leaders started their latest war:
confident they would face no meaningful costs. It is remarkable that
over seven days of wartime trading, the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange's
flagship index actually went up 10.7 percent. When carrots don't work,
sticks are needed.

2.Israel is not South Africa. Of course it isn't.
The relevance of the South African model is that it proves that BDS
tactics can be effective when weaker measures (protests, petitions,
back-room lobbying) have failed. And there are indeed deeply distressing
echoes: the color-coded IDs and travel permits, the bulldozed homes and
forced displacement, the settler-only roads. Ronnie Kasrils, a prominent
South African politician, said that the architecture of segregation that
he saw in the West Bank and Gaza in 2007 was "infinitely worse than

3.Why single out Israel when the United States, Britain
and other Western countries do the same things in Iraq and Afghanistan?
Boycott is not a dogma; it is a tactic. The reason the BDS strategy
should be tried against Israel is practical: in a country so small and
trade-dependent, it could actually work.

4.Boycotts sever communication; we need more dialogue,
not less.
This one I'll answer with a personal story. For eight
years, my books have been published in Israel by a commercial house
called Babel. But when I published TheShock Doctrine, I
wanted to respect the boycott. On the advice of BDS activists, I
contacted a small publisher called Andalus. Andalus is an activist
press, deeply involved in the anti-occupation movement and the only
Israeli publisher devoted exclusively to translating Arabic writing into
Hebrew. We drafted a contract that guarantees that all proceeds go to
Andalus's work, and none to me. In other words, I am boycotting the
Israeli economy but not Israelis.

Coming up with this plan required dozens of phone calls, e-mails and
instant messages, stretching from Tel Aviv to Ramallah to Paris to
Toronto to Gaza City. My point is this: as soon as you start
implementing a boycott strategy, dialogue increases dramatically. And
why wouldn't it? Building a movement requires endless communicating, as
many in the antiapartheid struggle well recall. The argument that
supporting boycotts will cut us off from one another is particularly
specious given the array of cheap information technologies at our
fingertips. We are drowning in ways to rant at one another across
national boundaries. No boycott can stop us.

Just about now, many a proud Zionist is gearing up for major
point-scoring: don't I know that many of those very high-tech toys come
from Israeli research parks, world leaders in infotech? True enough, but
not all of them. Several days into Israel's Gaza assault, Richard
Ramsey, the managing director of a British telecom company, sent an
e-mail to the Israeli tech firm MobileMax. "As a result of the Israeli
government action in the last few days we will no longer be in a
position to consider doing business with yourself or any other Israeli

When contacted by The Nation, Ramsey said his decision wasn't
political. "We can't afford to lose any of our clients, so it was purely
commercially defensive."

It was this kind of cold business calculation that led many companies to
pull out of South Africa two decades ago. And it's precisely the kind of
calculation that is our most realistic hope of bringing justice, so long
denied, to Palestine.

Further Reading:Disengagement and the Frontiers of Zionism

Join Us: News for people demanding a better world

Common Dreams is powered by optimists who believe in the power of informed and engaged citizens to ignite and enact change to make the world a better place.

We're hundreds of thousands strong, but every single supporter makes the difference.

Your contribution supports this bold media model—free, independent, and dedicated to reporting the facts every day. Stand with us in the fight for economic equality, social justice, human rights, and a more sustainable future. As a people-powered nonprofit news outlet, we cover the issues the corporate media never will. Join with us today!

© 2023 The Nation