Saturday, 29 August 2009

Why do some Israelis call the world to boycott Israel?

In an open letter published by the Los Angeles Times, Dr. Neve Gordon, a senior lecturer at the Ben Gurion University in Beer-Sheba, called on the world to boycott Israel: “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.”

Anat Matar, a colleague at the Tel Aviv University, came out in his support: “…only when the Israeli society’s well-heeled strata pay a real price for the continuous occupation will they finally take genuine steps to put an end to it.”

The general reaction in Israel, however, was uproar. Ben Gurion University’s President stated that Gordon’s remarks were “…an abuse [of] the freedom of speech prevailing in Israel and at the Ben Gurion University”. Moreover, they were “irresponsible and morally reprehensible”. She also suggested: “Academics who entertain such resentment toward their country are welcome to consider another professional and personal home.”

Not only right-wing Israelis are uncomfortable with calls such as Gordon’s or Matar’s. Gordon admits, “A global boycott can’t help but contain echoes of anti-Semitism. It also brings up questions of a double standard (why not boycott China for its egregious violations of human rights?)”

Jewish history is a long story of the successful Christian drive at marginalising Jews and Judaism. When that came to an end after the Holocaust, Arab countries started to systematically boycott Israel. For many years they successfully blackmailed their European and other trade partners into boycotting the newly founded Jewish State.

These were boycotts stemming from hatred of Jews and a wish to get rid of them and later from a concerted and clearly stated Arab wish to eliminate the Jewish State of Israel. This hope is still very much a fact of life.

However, when Gordon calls for external pressure he does so as an Israeli patriot and out of love of his country. Gordon, Matar and many other Israelis who pray and hope that the new US administration will force Israel to get out of the Occupied Territories do not hate Israel; they love their country and want it to thrive. They just hate the grossly immoral condition Israel has deteriorated into over the last forty years. To change that, they call for a boycott.

Gordon suggests pressure be placed in a “gradual sustainable manner that is sensitive to context and capacity” and talks of “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.”

Is that wrong?

Thursday, 6 August 2009

David Grossman’s Until the End of the Land

David Grossman is my favourite Israeli writer and this very intensive and stirring novel, Until the End of the Land, which I am currently reading, is his best book to date. It has not yet been translated into English. A German translation, Eine Frau flieht vor einer Nachricht, is due out any day and can already be ordered at Amazon HERE

It is the story of a woman, two men and the woman’s two sons. The woman, whose one son is about to leave for a major military operation, cannot cope with waiting for possible bad news. She will not be at home and the bearers of bad news will not be able to deliver the message she dreads. She runs away. Wandering through the Galilee with one of the two men in her life, she hopes to protect her son by talking about him and about his life. No Short description can do this emotionally wrenching novel justice.

I am reading the book at a friend’s house in Germany. In the background, I can hear the chatting of the youngsters, young twenty-somethings, the kids of my hosts. I cannot avoid thinking how worlds-apart life in Israel is from that of these young Germans. Nobody is trying to kill them. Nobody is trying to destroy their country. Nobody has ever tried to annihilate their people.

Can others understand this at all?