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?


  1. you have a basic mistake: israel's repression has a global effect while China's abuse of human rights doesn't.

  2. "Israel's repression has a global effect, while China's abuse of human rights doesn't." This nonsensical statement cuts to the heart of your post, David. Why should Jewish moral failure have "global effect" when Jews are but a fraction of the population of China, and Israelis but a fraction of that? Yet they apparently wield a devastating influence (the Chinese would likely be envious, were this true) on the state of world citizenry. The well-being of good, honest citizens (like Anonymous, I presume) is in jeopardy, threatened by a bunch of gun-toting, tank-driving Israeli Jews. We've heard that one before.

    I imagine the Israelis who proposed the boycott are themselves victims of this wildfire defamation of their people--the only people who are not allowed to have moral failings. Israel, born in original sin, must convert to the ever elusive doctrine of "peace", even as its enemies and detractors have a ball planning its defamation and destruction. Well, no wonder the Israelis don't give a whit about world opinion; and, when they do, they go even farther than they need to to appease the mob outside.

    Let's recall that Israel (and its highly-boycottable universities) is home to a fringe contingent of the hard left. We might name Uri Davis, a Palestinian of Hebrew persuasion and illustrious member of the Fatah party (OK so he converted to Islam and lives in the West Bank). Or Ilan Pappe. There are many more, all dedicated to what they call "justice," which is the "restitution" of Israel to the Arabs.

    So, "is that wrong?" I don't know, David. Instinctively, I'd say yes, not because some Israelis proposed the boycott, but because I think boycotting Israel is stupid, counterproductive and bigoted.

  3. Marc Alan is accurate in his summary and I agree with him and his conclusion that any boycott against Israel is misguided. The challenge is that, to the left,a boycott appeared to work when applied to South Africa once the world woke up to the aparthied regime and it's horrors.

    If one sets aside the innumerable wars and the implacable resistance over 60 years of the surrounding Arab states to even recognise Israel (apart from economically poor Jordan and Egypt, who accepted the American dollar), the parallel to Israel is supeficially and easily made.

    Is this the trap that the left in Israel and elsewhere falls into?

  4. I am Israeli, I don't know what is aparthide. But I can see it around me. It's probably the fact that just few Arabs are participating in the Israeli parlament. Maybe it's the fact that in my work Arabs are considered a legitimate emploies who are paid as much as I paid and more. Maybe it's the fact that Arabs can vote to the Israeli parlament or freely speak against israel on Israeli papers and tv. Purhapes it means that Arabs have free access to Israeli court. Or maybe aparthide is expressed in allowing arabs to attend university (I don't think it's a matter of color, we do allow other blacks to attend universities too ).
    It might be the fact that some leftwing peple in israel feel teribly ashame when israel try to find a solution that will keep it's exsitense and not simply act in a self destructing matter forced into unbalanced agreement with peple that freely demand israel ennihiliation? I think I got it.

  5. Thought-provoking post, David.

  6. המאמר שלך השיג אותי קוראת את גדעון לוי בדיוק באותו נושא. אני מסכימה עם כל מילה, כואבת ובושה שכאלה פני הדברים במדינה שבחרתי להשאר בה. נסיונות הסרק שלי בנשות מחסום ווטש וברופאים לזכויות אדם היו כטיפה בים והבנתי שזו מלחמה בטחנות רוח, לשוא... ת

  7. Have read and enjoy reading your blogs. I am very ambivalent about the article on the one hand I believe that one can love ones parents but that does not make criticising the mutually exclusive. But I also feel that Israel is such a small country and international harm done in any way can have enormous impact and as Israel has few allies is it therefore more harmful when Israelis suggest boycotts, I strongly feel that the settlements must end but there must be a more effective way in such a democratic country as Israel to air and enforce these views.

  8. I was an enthusiastic supporter of the boycott until I read a recent article by Uri Avnery. It has given me second thoughts.