Mondoweiss

What the economic boycott of Israel can achieve

Palestinian fishermen hold banners in a protest to demand the boycott of the Israeli agricultural products, during the 10th annual Israeli Apartheid Week, at the seaport of Gaza City on March 16, 2014. (Photo: Ashraf Amra/APA Images)

A recent OpEd in +972 Magazine claims that an economic boycott of Israel is bound to fail, and goes on to discuss the reasons why that is. Comparing apartheid-era South Africa to present-day Israel (which should one day also be referred to as “apartheid-era Israel”) the author, Yonathan Mizrachi, explains that Western and industrialized countries in the 1990s (during the anti-South African apartheid boycott) made up 62% of the world economy, but that this percentage has now dwindled to 38.8%, and thus, “economically speaking, a boycott by Western states would be less effective today than in the past.”

The operative expression in Mizrachi’s analysis is “economically speaking.” And in that respect, many Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) organizers agree with him. Most of us are fully aware that we can boycott every single consumer product available in every single store in the United States, and that it would still not make a dent in Israel’s economy. If it did make a significant dent, the US would probably increase its aid package to Israel even more.

And still, BDS is so successful that Israel has termed it an existential threat, and is pouring time, energy, and money into countering it. In the past year alone, Israel has held an anti-BDS conference at the United Nations, another conference in Israel itself, and here in the US, the pro-Israel group StandWithUs has organized a conference in Los Angeles on “Combating the Boycott Movement Against Israel.”

One particular session at the conference was devoted to “the money trail,” and the president of the Israel-based watchdog organization “NGO Monitor” explained that the organizers of this particular panel are “trying to discover just who is funding the various groups behind the BDS movement.”

This is quite ironic, considering the volunteer nature of BDS organizing globally, and the fact that it does not take one single red penny to boycott a product. But more so, at registration rates ranging from $1000 for VIPs, to $150 for students, the StandWithUs conference itself could not possibly be affordable for most students without a “money trail” behind them, and investigative journalists have uncovered that Zionist organizations do pay Zionist students to troll BDS organizers, teachers, and students. On the other hand, no amount of sleuthing has uncovered any “funding of various BDS groups.”

Outside of Israel, politicians in various Western countries are introducing anti-BDS legislation, surely at the bidding of Zionist backers. France has gone so far as to detain a citizen for wearing a pro-BDS t-shirt. Canada’s new Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, while breaking with many of his predecessor’s foreign policy in significant ways (ending air strikes on Syria, lifting the sanctions on Iran), has maintained the ultra-conservative, Zionist former premier, Stephen Harper’s condemnation of BDS.

And in the US alone, at the time of this writing, 21 states have introduced anti-BDS legislation, in clear violation of a most-cherished US value: freedom of expression.

Clearly, BDS, with its call for an economic boycott of Israel, is a movement to be reckoned with. Nevertheless, its greatest impact is not and cannot be the economic strangulation of Israel.  Nor is this its only or primary goal.  Rather, BDS seeks to disrupt the narrative that presents Israel as victimized by the Palestinians, and empower every individual to act upon their outrage at Israel’s decades-long oppression of the Palestinian people.  And this, BDS is doing very well.

Every time we explain BDS to anyone, at workshops presented at progressive conferences, or during the discussions preceding a resolution to divest, we are explaining (obviously quite persuasively, considering our success), that Israel is an occupying power violating international law and the human rights of an occupied indigenous people.  In other words, while the economic, cultural, and academic boycott does seek the isolation of Israel, more than anything, it seeks to show that the emperor has no clothes. That Israel is not a democracy. That it is not the beacon of freedom it claims to be, in an otherwise benighted region. And indeed, it is quite indicative of its sad record that whenever Israel argues that it is “better than” some other country, Israel compares itself to the worst violators of human and civil rights, never to the league of countries it wants to be associated with. This exposure is what Zionists view as attempts to “delegitimize” and “demonize” Israel.

Ultimately, the goals of BDS are not even radical.  After all, the occupation is illegal, the separation wall is illegal, and Palestinian refugees do have the Right of Return—a legal right, not a “privilege” to be granted by a magnanimous occupier. Putting pressure on a country to abide by international law is not tantamount to calling for its destruction, no matter what Zionists say. Similarly, insisting that a country that prides itself on being a democracy should treat all its citizens equally, is merely asking that country for internal consistency. Yet the power of BDS has been proven again and again, as it has put Israel on the defensive, and has even led Israeli politicians and Israel-apologists to acknowledge that yes, it is an apartheid state (or edging towards apartheid), and yes, it is a country where, in the words of its then-Supreme Justice, Asher Grunis, “human rights are not a prescription for national suicide.”

The full title of Mizrachi’s OpEd is “Why an economic boycott of Israel cannot succeed: and why it might even hinder a political solution.” And we may need to look at the subtitle to understand the author’s perspective. Is Mizrachi yet another liberal Zionist who understands that criticism of Israel is “justified,” to use his own words, and who yet remains attached to the idea that cooperation, dialogue, joint initiatives, are the “political solution?” He speaks of two sides, each becoming more ensconced in its sense of victimhood, without appreciating that BDS is not about the two sides coming to an agreement, but about the rest of the world understanding the reality of the situation, and acting so that they are no longer enabling it.

All proposed “solutions” prior to BDS hinged on the idea that “both sides” were indeed victimized, without a mention of the fact that while Israel may have been founded with a combination of guilt and victimhood as a result of European anti-Semitism, Palestinians were not the culprit. In the Palestine/Israel equation, there is, very strictly, an oppressor and an oppressed, an occupier and an occupied, one nation, Israel, violating the human rights of the other, with no reciprocation. Just as there is no such thing as reverse racism, or reverse sexism, there is no reverse occupation. Israel is defending its ethno-religious supremacy, and its illegal occupation, Palestinians are resisting their dispossession and disenfranchisement.

Mizrachi claims that “Despite the anger and the justified criticism of Israel, the economic boycott is destined to fail.” Yet, clearly, the conversations started by BDS, as we explain the reasons for calling for an economic, cultural, and academic boycott, are the real threat to Zionism, and they are achieving their goal, even if they are not having an economic impact on Israel.

BDS will never bankrupt Israel, and that is not necessary for it to achieve its goals: showing that the emperor has no clothes, and empowering justice-minded people everywhere to disengage from a hyper-militarized, violent rogue state, until it stops violating international law and the human rights of an oppressed people.