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Progress among Jewish progressives: ‘Dissent’ comes out for boycott of settlement products

Israel/Palestine
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This is an important piece. Dov Waxman and Mairav Zonszein come out for targeted boycott of settlement products in the legendary Dissent Magazine. A year or so back Michael Walzer, the editor of Dissent, said that American Jews must start a campaign against the settlers, and he is putting his money where his mouth is, unlike so many others who came out against the settlements. Though it does raise the question of when Dissent, which describes itself as a magazine “of the left” and nowhere in its About page describes its Jewish affinities, will grant a platform to those affected by the occupation, Palestinians, even leftwing Palestinians, to state their views of boycott and the likelihood of a two-state solution in the next 63 years. But I will shut up. Dissent is as Jewish as neoconservatism is– it grew out of the Jewish intellectual community– and this piece is to be applauded as an important statement inside the Jewish community. And as Omar Barghouti said to me once, If you want to boycott an egg, we would like you to boycott the egg! Waxman and Zonszein:

WHAT, THEN, are progressive American Jews to do? If the peace process is a waste of time, and BDS is unfair and unhelpful, is there another alternative? Indeed there is: a selective boycott against settlement products, not Israeli products or people in general. This is already being practiced by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and several Israeli peace organizations, such as Gush Shalom and the Coalition of Women for Peace, both of which actively advocate the boycott of settlement products and companies that profit from operating in the West Bank. Left-wing American-Jewish groups like the New Israel Fund and Meretz USA have also recently expressed support for such a boycott.

A boycott of settlement goods is aimed at anything that is produced in the occupied territories, not just goods actually made in Israeli settlements. This includes a wide variety of agricultural produce (such as fruits and flowers) and manufactured goods (such as plastics, textiles, cosmetics, food, and wine) that are made in factories located in large Israeli industrial zones within the occupied territories. While most of these products are purchased locally by Israelis and Palestinians, some are exported abroad (Israeli wine from the West Bank and Golan Heights and skin-care products from the Dead Sea inside the West Bank, for example, have a large international market). Although it would target only a small fraction of the goods Israel exports—an estimated 2 or 3 percent—a boycott of these goods still has an economic impact. In particular, by penalizing Israeli companies now operating in the territories, a boycott of their goods encourages them to relocate their production inside the Green Line, as some have reportedly already done due to the boycott. In practice, however, it can be difficult to boycott only goods produced in the territories, since they are not clearly labeled and companies operating in the territories are permitted to have marketing addresses within Israel. A labeling campaign, such as the one that has been conducted in Europe in recent years, is one remedy for this.

A more focused and limited boycott of products made in West Bank settlements has many advantages. It combines BDS’ appeal of direct consumer activism with commitment to a two-state solution as the only acceptable outcome to the conflict. It underlines the fact the settlements are not in Israel, and hence that boycotting their products is not the same as boycotting Israeli goods produced inside the Green Line. While it will certainly not hit Israeli pockets in the way that across-the-board BDS intends to do, it will not alienate Israelis in the same way either. It also has a much greater chance of gaining broad support among Americans and Europeans, who are unwilling to boycott and sanction Israel as a state.

Whether growing numbers of progressive American Jews support this “third way,” however, depends on their willingness to reject the hard line against all boycotts taken by Israel and much of the American-Jewish establishment. Major American-Jewish organizations frequently depict any boycott, however limited, as being anti-Israel, if not anti-Semitic. The Knesset recently passed the first reading of a bill to impose a hefty fine on Israeli citizens and a ten-year ban on entering the country against foreign nationals who call for or engage in any type of boycott against Israel, including its settlements in the West Bank. But these pressure tactics are unlikely to succeed if Israel continues its settlement activity and the peace process remains all but dead. As long as Israel’s occupation drags on, boycotts of one form or another are bound to grow.

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About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

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