Despite boycott law, Israeli BDS activists forge ahead: an interview with Kobi Snitz

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The anti-boycott law passed by the Israeli Knesset in July was aimed at slowing down the global boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement targeting Israel for its violations of international law.  But the Palestinian-led BDS movement, both inside and outside Israel, has showed no signs of slowing.  The most recent victory the movement is claiming is the liquidation of Agrexco, an Israeli produce exporter that has long been a target of the BDS movement because of the company’s involvement in illegal Israeli settlements. 

The law has also done nothing to deter the small group of Israeli activists part of Boycott From Within, a group of Israeli citizens in solidarity with the Palestinian BDS call.  The group has continued to call on various groups and artists to not violate the BDS call.

I recently sat down with Kobi Snitz, a member of Boycott From Within and a prominent activist with Anarchists Against the Wall, after an anti-settlement demonstration in the West Bank village of Beit Ommar.  We discussed the boycott law, what it means for the internal Israeli BDS movement, the potential Israeli High Court response and more.

Alex Kane: My first question is what your general take is on the boycott law?

Kobi Snitz: I think the most significant thing is that it’s a sign of desperation on the part of the Israeli government. They’re helpless in stopping the boycott movement. All that’s left for them is to try internal repression. I think that they recognize it themselves. Ehud Barak, the Minister of Defense, spoke about the [powerful] BDS movement.

There’s nothing that they can do abroad. The myths about their hasbara prowess is just that. It’s not so. It’s a paper tiger. They have no understanding and no ability to influence public opinion abroad. Whatever’s not handed to them for free they’re unable to do in terms of their image abroad. And this case demonstrates their inability to stop a genuine movement.

AK: Ostensibly, the point of the law was to protect Israel’s image abroad, but do you think it will backfire?

KS: Of course. There was significant Israeli opposition to it, on those grounds, that it will be counterproductive, in their terms. There is some genuine liberal opposition to a law that punishes a particular opinion, but much of the internal Israeli critique is about it being counterproductive.

AK: What do you make of that critique?

KS: Well, it’s unprincipled. It implies that it would have been legitimate only if it was productive, if it did achieve the stated aims. I think on many grounds it’s illegitimate, the first of them being the attempt to punish people for their opinions. Secondly, because the boycott movement is legitimate, and attempts to stop it are illegitimate.

AK: Do you think the Israeli High Court will do anything about it, and if so, what will that mean?

KS: It’s hard to say with them. I think the Israeli Supreme Court rarely strikes down laws. They do restrain the government and the army somewhat, but not so much by striking down policies but letting the state understand, get a sense of, when they’ve gone too far. And when they are forced to make a decision, they might aim for a decision that seems to be the liberal one, seems to be taking a position against a law, but in effect keeps it in place. They could limit some meaningless parts of the law, but keep the core of it intact. Then again, they could just refuse to deal with it, as they have in many other cases. Some decisions, like the torture law and the assassination law, they just dragged on for years and years. If they don’t want to confront the government, that’s another option for the High Court, to drag it on for years.

AK: Has the boycott law affected you and others involved with the internal Israeli BDS movement?

KS: It has made people worried. No one knows how it will be applied, who will be sued. I think the most striking example of it is Gush Shalom. They called for a settlement boycott about 15 years ago, but when the law passed, they took it off their website. Their position is they cannot afford the risk of being sued over it.

AK: On the other hand, Peace Now has called for a settlement boycott.

KS: That’s right, and Gush Shalom had to admit, reluctantly maybe, that for the first time in its history, Peace Now is more radical than Gush Shalom. And I have to say, I’m not a big fan of Peace Now, but their response to this, I see nothing wrong with it, they’ve been right on, including not splitting the opposition along the lines of “settlement boycott, OK, Israel boycott, not OK.” Even Peace Now did not do that, at least not prominently that I have seen.

AK: But Boycott From Within hasn’t taken down their website.

KS: No, we haven’t. We keep going the same as we have before. We issued a statement saying we resist the law, and we will continue. Our response is less visible—we’re not exactly an Israeli group in the sense that we work inside Israel or that our main objective is to influence Israeli opinion. So, unlike Gush Shalom, unlike Peace Now—they are an Israeli group in the sense that they try to influence the Israeli public—I don’t think Boycott From Within does that. The internal response is less relevant.

AK: So you’re going to continue to call for boycotts.

KS: We have, yeah, we’ve issued statements just as before.

AK: And what do you think it means in the larger political context of the assault on Israeli democracy, meaning the democracy that does exist for Israeli Jews?

KS: I think this is probably the most far reaching attempt at this move, because it ‘s designed to shut down organization, it’s designed to silence particular people and bankrupt them. I think this one goes the furthest out of all the previous such laws, such as the Nakba law, such as the loyalty laws, and whatever is coming up next.

Alex Kane, a freelance journalist currently based in Amman, Jordan, blogs on Israel/Palestine at  Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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