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‘This is apartheid, there is no better word for it’: Calls for boycott growing among mainstream Israelis

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A prominent Israeli scientist and a translator penned a joint op-ed for the Guardian last week calling on the international community to intervene on behalf of Palestinians, before time runs out. The pair, vice-president of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities David Harel and writer and translator Ilana Hammerman, gained traction not only because of what they wrote, but who they are: They are not marginal public figures, they are not boycott or BDS activists, and they are not anti-Zionists. They are established and mainstream career professionals renowned in arts and science circles. And they fear, “The state of Israel is facing a catastrophic situation, which could, alarmingly soon, lead to extensive bloodshed.”

From their editorial:

“We represent a group of intellectuals and cultural figures central to Israeli society, several of whom are world renowned in their fields. We are patriotic Israeli citizens who love our country and who contribute tirelessly to Israeli science and culture, and to that of the world at large. We fully intend to stay here and continue to contribute, but we are horrified by the situation and fear deeply for our lives and those of our offspring, and for the lives of the 13 million Jews and Arabs who live here and who have no other homeland.”

The Palestinian government even picked up the story, posting the op-ed to the PLO’s Facebook page along with this excerpt, a line that closes the article: “… if peace is not established in this part of the world very soon, an area that has become a timebomb of national and religious tensions, there will be no future and no life for us or the Palestinians.”

Screen shot of David Harel and Ilana Hammerman’s op-ed in the Guardian published July 29, 2018.

Harel and Hammerman contend the abuses of the occupation are more or less legal by Israeli courts. The time for Israelis saving Israel is over. They explain in the Guardian that it’s the international community that needs to step in on behalf of Palestinians to ensure the future of both Israelis and Palestinians.

In a later interview with the Green Planet Monitor, Harel plunges deeper into what he and Hammerman meant by international intervention, and their language was blunt, “this is apartheid, there is no better word for it,” Harel said. He wants boycotts. He wants strategic and limited campaigns. Looking at the recent cancellation of a friendly soccer match between Argentina and Israel Harel told the Monitor, “[T]he impact that this kind of thing, a relatively minor issue of a football match being cancelled was unbelievable.”

Harel argues, if Israelis can be made to feel some kind of punishment then they can understand that the occupation is a problem, and one that will cost them too. As of now, he says there is nothing in current Trump-Netanyahu landscape to indicate Israel needs to change its course. He elaborated “careful pressure” will cause Israelis citizens and the government to “re-think the issue,”

“I’ve always said only half jokingly, that if this US were to cut it’s financial support to Israel by say 30, this would do something, that would make citizens inside Israel think ‘hey what is going on here? are we dong something wrong?’

Because right now if everything is fine. we have football matches, and tv, and baking contests, and our culture and science snap economics is fine. and the americans give us the money we need, we have a big strong army, then why does an average Israeli have to feel that something is wrong here?

Most of the Israeli citizens do not know what happens in the west bank.”

While the plan sounds an awful lot like the BDS movement, Harel sees his call as standing apart. Yet other than the optics of who is making the appeal–a mainstream figure in this case–it’s not entirely clear how Harel’s activism is different from say leading Palestinian critic and boycott activist Omar Barghouti.

When asked bluntly about abandoning the two-state solution and endorsing a single democratic state for Israelis and Palestinians, the most cited solution from the left but mocked or ignored by more centrist factions, Harel was warm to the idea. He cautioned at this time Israelis are opposed to living under some form of bi-nationalism, but the notion is one that  “I’m not totally against,” he said,

“My reaction is if that is a solution that is feasible, and you will find an Israeli government and a Palestinian leadership that would agree to that solution, fine. I’m willing to live like in Canada with English speaking and French speaking people. It’s not the same of course, but if there is a utopian possibility of this entire area, including the West Bank and Gaza and the Golan Heights being one country, one state, one government and all the people living there are equal citizens including voting rights, that’s fine with me.”

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I am stunned. A 68 year old computer scientist and applied mathematician who holds a high position in Israeli society is using the word ‘apartheid’? Is the discourse finally changing?

“We represent a group of intellectuals and cultural figures central to Israeli society, several of whom are world renowned in their fields” Wonder why all we have is 2 authors, no other signatures? He elaborated “careful pressure” will cause Israelis citizens and the government to “re-think the issue, No matter… Read more »

With regard to that elusive bi-national entity, I would go further than Harel and suggest that such an entity is essential to saving what can be of the israel project. Indeed, I maintained for some time now, that the jewish israelis desperately need the palestinians to be with them in… Read more »

On the Palestinian side, there is a clear movement even inside Hamas away from religious bigotry. This can be seen by comparing the Charter, which interprets the struggle in religious terms, connected through Quranic verses with Muhammad’s wars against Judaic tribes, with the political declaration issued last year, which contains… Read more »

Once when I was a much younger man (1992) I went back to my father’s village Nabi Saleh and was able to have an unbelievable conversation with my cousins who were born and raised into and under occupation. All they knew at that time was resistance and intifada! They spoke… Read more »