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Why I’m not a ‘Champagne boycotter’

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I’ve been called many things over the years for daring to speak out for Palestinian rights and for supporting the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement to promote a truly democratic Israel/Palestine. But this week I was able to add something new to the list of insults.

I am officially, thanks to the North West Friends of Israel Twitter account, a “Champagne Boycotter”.

A “Champagne Boycotter”, as the Tweet suggests, is a variation on the “Champagne Socialist” – a political insult aimed at the comfortable British upper middle class who want to pretend they care about ‘the masses’ while themselves living the high-life.

The ‘crime’ I’ve committed to attract the insult was to suggest that supporters of the BDS campaign for Palestinian rights do not need to stop using their laptops, mobile phones and tablets despite the likelihood that some of the technology contained in our devices may have originated in Israel.

In some respects, I found this line of attack quite refreshing. After all, being called a hypocrite isn’t as bad as being called antisemitic, which is the usual blunt instrument employed to attack Palestinian solidarity.

But having said that, the antisemitism accusation is never far away. North West Friends of Israel describes themselves as “a grassroots org that exists to advocate for #Israel in North West UK . Our aims are also to fight & expose antisemitism & BDS.” So there’s little doubt that “antisemitism & BDS” are considered interchangeable. @NorthWestFOI has nearly 6,500 followers so it didn’t take long for some of them to pile in with more hypocrisy accusations.

So is my pragmatic approach to boycotting nothing more than “rank hypocrisy”, “pick & mix” “Do as I say NOT as I do”? Or is the real hypocrisy to be found elsewhere in this debate?

Global tech giant

Technology does create an issue for the BDS movement. The last few days of business news from Israel tell you why.

On 28th January the US tech giant Intel Corp announced it was investing $11bn into Israel. The investment will bring another 1,000 Intel jobs to Israel in addition to the 13,000 Israelis already employed by Intel in the country.

If you have a laptop or tablet or smartphone there’s a fair chance it contains Intel technology somewhere in its functionality since the company supplies Apple, Lenovo, HP and Dell. The development of that technology may well have originated from Israeli research and innovation.

A day before the Intel announcement, The Times of Israel reported that one of Intel’s major competitors, the South Korean based Samsung, is to acquire the Tel Aviv based phone camera start-up Corephotonics for $155 million.

Meanwhile, Microsoft has one of its three strategic global research and development centers in Israel and employs around 1,000 staff there.

Google is also heavily invested in Israeli innovation.

And so too is Facebook.

There’s no question that Israel punches well above its weight as a center of scientific innovation. The country has no shortage of talented tech-savvy entrepreneurs.

Some of this technological skill set is a spin off from Israel’s arms and security industry. Israel is one of the largest exporters of arms and surveillance equipment in the world. Many of Israel’s tech entrepreneurs are ‘graduates’ of the Unit 8200 – Israel’s equivalent of Britain’s GCHQ or America’s NSA.

We shouldn’t be surprised that technological innovation first developed to maintain the occupation of Palestinian land and the on-going subjugation of the Palestinian people finds its way into consumer products all over the world.

We live in an interconnected global economy in which a single product will contain components supplied, developed and manufactured from many countries. Life has become more complicated since the 1970s and 80s when we could simply choose not to buy Cape oranges to show our support for black South Africans.

So where does this lead the BDS movement?

Do we really have to unplug and throw away every piece of communications technology we own in order to be pure in our ethics? Can we no longer research via Google and share via Facebook words or images designed to support the BDS campaign for Palestinian rights?

A tactic not a religion

The point I tried to make on Twitter, but which failed to convince my adversaries, was that boycotting is a tactic, not a religion. It’s movement, not an ideology. Solidarity does not mean self-denial or creating personal inconvenience. It needs to be smart and strategic. It needs to be comfortable with inconsistency. Otherwise it will fail.

A further misunderstanding (often deliberately pedaled by its opponents) is that BDS is driven by a visceral hatred for all things Israel/Jewish. But it’s not about creating hatred, it’s about calling for change.

So, you apply a boycott where you think it will have value. Sometimes that’s about economic pressure. Sometimes it’s about simply growing awareness and solidarity. There’s no point in setting yourself up for failure or denying yourself the very means by which you can run any kind of campaign on an international scale. What help would that be to the cause of Palestinian freedom?

Here’s the pragmatic response regarding Intel from the BDS movement website FAQs:

“Intel, the US chip manufacturer, has invested billions in the Israeli economy, making it deeply complicit in funding Israeli impunity. However, Intel is not currently a worldwide BDS target because of its near monopoly status in its sector, making a consumer boycott of the company hard to succeed at present.”

The advice goes on to say:

“We must remain strategic and think of sustained, long-term impact on Israel’s regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid.”

“The fact that Israel exports useful technological and medical products doesn’t mean it should escape accountability for its grave human rights violations.”

The medical point is sensible too. In the 1980s I don’t think anyone expected supporters of the Anti-Apartheid movement to boycott heart transplant surgery just because it was developed by Christiaan Barnard, a white South African cardiac surgeon working in Cape Town.

Relevant boycotts

So it makes sense to build a boycott campaign around this year’s Eurovision song contest due to take place in Tel Aviv in May because it will get media attention and raise the debate and understanding to a whole new audience about what’s happening every day in Israel/Palestine.

It makes sense for Amnesty International to call out the big digital tourism giants Airbnb, Booking.com, Expedia and TripAdvisor for listing holiday properties in Settlements on the West Bank that are illegal under international law because it’s an issue that consumers can understand and where a choice is possible.

A narrower and more focused campaign relating to technology can make sense too. For example, the call to boycott or disinvest in HP (Hewlett-Packard). HP profits from the Occupation in many ways including its provision of the automated biometric access control system employed at Israel’s checkpoints across the West Bank which prevent freedom of movement for Palestinians.

Deflection

The demand from pro-Israel advocates for boycott consistency has little to do with a belief in the need for ethical purity in all matters. Rather, it’s another attempt at deflection.

Much easier to talk about “hypocrisy” from BDS supporters than have to defend home demolitions on the West Bank caused by Israel’s separate and unequal jurisdiction in the Occupied Territories. 82 homes were destroyed in 2018 alone.

Much easier to keep insisting that Israel is a liberal democracy and Jerusalem is the undivided capital of the Jewish people than discuss why 330,000 Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem will not get to vote in  Israel’s General Election in April.

Much easier to talk-up the threat of Iran’s nuclear weapons programme than acknowledge that Israel has been in possession of nuclear weapons for decades but still denies it.

These are the real examples of hypocrisy that advocates for Israel should be concerned about.

North West Friends of Israel tried one last time to convince me of my double-standards.

My thanks to Intel, Microsoft, Apple, Google, Twitter and Facebook for making possible this blog post in support of equal rights for Palestinians.

#BDS #EqualRights

This post first appeared on the Patheos site under the title, “It’s okay to use your smart phone, tablet and laptop to boycott Israel.”

Robert Cohen

Cohen is a British writer. He blogs at Micah's Paradigm Shift. http://micahsparadigmshift.blogspot.co.uk/

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21 Responses

  1. eljay on February 4, 2019, 2:31 pm

    … The point I tried to make on Twitter, but which failed to convince my adversaries, was that boycotting is a tactic, not a religion. It’s movement, not an ideology. Solidarity does not mean self-denial or creating personal inconvenience. It needs to be smart and strategic. It needs to be comfortable with inconsistency. Otherwise it will fail. …

    Agreed. BDS doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition in order for it to be a valid form of protest against the past and on-going (war) crimes of Zionism and its “Jewish State” project.

    But Zionists seem to prefer deflection to introspection.

  2. amigo on February 4, 2019, 4:05 pm

    If all BDS activists decided to boycott all products containing components created in Israel the folks at NW FOI would be the first ones accusing BDS of antisemitism.

    Israel does not boycott all those Arabs who are bent on throwing all Jews into the sea.They buy the services of 10 s of thousands of these terroreeests and have done for years to get their illegal squats built.

    The hypocrisy belongs to the desperadoes at NW FOI who are running out of ideas as how to fight BDS which is clearly getting their gander up.

    Note , this post was created using a laptop which includes some components produced in Israel.Note also I could not find the official borders of so called Israel using this device.

    • Elizabeth Block on February 5, 2019, 3:10 pm

      Re Borders: I get (or used to get, I tried to unsubscribe) emails from an Israeli nature organization. The last one showed the cover of a booklet about nature trails in Israel – including, with no indication of borders, the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights.

      • amigo on February 5, 2019, 4:07 pm

        ” including, with no indication of borders, the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights.” Elizabeth Block.

        Of course it includes those occupied territories .They are part and parcel of The Greater Israel.

        Why do the haters always try to deny Israel the right to do as it pleases.

    • Maximus Decimus Meridius on February 6, 2019, 5:30 am

      “Note , this post was created using a laptop which includes some components produced in Israel.”

      Were the components actually produce there? I thought most Intel parts were made in China and other low-wage economies but I could be wrong.

      My laptop has an AMD processor, so hopefully I’m in the clear!

  3. Rusty Pipes on February 4, 2019, 9:42 pm

    The interconnected roles of Israel’s tech sector and intel and military should add a further level of caution that activists have in using tech for human rights activism. The role of our own government in our increasingly Surveillance State is bad enough. Ten years ago, Christopher Ketcham detailed the role of Israeli tech and communications companies in surveilling Americans. With Israeli companies ever more entrenched in American tech, even luddites would have difficulty avoiding them.

    • Mooser on February 5, 2019, 12:27 pm

      “even luddites would have difficulty avoiding them.”

      On the other hand, some people might be eager to own a “certified no Israel content” device.

      • Rusty Pipes on February 5, 2019, 7:13 pm

        “certified no Israel content” risks running afoul of the US anti-Arab boycott laws. The way that some American companies used to be able to sell to Arab countries while avoiding the US penalties for complying with the Arab boycott was to list the “ingredients” — country of origin for every component of each product. If clients chose to buy particular items that had no Israeli ingredients listed, that was their choice.

      • Mooser on February 6, 2019, 12:06 pm

        “certified no Israel content” risks running afoul of the US anti-Arab boycott laws.”

        True. How about a little sticker which says “components assembled from everywhere but…” and leave it at that.

  4. echinococcus on February 5, 2019, 1:07 am

    Very apt remark, thank you. “our own government in our increasingly Surveillance State” is not separate from that of the Zionist entity. Their owners are the same.

    Even more than the electronic material and programs themselves, surveillance is achieved by “social” media: if those did not exist (and they didn’t exist at the start of the last imperial offensive) the CIA, FBI, NSA, Mossad and rest of the USZionist alphabet soup should have invented them (and they did!) Making the gullible pay for being spied upon –and destroyed whenever they try to lift their head.

  5. klm90046 on February 5, 2019, 1:32 am

    The Taliban and ISIS fight us with our own weapons–they drive around in Humvees captured from our troops, from Afghan soldiers and other allies of ours. Same goes for arms and ammunition. ISIS is now said to be using drones acquired in raids on our depots!

    The Taliban even get us to finance their war. They stop road tankers transporting gasoline on the 1,200 miles of highway from Karachi to the Afghan border, and extract thousands of dollars from the drivers before letting them go. In similar fashion, I’m holding Israeli technology to ransom.

    All is fair in love and war.

  6. echinococcus on February 5, 2019, 1:34 am

    One version of that response is from occupied Europe in the 40s. “We’ll gladly use German guns against the Nazis — they’re the best!”

  7. Citizen on February 5, 2019, 4:25 am

    Recall that our entire space program was originally created by Nazis? Same for the joint US-Israeli created Iron Dome Missile Defense system. So was the VW bug & first autobahn.

    Did the world’s medical establishment ever use any of the medical findings from the Nazi doctors? Re, e.g., hypothermia…Autism doctor Hans Asperger collaborated with the Nazis…etc

    • Misterioso on February 5, 2019, 10:03 am

      @Citizen

      Well said!!!

      Apropos “sleeping with the enemy,” here’s an interesting item:

      After WWII, a memorandum dated January 11, 1941, was discovered in Ankara. Prepared by the German Naval Attaché in Turkey, it revealed that Naftali Lubentschik, a representative of the Stern Gang (one of the Yishuv’s terrorist organizations), led by Avraham Stern, had met with German Nazis, Otto Von Hentig and Rudolph Rosen in Vichy controlled Beirut and proposed that in exchange for military aid and freedom to recruit European Jews for Palestine, the Sternists were prepared “…to take an active part in the war on Germany’s side…and [this cooperation] would also be in line with one [of Hitler’s recent speeches which] stressed that any alliance would be entered into in order to isolate England and defeat it.”

      The proposition presented to the Nazis pointed out that “the establishment of the historical Jewish state on a national and totalitarian basis and bound by a treaty with the German Reich would be in the interest of maintaining and strengthening the future German position of power in the Near East.” (Quoted by Klaus Polkehn, “The Secret Contacts: Zionist-Nazi Relations, 1933-1941” as well as Lenny Brenner, Zionism in the Age of Dictators, Westport, Conn., Lawrence Hill & Co., 1983, p. 267 and Yediot Aharnot, February 4/1983).

      Following Stern’s death at the hands of the British in 1942, three of his lieutenants (one of whom was Yitzhak Shamir) took over leadership of the Gang. It is revealing to note that despite Avraham Stern’s ignominious record and his flirtation with the Nazis, Ben-Gurion later referred to him as “one of the finest and most outstanding figures of the era.”

  8. JustJessetr on February 5, 2019, 10:15 pm

    Great eulogy! Looking forward to more in the coming years.

    With all the investment into Israel, plus the Leviathan gas fields, BDS really is marching (more and more people) down a blind alley. And no one wants to be the first to say that BDS is completely ineffective in gaining a single right, any parcel of land, or monetary compensation for Palestinians. March, march, march…

    • Maximus Decimus Meridius on February 6, 2019, 5:33 am

      If that’s the case, why don’t all the Zionist supporters just sit back and let them march away, instead of going to great lengths to halt and criminalise BDS?

    • lonely rico on February 6, 2019, 11:20 am

      > JustJessetr

      BDS is completely ineffective in gaining a single right … March, march, march.

      You see JJtr, Palestinians HAVE rights (eg. self-determination), so they’re not trying to gain something they already have.

      The problem arises when they are denied these rights by Israel, which prefers to
      Kill, kill, kill

  9. MHughes976 on February 6, 2019, 5:56 am

    Boycott is a tactic not a religion or a principle but if boycotts are applied some principle should be at work. Boycotts often involve a degree of self-denial, asked of yourself or others for the benefit of other Others. In a way, they resemble contributions to charity. The principles governing self-denial almost always ask for self-denial in limited form: you may give money to the homeless but still go home and have a drink, even of champagne. I’m sure the Friends of Israel in Manchester or Bury include nice people who give money to the homeless but are charitable only within some limits, as most of us are and think we should be. I think it’s reasonable and normal to boycott within your limits of self-denial. The hypocrisy would come if you would not accept that other people also have limits and make demands of them that you don’t make of yourself.

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