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Boycotting Israel means denying its right to exist

Most boycotters would deny Israel’s right to exist, or deny Israeli’s right to self-determination. They would install Palestine in its place, instead of by its side.

By Noam Wiener

Apartheid week is here again and with it the debate about Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS). Norman Finkelstein gave an interview, Sean O’Neil responded indignantly. Bradley Burston wrote a piece in Haaretz, Noam Sheizaf responded here on +972. I want to focus more on the choice to boycott, and less on whether it is effective, whether BDS is a big or a small movement, or whether the one state solution is beyond the pale of the international community. I am interested in the morality of the boycott and what it symbolizes. If boycotting is the right thing to do, the international community will eventually come around.

Sometimes in the heat of discussion, important elements get lost. It is important to start with some basic understandings. The plight of the Palestinians under the occupation is terrible. It is unjust and unjustifiable and should have ended yesterday. It is a travesty that the government of Israel is elected by a population of nearly 8 million people, but governs more than 12 million people.

I also believe that oppressed groups (and I think it is reasonable to state that disenfranchisement is oppressive) do not win their rights by virtue of being right. Rather, oppressed groups need to voice their discontent, and since that is usually not enough, they need to force their oppressors to stop the oppression. This is where it gets tricky. Despite what Noam Sheizaf wrote here, I do not think oppression should be overthrown by all means necessary. There are means that are completely illegitimate for use in overthrowing oppression (I am fairly sure that Noam Sheizaf would agree that blowing up coffee shops is not a justified means for the shaking off of oppression). The question is whether boycotting a country is a legitimate means.

One major advantage of a boycott is that it is non-violent. Another major advantage is that it is a highly visible means of protest that garners a lot of attention. But boycotting has other attributes that make it an illegitimate means of attaining Palestinian liberation.

A blanket boycott is simply too broad. When I choose to boycott somebody, I am telling that somebody that they are, for me, a non-entity. They become transparent, not to be addressed, not to be dealt with, and not to be considered. Boycotting means denying not just an entity’s business, but its voice. In this sense, the boycott is a direct continuation of the longtime policy of Arab states refusing to recognize Israel – for what is lack of recognition if not a diplomatic boycott?

For me, the time to boycott Israel will be when I think that not just a specific administration, but the entire regime is illegitimate and needs to be overthrown. Boycott, as a non-violent means, is the equivalent of revolution and should be undertaken when the state itself should be toppled and a new state put in its place. In the context of Israel, most boycotters would deny Israel’s right to exist, or deny Israelis’ right to self-determination. They would install Palestine in its place, instead of by its side.

I think that this is the point that Finkelstein got wrong in his interview. Finkelstein said he supported the method used by BDS – the boycott – but that he thought their goal – the end of Israel’s existence – is illegitimate. He explained that if the boycott was applied only in order to end the occupation, he would support it fully. But Finkelstein misunderstands that in the case of a boycott, the method is inseparable from the goal. A boycott against Israel is, by definition, a call for the denial of its right to exist.

Perhaps it is redundant to have to explain why Israel has a right to exist – I will do it anyway. Other nations, in the course of history, have done some pretty horrible things and nobody doubts their right to exist. This doesn’t make what we do right. It is not. But my right, as an Israeli, to self-determination is no different from the rights of Palestinians. Through a fluke of history, two nations with completely different cultures call the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea their national homes. This land therefore has to be shared, and a sovereign state created for each group where they can practice self rule. It is our (the Israelis’) duty, as a nation among nations, to affirmatively act to afford the Palestinians this right and create a place where they can govern themselves. But it is also the Palestinians’ duty to recognize Israelis’ right to the same.

It is not my place to tell the Palestinians what means they should use to end their oppression. But if they want me to join in their fight, they have to choose means that I, and other liberally-minded individuals around the world, can live with. Denying the right of Israelis to self-determination is not such a means.

Noam Wiener is an Israeli doctoral candidate at the University of Michigan Law School. His research focuses on international criminal law.

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  • COMMENTS

    1. Sinjim

      @Ayla: Not to put to fine a point on it, but I believe I can make such a claim. BDS is not synonymous with all anti-normalization efforts. Sure there are those who oppose any sort of contact with Israelis in any capacity, but that doesn’t mean they are necessarily a part of the BDS movement.
      .
      The major organizations such as PACBI, the BNC, Stop the Wall, campus SJPs, and other groups do not use such a ridiculous standard in their calls for action. The BDS movement has never been about individuals, and although it’s not impossible for such a thing to happen, there is no indication that it is moving in that direction.
      .
      @Aviva: I challenge you to point out to me where I have ever argued that Palestinians should do to Israelis what Israel and Zionism did to us. I’ll save you the time because you’ll never find such a sentiment from me.
      .
      I do not believe that the displacement of Israelis is a just or tenable solution to this conflict nor do I believe that recognizing the right of Palestinians to return to their homeland necessarily means the displacement of Israelis. This right isn’t a zero-sum game.
      .
      I’m calling you Zionists and Israelis on the absolute gall of you to lecture Palestinians on what is and isn’t just about the right of return. When your state repeals the Law of Return, come back and talk to me about the right of return being untenable. Until then, all who support the Law and oppose Palestinians’ right to the same are hypocrites.

      Reply to Comment
    2. AVIVA

      Sinjim– thanks for clarification. I guess I misunderstood the phrase: “You exercised your right of return after 2000 years, but it’s unjust for Palestinians to do so after 64?” as saying you are entitled now to do to Israelis what Israel did to Palestinians. I’m sorry for reacting as I did.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Noam W

      Jazzy your paternalism is as insulting as the personal insults thrown at me by Aristeides Arnon and Co.

      A. I am not as green as you apparently think.

      and

      B. Has it ever crossed your mind that I find these conversations both challenging and enriching and that I think it is crucial to listen to what people who don’t think like me say on both sides? Perhaps, could it be, that I actually think engaging in this discussion, as hard as this dialogue has been (and I admit, it is not easy) it is something I wish to do not because I am green, but because I am actually quite experienced?

      Actually – here’s a challenge for you, mr. experienced – what is your name? How long have you been dealing with these dilemmas? Tell us a little about yourself instead of hiding behind a pseudonym? Prove me wrong and stand behind what you say.

      Reply to Comment
    4. As many have noticed, sanctions have been used against South Africa (generally to praise for effectiveness adn ethics), Cuba, Iraq, and Iran.
      .
      the general theory, only occasionally correct, is that the PEOPLE of the target country are powerful enough to (democratically) force their country to change its ways.
      .
      Does the author, here, doubt that ISrael is sufficiently a democracy to abandon the occupation if the people responded to BDS to demand such a result? And does the author doubt that the PEOPLE of Israel (Arabs excluded probably) are wholly and solely responsible for the choice Israel made to prolong the occupation and waste so much money on settlements?
      .
      So wherefore is BDS inappropriate as a tool for social change in this case? The author says that blanket BDS makes him a non-entity! Nonsense! It makes him a target. Asks him to get his act together.

      I hope he does!

      Reply to Comment
    5. Sorry Jazzy, but the notion is really very bizarre, although imaginative. You don’t think his argument is strong enough? Write a better one. Use your real name, with a 1-2 line bio. Send it to our op ed address and you never know.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Jazzy

      Noam: I’m sorry you feel insulted by what I’ve said, but ultimately I think its important for people who value Jewish self-determination to understand anti-Zionist PR/messaging tactics, and avoid lending credibility to BDS types by engaging in fruitless moral debates as a representative of an institution like Michigan Law. You’re just adding fuel to the fire, which is dwindling, thankfully. I don’t doubt that you find these discussions edifying, but I would suggest having them privately and not here. What you’ve written has all been said before many, many, many times on +972. I guarantee you that the anti-Zionists who respond to you here are not approaching the conversation in good faith and with an open mind the way you are – they are all quite decided, and cynical. As far as my anonymity is concerned – I prefer to remain anonymous because I think there are sketchy people who read +972, and I don’t want to expose myself or my career. As far as I’m concerned, you can assume the worst about my credibility, because I think you’ll reach exactly the same conclusions that I have about what pieces like yours really accomplish on +972 if you just spend enough time on this site, reading pieces like those that were recently published about Khader Adnan, and paying attention to subtext. There are some moderates on this site, but the content is overwhelmingly directly at promoting a soft anti-Zionist, post-modern, post-colonial discourse on Israel/Palestine. I don’t see why, from your perspective, making the standard case for Israel is going to do any good. Respectfully, please consider this. I don’t mean to be paternalistic.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Sinjim

      @Noam: I was going to address your point about cultural differences, which is an interesting argument to make while sitting in America, but Musa has taken care of that. So rather I’m going to say something else.
      .
      Your positions boils down to this: “Palestinians, I see the chains wrapped tightly around you necks, your wrists, and your ankles. Here, let me make them more comfortable for you.”
      .
      What you offer Palestinians is looser chains, nothing more. And it would be one thing if there was a decent chance of these chains actually being loosened, but you can only ignore for so long that there is no chance at all.
      .
      So in reality, you can’t even offer looser chains. All you have to offer is the idea and a promise to work towards it. Well, you’ve had decades to achieve it and all the Peace Nows, the Seeds of Peaces, and the Gush Shaloms of the world have nothing to show for it. Your political program of two states has been a complete failure for the Palestinian people, who’ve seen their lives become worse off in the last two decades when it finally became fashionable in Israel to call for two states. It would be great if you could admit that, too.
      .
      BDS on the other hand has not only managed to freak out the Israeli political establishment, and it has also mobilized Palestinians and their allies into substantive action across the globe. At long last, it isn’t liberal Zionists who show up to speak on behalf of Palestinians and their dreams. It is Palestinians themselves. And all that in less than a single decade. Nothing you have to offer comes close to matching that.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Jazzy

      Dahlia: If I hadn’t made the point clear already, I am a Finkelsteinian/Chomskyian when it comes to BDS. I think it frustrates the efforts of the two-state left, and I don’t think there’s any reason to engage it respectfully because BDS is never going to get off the ground. So I won’t be submitting a piece to address BDS. But thanks for the invitation! :)

      Reply to Comment
    9. Larry

      I am finding it amusing that I’m on the “right wing” side of this discussion. Boycotting Israel probably won’t bring an end to the occupation. What it will do is disproportionately impoversh certain Israelis whose livelihoods depend on export and tourism, many of whom are Israeli Arabs. Moreover, it will suppress the contributions of Israeli scientists and academics, rendering us all poorer. South Africa was a different story. That country’s whole system was rotten and needed to be taken down, so it was worth the economic disruption of a boycott. When you call for a boycott of Israel, you are saying the same thing about Israel. Israel has committed atrocious acts, but so has every other country. China has oppressed the Tibetans for as long as Israel has oppressed the Palestinians. Do we boycott them, as well? If you answer “yes” to my last question, do you put your money where your mouth is and not buy Chinese products? Should the rest of the world boycott the U.S. for the war crimes we committed in Iraq? Noam has it right: if you oppose the occupation, don’t buy products made by Israelis in the OT. I would add don’t support businesses (both Israeli and non-Israeli) who are supporting the occupation. Write your congresspeople and ask that they earmark foreign aid for use in Israel proper alone. It’s a targeted approach,and I think it would work better in this situation.

      Reply to Comment
    10. aristeides

      Sinjim – I would say rather that Noam’s position is: “Palestinians, I see the chains wrapped tightly around you necks, your wrists, and your ankles. I feel really bad about that, but loosening them might inconvenience Israeli Jews and cause a reduction in their privileges. Sorry about that.”

      Reply to Comment
    11. sh

      @Noam W – “Through a fluke of history, two nations with completely different cultures call the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea their national homes. ”
      .
      I’m puzzled as to what exactly you mean by that. First, is Arab culture monolithic? Is Jewish culture? In what ways are they completely different? Do Jews and Arabs in the wider world make friends only according to whether they are Jewish or Arab, or do they do so according to shared interests, passions, personal histories and experiences?

      Reply to Comment
    12. “Jazzy your paternalism is as insulting as the personal insults thrown at me by Aristeides Arnon and Co.”
      I take umbrage to that.
      I threw absolutely no personal insult at you. In fact I wished you good luck in your studies.

      I said of you that you were not as intellectually rigorous as I first thought because you refused to engage a point I raised. A point that has wide ramifications for the validity of your argument.

      This is not an insult. Its a remark on your willful decision to not engage the issue and on the ensuing level of discussion. ie. not as intellectually rigorous as I’d hoped.

      I hope that clears that up.

      Reply to Comment
    13. Bill Pearlman

      BDS is the spiritual stepchild of the stormtroopers of the 1930′s. All its missing is a snappy slogan like they had back then, “the jews are our misfortune”

      Reply to Comment
    14. Larry

      Dorothy- I hear you. I often wonder if the creation of Israel, while seeming to be a good idea at the time, was actually a mistake in hindsight. But that is irrelevant to the question of where we go from here. There is a large population of Israeli Jews. Where do they go? Also, you are wrong when you say that no other western power is based on ethnicity. pretty much every European country is based on ethnicity. This is perfectly compatible with democracy, as long as ethnic minorities enjoy full civil rights. Israel can maintain itself as a democracy and a jewish state, as long as it drops the territories. This is why a two state solution is so important.

      Reply to Comment
    15. Richard Witty

      Noam,
      Excellent comments.

      Being shunned is a cruelty, as “non-violent” as it is.

      Palestinians have been boycotted for decades. The isolation is abusive.

      A pendulum swing to isolate Jews, Israelis, Zionists, would not be less abusive.

      Reply to Comment
    16. directrob

      Richard, the current situation is absolutely horrible. If the wishes of the most radical BDS adepts come through there will be one secular state for everyone with universal human rights. In practice the pendulum will halt even before the middle.

      Reply to Comment
    17. Noam w

      Arnon – calling me anti-intellectual is quite a personal insult. At any rate, I apologize for not engaging with you on your question. I really think it is beyond the scope of what I am willing to discuss in regards to this post – that is not to say that they are not interesting arguments – just not for today.

      Sinjim, I do not see how where I currently live has to do with it (for your information, I have lived most of my life in Israel).

      You know very little of me and have no idea when I started supporting the two state solution or what I have done to promote it.

      Finally I do not offer Palestinians chains, I claim they have a right to a sovereign state, just like me.

      Reply to Comment
    18. directrob

      Noam, your chain of reasoning here is simply false. Although some or even many BDS supporters may wish for an end of the state of Israel (something which clearly horrifies you, but states feel no pain) in general boycots do not deny existence. Boycots mostly just aim at changing behavior.

      Reply to Comment
    19. Sinjim

      @Noam: Oh I wasn’t making a comment about your life. I was just saying that it’s funny to listen to anyone talk about the intractability of cultural differences and doing so in America of all places.
      .
      This is ultimately not about you. So what you’ve done or haven’t done is not something I want to argue with you about, and certainly I have no desire to pass judgment on that. I was speaking of results, and the results of liberal Zionist groups like Peace Now, Seeds of Peace, Gush Shalom, and all the others have been failure, the work of individuals within those groups notwithstanding.

      Reply to Comment
    20. This is getting tiresome.
      Misquoting, perceiving challenges as insults, putting an unnecessary and false emphasis on people’s use of a pseudonym, claiming authority vis-a-vis academic credentials yet unwilling to extend discussion into own area of expertise – all in a successful yet transparent attempt to engage the persons and not the issues.
      I’m with Jazzy on this – 972 put up a real live strawman.
      At least 972 got a handle on Ariana’s bias. That’s something.

      Reply to Comment
    21. Noam W

      I must say this has been quite a day for me. I have participated in many panels in front of live audiences where I have been called a traitor, a defeatist, a self-hating Jew. But I have never felt so embattled as I have today.

      My core beliefs have not changed, but my hopes for a peaceful resolution for the situation are certainly shaken. I admit I see no bridge between me and some of the discussants here.
      .
      This is especially sad because, as most discussants here are doubtlessly aware, I am far far to the left of the Israeli mainstream, and many of the Palestinian interests I consider natural rights, are considered treacherous concessions on my part by a vast majority of my compatriots.
      .
      It is sad to read all of this and think how much we still have to go if some sort of agreement can be reached. In this sense, this has been very sobering.
      .
      Good night.

      Reply to Comment
    22. Kibbutznik

      ” This land therefore has to be shared, and a sovereign state created for each group where they can practice self rule. It is our (the Israelis’) duty, as a nation among nations, to affirmatively act to afford the Palestinians this right and create a place where they can govern themselves. But it is also the Palestinians’ duty to recognize Israelis’ right to the same.

      It is not my place to tell the Palestinians what means they should use to end their oppression. But if they want me to join in their fight, they have to choose means that I, and other liberally-minded individuals around the world, can live with. Denying the right of Israelis to self-determination is not such a means. ”

      Completely 100% agree with you Noam.

      Reply to Comment
    23. sh

      Directrob: “Boycots mostly just aim at changing behavior.”
      .
      Boycotts can be a change of behavior of the boycotter rather than the boycotted.
      “A new Jewish neighborhood currently under construction in the Samaria community of Kedumim is being built entirely based on the concept of Jewish labor, meaning that all the work from beginning to end is being done only by Jewish workers.”
      http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/144200#.T08yrBzP9DQ
      .
      The Jewish Labor thing is not new and can be insidious and far-reaching (example: you are kindly and generously dispensed from army service because of your unique position among us; sorry, army service is a prerequisite for this job). BDS then, can be seen as a way the boycotted can boycott the boycotters that would not starve them to death.
      .
      The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that attacking BDS is a pointless waste of time. Activists in Israel should listen to their own consciences on the subject and continue their activism notwithstanding, because boycotting Israel does not necessarily deny its right to exist. (BTW, I really wonder why we need constant reassurance about our right to exist. We exist.) It’s our attitude to those we govern and to those who surround us that needs changing, whether we’re boycotted or not. And that’s up to us.

      Reply to Comment
    24. Kibbutznik

      Here is another for you Noam :
      http://www.kibush.co.il/show_file.asp?num=51891

      ” The same applies to Israel, a country that is as diverse as this one, a country that includes secular left-wing Tel Aviv, a country with millions of people who oppose the occupation and thousands who put their lives on the line to do so.
      .
      Who are we to boycott them? We should, instead, empower them by pressing our government to stand up to Binyamin Netanyahu and the settlement movement.
      .
      Yes, boycott the occupation — the settlers, the politicians who support them, and the businesses that sustain them. But not Israel itself, unless you think that it is a society beyond redemption. It isn`t ”

      See , you are not alone .
      Gush Shalom has been saying the same since 1997.
      http://zope.gush-shalom.org/home/en/campaigns/settlements_products

      Reply to Comment
    25. Richard Witty

      BDS remains vague on the primary question to Zionists, whether the state of Israel is accepted as Israel, or rejected, opposed, warred on.

      While those that claim “we are working for human rights” avoid that question with vengeance, it is the primary one for any liberal Zionist, that sincerely desires the well-being of their neighbors, very near and neighboring states.

      The question of whether a secular civil state is enough for Jews, for Zionists, is up to Zionists. Anything less than consent of the governed, would be an imposition, a denial of self-governance.

      The quantity of ridiculing statements doesn’t change the reality of that.

      If consented, wonderful. If not, then not wonderful.

      The combination of a single state with unlimited right of return, as is presented by the left, is the end of Israel as Israel. The factors that would lead varying slivers of Zionist views to consent, are not addressed here or elsewhere that I’ve seen.

      There is no definition of basis of complete confidence offered of the permanence of the status of “home” to Jews (even if not exclusive home).

      Its a gamble proposed, and accompanied by aggression, with a precedent of mass murder.

      Not a compelling proposal to my understanding.

      When Palestinian solidarity is presented as “that is all we will accept, we won’t accept 67 borders in fact”, then all there is a form of warring, stated as if it was non-violent.

      “Some will rob you with guns, some with a fountain pen”. In this case, unless clarified, remains robbing with numbers and at least some decption, appealing to idealism to do so.

      Better that idealism is appealed to result in a setting that optimizes self-governance.

      While many of the 972 editors, in solidarity with some Palestinian conclusion, that the two-state approach is not possible, one critical reason that it is strained is the renunciation of electoral efforts, you know real political work in a democracy.

      Reply to Comment
    26. “I have participated in many panels in front of live audiences where I have been called a traitor, a defeatist, a self-hating Jew. But I have never felt so embattled as I have today.”

      Those terms (traitor, defeatist, self-hating Jew) would imply those audiences perceived you as a leftist.

      The critiques presented to you here imply your current audience perceives you as quite the opposite.

      I’ll let you sort out which critiques you think were true and which were not.
      Hint: As a rule of thumb, the truth hurts more :)

      Reply to Comment
    27. Noam W

      I do intend to open this up again.

      But I did not see Jazzy’s final comment last night. Just for the record, I should emphasize that I am in no way any sort of representative of the University of Michigan Law School and that I do not speak for the Law School.

      Reply to Comment
    28. Noam W

      That was supposed to say I do NOT intend to open this up again…

      Reply to Comment
    29. sh

      That’s a shame, Noam W, because if anything, the exchanges here showed well what’s wrong with the way we discuss boycott. I just read this on the subject, the best I’ve seen so far.
      .
      “Caught in the crossfire: Should musicians boycott Israel?
      The former Dead Kennedys frontman goes to Israel and the West Bank, and shares his thoughts on the BDS movement.”
      http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2012/02/20122198353750111.html#.T0wdPaapnew.facebook

      Reply to Comment
    30. Kibbutznik

      ” That’s a shame, Noam W ”
      .
      sh is right Noam , you have given up to easily .
      .
      Great article sh , thanks .
      .
      “Our fight is not for land or religion, it is for peace,”
      .
      Another Noam :
      http://electronicintifada.net/content/transforming-finkelstein-bds-attack-opportunity/11008
      .
      As far as I am concerned the Two State Solution is our only viable option but it should be a Two State not a One and a Half as MK Hanin Zoabi visions our future.
      Those that believe in a One State Solution , be they from the extreme Right or the extreme Left are deluding themselves .

      Reply to Comment
    31. zayzafuna

      I must say that you people confuse me. I support BDS because I want a one state solution from the River to the Sea. Right wing hasbarists point out that binational states rarely work, citing Lebanon, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia rarely work. I agree with this analysis in that a single state composed of thief and victims will not work. Thus, in order to obtain a strong Palestine, the oppressors will need to exercise their right of return. This cannot be called ethnic cleansing because it will be a voluntary movement. Most of your columns seem to indicate support of my position, especially when Yossi Gurwitz said that Palestine was stolen. We are looking for Jewish allies to help us combat this massive injustice. On some days, I think 972 are our allies, but columns like this make me wonder whether 972 is a stealth zionist site

      Reply to Comment
    32. aristeides

      Zayza – I’d say sites like 972 are meant to present a range of opinion, not advocate for a particular vision. But this site, specifically, is supposed to present opinions from Israel and Palestine, not anyone who wants to sound off. I wonder about the inclusion of Noam’s piece for that reason.

      Reply to Comment
    33. Noam W

      I have not given up… I just think the discussion on this piece has run its course.
      .
      One of the reasons I think this is, as it happens, basically everybody who argued with me initially that BDS does not wish to completely redefine Israel and turn it into Palestine, then went on and explained to me why it is just and right to completely redefine Israel and turn it into Palestine.
      .

      I think the first piece, from Al-Jazirah is much better than the second piece. There is, apropos artists, a great difference between personally choosing to boycott Israel, and calling out for a boycott. I faced this dilemma when I chose to refuse to serve in the OT – and opted for the much stronger public statement of calling others not to serve.
      .
      Musicians’ boycott, by the way, at least in my eyes, is something a little different than other types of divestment, and because of the type of expression it provides, it somehow makes more sense to me for musicians to refuse to play in Israel than, for example, for a British scientific journal to reject an article because it was written by an Israeli. I haven’t thought this through all the way – currently this is more of a gut feeling with me than a reasoned view.

      Reply to Comment
    34. Kibbutznik

      ” to completely redefine Israel and turn it into Palestine. ”

      Wishful thinking Noam , both you and I know that, that is never going to happen .

      Reply to Comment
    35. Noam W

      It is not wistful thinking on my part at all – it is what those who were criticizing me were advocating.

      Reply to Comment
    36. Kibbutznik


      It is not wistful thinking on my part at all – ”
      .
      I know that Noam.
      .
      ” it is what those who were criticizing me were advocating. ”
      .
      I know that to .
      .
      I’m with you not against you .
      .
      Dont give up , the discussion on this piece has NOT run its course.

      Reply to Comment
    37. Noam W

      Something to SH-

      First regarding your question on cultures – no – Israeli culture is not monolithic, nor is Arab culture. But to deny that culture exists and has very real manifestations is, I think, a mistake.

      Sinjim suggests that because I am in the US, that proves in some way that cultural differences are not an issue. He misses the point twice
      First, maybe living in the US has actually reinforced this understanding for me. And second, I am living in the US alone and not attempting to manifest my cultural difference on political grounds, something that a group would (and has every right to) do.

      SH – I have had the fortune of living abroad for significant lengths of time in my childhood. It has taught me two things – first, that mufti-culturalism is possible if people are willing to invest in it. And second, that cultural differences are very real. So real that, even though multi-culturalism can be achieved and there is a lot in common to human beings, there is also a lot that is not common and is shaped by where we grew up, the language we speak natively, etc. This doesn’t mean that cultures are monolithic.

      Finally, in regards to fighting BDS – that is not my intention here. I see BDS, and I see it as a tool used to bring about the end of the occupation, and I ask myself if it is something I can take part in. That was the beginning and the end of my post and the reason I engaged in the exercise.

      Reply to Comment
    38. aristeides

      Anyone who really wants to “completely redefine Israel and turn it into Palestine” ought to be adopting a much stronger method than BDS.

      .
      But I would suggest that those who reject, usually with hysteria, the idea of redefining Israel ought to take into consideration that Israel is currently far, far from what it was at its founding and far, far from what its founders had in mind. Israel has already changed, for the worse, and will continue to change, for better or worse – and probably for the worse the more benign palliative measures like BDS are rejected.

      .
      Those who want to see Israel collapse and destroy itself could do no better than abandon all attempts at reform and simply stand back.

      Reply to Comment
    39. Joe

      “A boycott against Israel is, by definition, a call for the denial of its right to exist.”

      No it isn’t, what drivel. An ‘intimacy’ boycott doesn’t mean that one refuses to recognise the partner. The sporting boycott of South Africa did not deny it’s right to exist.

      In fact, effective boycotts only work on people you have an emotional attachment to – because if there was no emotional attachment, the object of the boycott could just shrug their shoulders and ignore you.

      D- go and read more Gandhi.

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    40. Joe

      The best reason why a BDS is the wrong policy is that it disproportionally affects the Palestinian economy. To refuse to buy Israeli is to refuse to buy Palestinian – because there is almost no direct export from Palestine.

      Israel can get along fine without a Palestine, but Palestine needs Israeli customers, largely because nobody else will trade with them.

      I have been in lots of factories in the West Bank – in one I saw something which the owner said was being made for the Israeli military. When I asked why, he just shrugged and said there was no other work available.

      Which is an unfashionable truth, but there it is.

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    41. Adam

      Very interesting post. I’m glad to see such a lucid argument on behalf of Israel that does not deny the injustice of the occupation. But I wonder whether you could do more to justify your claim that boycotting something means denying its right to exist. In my (limited) experience with other boycot movements, I’ve found that boycotters usually recognize the right of an entity to exist but not to commit injustices. The boycot is usually intended as a means to an end, and that end is not the dissolution of the boycotted party but an end to its unjust practices. Once the unjust practices are ended, the boycot ends.

      Now, there are many people involved in the BDS movement (I am not one of them) and they promote various different goals, some of which are clearly unacceptable to someone (like myself) who recognizes Israel’s right to exist and to exist as a Jewish democratic state. But what about those who believe that Israel’s unjust actions against the Palestinian people is stripping Israel of its right to be heard? For them, boycotting Israel means trying to get Israel to end its unjust occupation SO THAT it can restore its right to be heard. I know well-meaning Jews who support Israel’s existence but believe that Israel has mistakenly traded its voice for its occupation; for them, boycotting Israel is the best means to save Israel’s right to be heard on the international stage. What am I supposed to tell them?

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    42. aristeides

      Drivel! Thank you, Joe. I missed that one.

      Reply to Comment
    43. Noam W

      Thank you Adam.

      I think that is the difference between boycotting the settlements, and/or Israeli industries that invest in the settlement, and/or industries that invest in the Israeli army, or the state apparatuses that maintain the settlements.

      A blank boycott against Israel, does not target the practices themselves, but Israel and Israelis as a whole. So when BDS activists try to get institutions not to host dancers from Bat-Sheva, who have never appeared in the OT, and some of whom are activists against the occupation. I see that as a blanket denial of Israelis’ right to participate in any sort of discourse.

      This is opposed to demonstrating outside the theatre where the dancers are preforming against the occupation which is again, a demonstration aimed at the wrongful occupation of the OT. It may seem like a fine line, but being blunt about this does not help.

      When you blanket boycott a group of people you are placing them outside of society. In Jewish tradition somebody against whom there was a Herem was not to be talked with and ignored as if he did not exist. In Catholic tradition it is excommunication. For protestants – the scarlet letter.

      As for the Palestine BDS in particular, one of the things they demand to change for the BDS to stop, is enabling the return of all Palestinian refugees to Israel. As I wrote above, I conceded completely my predecessors’ fault in creating the refugee problem. But bringing them back to Israel now will create only greater injustice – and will create a Palestine not beside Israel but instead of it.
      .
      Joe, I would gladly discuss this issue with you if you would refrain from using terms such as drivel to describe what I obviously put a lot of time and effort into putting together.

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    44. directrob

      “A blank boycott against Israel, does not target the practices themselves, but Israel and Israelis as a whole.”
      .
      The Israeli state and the Israeli as a whole are responsible. It is very hard to find Jewish Israeli that are 100% innocent.

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    45. Jazzy

      Noam: Serious dude…don’t you realize at this point that everyone who’s arguing with you is 100% anti-Zionist and not interested in having a sincere debate? This is just the 1,000,000th iteration of the ‘should Israel exist’ flamewar on +972. Better to spend your time on writing a journal article or something.

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    46. aristeides

      Noam – “But bringing them back to Israel now will create only greater injustice –”

      .
      No, let’s drag out the truth from the drivel. Bringing the refugees back now will create justice, but at the expense of Jews. This is the sticking point for Zionists – justice must always give way to the privileges, convenience and interests of Jews. Whatever justice requires, Jews must never suffer on its account. And thus Palestinians must continue to suffer injustice, for the sake of the Jews.

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    47. Mikesailor

      I think the problem with this article is that Noam never thought through the ramifications present in the situation. His premise that a boycott implies “denying the right of Israel to exist’ is plain silly. Was the boycott of South Africa “denying South Africa’s ‘right to exist? Does the present boycott of Iran ‘deny’ its right to exist?
      Perhaps it might be more palatable to say that it ‘denies’ the present regime and its policies international or private approval. And therein lies the rub. Of course BDS or any boycott regimen will affect the ‘common people’ whether or not they approve of their regime’s policies or not. I am sure many Iranians are presently suffering from the sanctions placed upon them by the West. Should Israel be exempt from such a regimen or all opprobrium? Why? Because they are Jews?
      I concede that BDS is a blunt instrument, it affects both the guilty and the innocent. Yet, what is your solution? To have the Palestinians beg for a semblance of justice from their recalcitrant overlords? To have the Israeli Jews as the final arbiters over whether or not human beings, not of their ‘ethnicity or religion’, deserve to be treated as human beings? If they do ‘beg; or ‘wait’, how long will simple justice be denied them? According to the Zionists, the answer is either ‘forever’ or ‘when we (the Jews) decide. In the meantime, the settlements continue, the brutality and occupation only deepen. I acknowledge that BDS is a blunt tool, but for those with no hope apparently you would deny them use of any non-violent tool to end their suffering.
      That is hypocrisy at least, combined with intellectual blindness. As to bi-cultural ‘states’, last I heard the Quebecois were doing all right in Canada. As for the demise of the ‘Jewish’ state, you have created a North Ireland situation with the added circumstance of thousands of Palestinian refugees. Perhaps the idea of an ethnically ‘pure’ Jewish state should be consigned to the ‘dustbin of history’ and a state created wherein all citizens are protected by equal protection of the laws and discrimination against any ‘ethnic’ group be prohibited. Of course that would mean that Zionism was a failure, but so what? Many ideas: Tyranny, dictatorship, feudalism, monarchy have all outgrown their ‘usefulness’ and been discarded. I think Zionism should join that club.

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    48. Adam

      Thank you, Noam, for your thoughtful reply. If I understand your position, then, it seems that you would actually support a boycott under certain conditions, e.g. (a) that it is directed only at the occupation, i.e. companies that invest in the settlements, industries that invest in the Israeli army, the state apparatuses that maintain the settlements, etc., (b) that the goal of the boycott is an end to the occupation that does not compromise Israel’s legitimate interests, etc.
      Indeed, you have said in one of these replies that you yourself “will not buy anything that comes out of the OT.”

      I have two questions about this.
      (1) Would such a boycott really deny the right of companies that profit from the occupation to exist, as the thesis of this article seems to imply? Or is it not rather that such a boycott would recognize the right of such companies to exist but not to commit injustices or profit from them, as I suggested?
      (2) Modern capitalist economies are so complex that it’s often difficult to sort out who’s directly invested in what. How directly does a company have to be involved in the occupation in order to justify a boycott of it? Would employing security firms that operate in the OT count as supporting the occupation? Employing settlers who live there? Employing reserves who serve in the OT? What about buying Israel bonds? Or paying Israeli taxes? At a certain level of analysis, all of Israeli society is involved in the occupation; once we accept a boycott of the occupation, I fear that we’re on a slippery slope leading to a general boycott. So I’m concerned that a boycott directed only at the occupation would wind up becoming the same thing as a boycott of Israel.

      Reply to Comment
    49. Aaron the Fascist Troll

      Rather than continuing with my argument over boycott—Noam is besieged enough as it is—I’ll answer MikeSailor’s question. Yes, the boycott of South Africa was about denying South Africa’s right to exist. And South Africa did cease to exist, although that name continued to refer to a state on the same territory. This might have been clearer if South Africa had changed its name, like other African states such as Rhodesia. The essence of a state is not its name. Similarly, Israel would cease to exist by becoming a “state of all its citizens,” even if that state were called Israel.
      *
      If you don’t accept this terminology, you can talk about regimes, not states. The claim is that the BDS movement opposes the existence of the Zionist regime, as the South Africa boycott movement opposed the existence of the white regime.

      Reply to Comment
    50. Mikesailor

      Aaron: Would that really be such a bad thing? Of course it would violate the tenets of Zionism i.e. a ‘Jewish’ state, but are those tenets really worth preserving? Nature continually evolves; new structures and species arising out of older forms. Is an ‘unassimilated’ ethnic group which asserts its right to dominance over those labelled as the ‘other’ worth maintaining because it is ‘traditional’ and has always been taught to its young in such a form, or should it be allowed to evolve and become subject to the same mores as everyone else? Isn’t Zionism an anachronistic philosophy which must change else it lead its adherents to destruction?

      Reply to Comment
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