Appreciate this article? +972 depends on your support -- click here to help us keep going

Analysis News

Is the settlement boycott misdirected?

On the surface, the settlement boycott seems to be a wise ‘middle way’ for Jews that are critical of Israeli policy yet unwilling to join a Palestinian-led nonviolent initiative. However, it’s a step that might prove to be counter-productive

The Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanction (BDS) of Israel continues to be one of the most controversial issues regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In a remarkably short time, the call has achieved numerous successes including the divestment of major European companies such Duestche Bahn in Israeli business deals, the support of international artists such as Roger Waters and the end of academic relationships with universities from South Africa to the United States. While BDS continues on its nonviolent path of resistance to Israel’s 44 year occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, progressive Jewish voices in the United States and Israel have been slow to embrace the potential of Palestinian nonviolence.

Now almost six years after the initial BDS call, some elements in the Jewish milieu have adopted a version of BDS called ‘settlement boycott.’ On the surface, settlement boycott seems to be a wise ‘middle way’ for Jews that are critical of Israeli policy yet unwilling to join a Palestinian-led nonviolent initiative. However, a deeper look at the logic of settlement boycott reveals serious logical failures of the movement.

My fellow writer on +972, Mairav Zonszein has written a thoughtful and well researched piece on the BDS movement among Jews in the US in Dissent Magazine. She begins with congratulatory statements for Jstreet, the ‘pro-Israel, pro-Peace’ lobby in the United States which emerged in 2008 to give voice to those in the polarized American Jewish community who love Israel but dislike its current policies. The article makes clear that the American Jewish community is changing, albeit slowly, and progressive voices are beginning to emerge. The major proof of this change is increased acceptance of the settlement boycott. What is the settlement boycott?

According to the piece, the settlement boycott is

A boycott of settlement goods [which] 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.

Sounds good enough but I see two problematic issues. The major issue is that the settlement boycott has nothing to do with the actual Palestinian BDS call which is designed to isolate Israel until it abides by international law in the occupied Palestinian territories. By co-opting the BDS movement and changing it to fit the narrow needs of the progressive Jewish community in the diaspora, more harm than good is done for the aspirations of Palestinians living under occupation.

The second problematic issue is that a settlement boycott creates a division between the settlements and Israeli society. The settlements (and Occupation) are part and parcel of Israeli society. The soldiers which guard the settlements and allow them to continue come from both Israel and the settlements. If you are willing to boycott the settlements, in effect you are boycotting all of the state of Israel as it stands today.

In fact, to be most effective in targeting the settlements, you must target the infrastructure that upholds the settlements. This is what the Palestinian boycott call, molded on the successful boycott of Apartheid South Africa, seeks to do. For example, the boycott of an Israeli academic institution that is directly connected to the Occupation dries up the infrastructure which allows the settlements to flourish. Every Israeli university (most of which are state funded) include programs of security studies which are run by current and former military personnel who devise new ways of maintaining, justifying and defending the control of the West Bank and Gaza. In this way, Israeli academia is deeply connected to the Occupation notwithstanding the numerous individual academics which have taken bold stands against the Occupation.

One must address the root of the illness as opposed to the symptoms. Boycotting settlement produce only addresses the symptoms and ignores the root of the problem, which is the decision by Israeli society to maintain and engrain the occupation of Palestinian land. While the settlement boycott is an important first step towards the internationalization of nonviolent initiatives against Israeli occupation it is misdirected. The settlers will be the last ones to change. The people that have the power to end the occupation live in Tel Aviv and West Jerusalem. They are the ones that need to be forced to comply with international law through the nonviolent Palestinian call for BDS.

For additional original analysis and breaking news, visit +972 Magazine's Facebook page or follow us on Twitter. Our newsletter features a comprehensive round-up of the week's events. Sign up here.

View article: AAA
Share article
Print article
  • COMMENTS

    1. aristeides

      The question I have is just why Israeli Jews might be “unwilling to join a Palestinian-led nonviolent initiative.” Is racism so pervasive in Israel that even Jews sympathetic to the Palestinian cause would refuse to be led by them? It’s precisely because the BDS movement is Palestinian-led that the people I know support it. Palestinians should be leading the Palestinian cause, not Jews who think they know what’s good for them.

      Reply to Comment
    2. O.Selznik

      @Joseph Dana

      first of all, boycotting is a violent act. its a mistake to regard an act that can have a effect on people’s welfare as non-violent.

      but, that still leaves the question of “is it justified?”

      I think boycotting the settlements (the middle ground solution- and the one I prefer) although has its problems concerning the strenght of the effect does not suffer the moral problems that the wider BDS solution faces.
      BDS of the entier state would be collective punishment imposed even on those who are against occupation.

      people who are against collective punishment should apply this rule all across the board i.e the Gaza blockade – there is no doubt that Hamas is firing undiscriminated rockets and mortars as civilian population (for more on that read Goldstone’s lastest in the Washington Post http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/reconsidering-the-goldstone-report-on-israel-and-war-crimes/2011/04/01/AFg111JC_story.html- hope 972 mag will publish a report on that) but that doesnt justify collective punishment on Gaza.

      Reply to Comment
    3. leila

      for me, boycotting produce from the settlements alone is virtually impossible. all parts of the israeli society are closely bound to the settlements enterprice – ideologically, economically, militarily, etc. israel is set on continuing the occupation no matter what. thus, i do not see a way how “boycott of settlements” can be separated from “boycott of israel”.in my opinion, the one-state solution is the only solution to the conflict.we are on the way there.i have the feeling that a lot of jewish and israeli groups who support some sort of “partial” boycott especially have a huge problem with racism, as mentioned in comments above.ways of boycotting in fact are too many,but the goals must be the same – including the abolition of this zionist supremacist thinking

      Reply to Comment
    4. Shoshana

      Are you people actually naive enough to believe that if the “occupation” ends and the “Palestinians” have their own state that the violence will stop? They’ve been attacking Jews here since 1920… Before they were calling themselves “Palestinians”, before they wanted “their land” returned.
      Read the records people.. You are all politically correct vacuums.
      Israel has a right to the land given to her, if the Arabs didn’t start attacking and forcing Israel to defend herself, they’d still have the vacant desert that the settlements are built on. And it would still be vacant desert wasteland after all these years. They’ll never be a 2 state solution… Arabs don’t want 2 states, they want all of Israel and all Jews dead and buried.
      They got Gaza and instead of the promised peace, they sent more missiles in.
      These are a tribal people, they know only hatred and death. They teach their children the same, so the cycle will continue to perpetuate…

      Reply to Comment
    5. Joseph? I disagree with you on BDS of course, but you are totally right. Your logic is flawless. Thanks for showing up the supporters of Settlement BDS.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Louis

      More on BDS: I am a boycott proponent. I think that it has proven itself to be a logical, moral and non violent tool for achieving social justice and human rights. This, I think, is correct only or especially when the boycott is specific regarding a product or object (grape/lettuce)and it is similarly related to the direct harm against the individuals/group under oppression. Ok. that being said: I would suggest a different strategy regarding academic boycott of Israel – regarding Universities in Israel be specific… point out programs that may have a direct or semi direct effect on the Occupation… for example. Point it out, get it changed if not refuse to participate in it. We can call this, to borrow a less than liked term from my Anti South Africa Apartheid activism days, ‘constructive engagement’. As far as Israeli academic institutions OUTSIDE OF ISRAEL, i.e. in settlements adopt a policy of direct and complete refusal. That is such an academic facility is an institution of the Occupation. It is illegal. Thus it should have no academic standing, i.e. in Europe, and therefore faculty and students would have no academic standing, for instance to pursue advanced degrees in Europe or at UJ etc. Write a letter to Israel’s Council of Higher Ed. and explain the reasoning of the action being taken…

      This is a strong, principled and logical idea, I think. It promotes change, reduces Israeli Martyrdom claims when faced with boycott activities, eliminates collective punishment arguments and makes BDS activists seem to be more principled and strategically directed against the Occupation and its institutions (than they are painted to be by the pro-occupation maligners), and it facilitates dialogue and builds alliances among the entirety of the anti-Occupation left.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Yakov Wolf

      As a JVP member who supports that organizations current stance of campaigns that specifically target the Occupation (Targeted BDS) while explicitly defending the right and legitimacy of organizations that support Full BDS, I take a little bit of issue with the idea that such as stance is “co-opting” the BDS movement.

      The BDS call, as I understand it, is a coalition movement that understands that not every participant can fulfill every facet of BDS. Some Jews might agree with the BDS call, but not feel comfortable with an academic or cultural boycott–or vice versa! Some might support Settlement product, cultural, and academic boycotts, but not want to Boycott Israel within the green line–for whatever reason; the reason i hear most often is that they have family living in Tel Aviv and haven’t reconciled how to deal with that.

      As was pointed out to me during a conversation with a member of Coalition of Women for Peace, an organization that advocates Full BDS, at the JVP National Member Meeting a few weeks ago, nothing in the call demands full participation: If all you feel comfortable doing is refusing to buy Sabra hummus, that is still a legit way to adopt BDS.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Jack

      Its dishonest to claim that Israeli Jews do not support the BDS movement because of racism. They do not support it for the very simple reason that the general BDS movement calls for the return of Palestinian refugees and their millions of descendants to Israel. In other words, the BDS movement is about transforming the state of Israel into an Arab state of Palestine. Perhaps this explains Israeli opposition better than racism?

      Also, as a BDS advocate, should you really be completing an Israeli government funded Phd at an a israeli university in occupied east jerusalem? Can you not do your phd at birzeit?

      Reply to Comment
    9. Sandy Fisher

      You are in good company to argue that the settlement boycott may be counter productive, as Noam Chomsky makes the same arguments, although applying them to the larger BDS effort as well. Boycotting US companies operating in Israel, he says, is necessary to effect US policy, while boycotting products made in Israel is like shooting a hole in your own boat. Either way, great piece.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Lee Diamond

      This is a complicated problem and I am trying to wrap my head around it. Up to now, I have opposed BDS. I do want to say that I do not see how it can be called violent. The occupation is violent and some of the resistance to it is also violent. If I can be persuaded that BDS is a viable strategy to get Israel to the negotiating table, I will support it. Bibi’s comments notwithstanding, I believe he & Lieberman are the ones holding things up. The Palestinians have made enormous progress state building over the last several years. They do still need to secure the progress by winning tangible buy-in from their public. It seems clear though that it is the Palestinians who want peace. Israel seems more interested in land to fulfill a short-sighted “vision.”

      Reply to Comment
    11. MR

      Where exactly is ‘the Palestinian call for BDS’ coming from? The Palestinian Authority is calling only for
      settlement boycott, and trying to enforce it within its limited jurisdiction.
      Even contracts they have with Israeli companies include a clause ensuring that no settlement products are used.

      Some Palestinian individuals call for BDS, but so do some Americans, including Jewish Americans, and even some Israelis.
      So talking about ‘The American call for BDS’, or ‘The Jewish call for BDS’ or even ‘The Israeli call for BDS’ would make just as much sense.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Yakov Wolf

      I’m responding to MR’s comment in good faith that he hasn’t heard about the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC) or read the list (found here: http://www.bdsmovement.net/call ) of “Palestinian political parties, unions, associations, coalitions and organizations” that put out the BDS call in 2005 when he asks “Where exactly is ‘the Palestinian call for BDS’ coming from?”

      The collective of Palestinian civil society organizations (as distinct from governmental organizations, like the PA, or military organizations, like PFLP, Al Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade, etc.) represented by the BNC calls for a Full BDS campaign against the Israeli State.

      If I recall correctly, this call, often referred to as “The 1995 call”, is distinct from, yet runs parallel with, the Academic and Cultural Boycotts, which I believe have their own campaign organizational bodies.

      So it is more than “Palestinian individuals [who] call for BDS”, it is very much an organized movement initiated by Palestinian civilian society organizations that speak with one coherent voice.

      Reply to Comment
    13. MR

      The list of organization is impressive, but you probably realize that BDS totally contradicts the current Palestinian strategy (supported by majority of the Palestinians in all public opinion polls) of building the state foundations, seeking international recognition, and focusing on the illegality of the settlements.
      The BDS movement may think that this strategy is hopeless, and maybe it is, but from the Israeli right wing perspective, that strategy is what they fear most (‘Diplomatic tsunami’ as Ehud Barak phrased).

      It is very telling that when the Israeli Parliament passed an anti-boycott law in the context of Rawabi contracts, the Israeli right wing harshly criticized the JNF on ‘cooperating with the Palestinians’, while the BDS site advocated uprooting trees (!).
      Notice as well that the concrete achievements reported in the BDS site have to do with the settlements products (Ahava and Eden Springs).

      Reply to Comment
    14. I think the best reason to oppose a general boycott on Israel was expressed by Uri Avnery. The gist of it is that it’s counterproductive – instead of promoting and bringing peace closer, it distances it. I don’t want to try to summarize it badly, but the gist of it is that instead of making Israelis opposed to the peace process rethink their positions, it makes them feel that those promoting a boycott are acting out of a desire to harm Israel more than promote peace, for an number of reasons.

      Anyway, here’s a link to his well-written article.

      http://original.antiwar.com/avnery/2009/08/30/against-the-israel-boycott/

      Reply to Comment
    15. Amin Nusseibeh

      They do not support it for the very simple reason that the general BDS movement calls for the return of Palestinian refugees and their millions of descendants to Israel. In other words, the BDS movement is about transforming the state of Israel into an Arab state of Palestine. Perhaps this explains Israeli opposition better than racism?…duh. This is our goal, and the limited amount of space in Palestine will not support both thief and victim. The thief most exercise his right of return so we can exercise ours. This is why I support a full boycott of ALL of ziostan until the occupation of 1948 is reversed. The so called post 1967 occupation and green lines are red herrings designed to confuse and detract from our rights. I am hoping that 972 magazine will initiate a discussion on the reverse exodus of israelis from Palestine to their true homelands.

      Reply to Comment
    16. Jack

      With all due respect Amin, I disagree that there is not enough space in Palestine for Jews and Arabs. Once the BDS goal of right of return is achieved and the millions of refugees in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan etc return to their homes in Israel, the resulting Palestinian government can take steps to protect the minority Jewish community living in Palestine.

      Reply to Comment
    17. AMin NUsseibeh

      Palestinian government can take steps to protect the minority Jewish community living in Palestine….why would be do that?
      1) The zionists have occupied the most desirable land in Palestine. Letting them stay in their land would perpetuate economic inequality
      2) The Palestinians have a right to return to their own houses, not just to their own land
      3) The minority Jerwish community would always be a suspect community, with irredentist zionist dreams. Just like Czechoslovakia couldnt tolerate the Sudetern Germans, we would have a problem with an unassimilatable minority

      Reply to Comment
    18. Jack

      Amin – Jews living in Israel/Palestine today are 3 generations removed from the original Zionist settlers and the only language they speak is Hebrew. Forcing them to leave Israel would be almost as immoral as the original Nakba. The homes of most of the refugees are no longer there but every effort wil be made to resettle them as close to their old villages as possible, possibly funded through a wealth redistribution of affluent zionists, this would also take care of your concerns about economic inequality.

      As to your legitimate concerns about am irridentist population, we have to look towards the other appartheid state of south africa to see the best way forward. every effort must be made to look towards the future together, jews and arabs in a free and democratic palestine without zionism

      . They can establish a truth and reconciliation committee where Zionist leaders can be given amnesty if they present a truthful account of any crimes committed, same for Palestinian freedom fighters.

      Just as arabs in israel today speak hebrew, so will arabic language be compulsory for all jews to acclimate them to their new identity as palestinians and arabs will continue to learn hebrew to further coexistance. In addition to Yad Vashem, there should be a museum dedicated to the Nakba and other Zionist crimes so that the Jewish and Palestinian populations will learn each others naaratives.

      Amin I hope you will consider one democratic state of palestine where the children of holocaust survivors and the children of nakba survivors live together in peace and serve as an example for the world, a true light unto the nations as the Torah intended.

      Reply to Comment
    19. David

      Amin
      you are in good company. The BDS people are working for a one state solution, it just is not stated that openly because it is very radical.
      But if you read the small print BDS stands for RoR and one state. So you can support BDS and then wait for a civil war once the one state is reality.
      That’s what BDS stands for.

      Reply to Comment
    20. David

      Here is Dr. Nada Elia, a leader in the BDS cause holding a speech on the details of BDS, including RoR.

      http://vimeo.com/16874462

      This should clarify a few things. Namely the destruction of Israel through BDS.

      Reply to Comment
    21. Robert

      David,

      The civil war idea, as a result of one state, is nuts. It’s up to the people who propose it to make the case. The Arabs are not going to attack as a result of being given citizenship and voting rights. The Jews might attack the Arabs. The IDF and Police are still going to be there to keep security. In a democracy you get your say and abide by laws against violence. If you don’t stay non-violent, you are legally prevented by security forces. Civil war is a red herring.

      The ideas on the table now are an Israel-Palestine confederation, like a EU, http://www.counterpunch.org/schlomka03182011.html, or a one-person, one-vote. I would say that the timeline is 10ish years.

      Reply to Comment
    22. Jason

      Dana writes: “Every Israeli university (most of which are state funded) include programs of security studies which are run by current and former military personnel who devise new ways of maintaining, justifying and defending the control of the West Bank and Gaza”

      What did you base this on Joseph? I actually studied Security Studies at an Israeli university and of all the teachers, only one was a former IDF officer (an air force pilot, but not even a base commander at that). In addition, NONE of the classes spoke about “justifying and defending the control of the West Bank and Gaza”.

      Really the classes were just about military history, military strategy, new developments in warfare, diplomacy and political science.

      Where did you get your info?

      Reply to Comment
    23. Clearly you are missing the point Jason. I am talking about research and cooperation between Israeli universities and the occupation. I am not talking about the lectures or their content but the intellectual output that universities in Israel produce through cooperation with the Occupation and knowledge sharing. There are many articles on this issue but take for example this one published in Haaretz. http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/shin-bet-recruits-to-enter-fast-track-b-a-program-1.185808

      All the best

      Joseph

      Reply to Comment
    24. RichardNYC

      The author’s two “problems” with the settlement both are not problems, they are solutions to BDS’s problematic strategy of conflating the occupation committed by Israel and the existence of the Israeli state. The author laments anything contrary to BDS’s intellectually dishonest characterization of “international law”; that is, any campaign that does not demand the end of Israel or concessions that make Israel’s destruction a foregone conclusion

      Reply to Comment
    25. Hi Richard NYC,
      As an Israeli citizen, I would not support any initiative which calls for the ‘end of Israel.’ I would, however, support an initiative which forces Israel to comply with international law, end illegal occupations of Palestinian land and confirm with the behavior of the western world towards civilians.

      all the best,

      Joseph

      Reply to Comment
    26. RichardNYC

      @Joseph Dana
      I’m with you on the very last point there, but if “international law” is a euphemism for “right of return”, then I don’t think you’re being entirely honest, because no such thing exists under international law. Ask the Kosovo Serbs. Nor would Israel’s compliance with “international law” in that respect allow it to continue to exist. Obviously, those who insist on “right of return” or any other policy that would render Israel’s annulment a foregone conclusion “would not support any initiative which calls for the ‘end of Israel’”, but that is a question political expediency (propaganda), not substance. The rhetorical slight of hand may get some people to join you, but ultimately it won’t get you that far. Better to be upfront about what you’re really asking for. Or maybe I’ve misunderstood your demands. If I have, apologies.

      Reply to Comment
    27. RichardNYC

      @Joseph Dana
      I’m with you on the very last point there, but if “international law” is a euphemism for “right of return”, then I don’t think you’re being entirely honest, because no such thing exists under international law. Ask the Kosovo Serbs. Nor would Israel’s compliance with “international law” in that respect allow it to continue to exist. Obviously, those who insist on “right of return” or any other policy that would render Israel’s annulment a foregone conclusion “would not support any initiative which calls for the ‘end of Israel’”, but that is a question political expediency (propaganda), not substance. The rhetorical slight of hand may get some people to join you, but ultimately it won’t get you that far. Better to be upfront about what you’re really asking for. Or maybe I’ve misunderstood your demands. If I have, my apologies.

      Reply to Comment
    28. RichardNYC, Thanks for the excellent comment. I was refering to article 11 of UN resolution 194 which states the following: Resolves that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible; Instructs the Conciliation Commission to facilitate the repatriation, resettlement and economic and social rehabilitation of the refugees and the payment of compensation, and to maintain close relations with the Director of the United Nations Relief for Palestine Refugees and, through him, with the appropriate organs and agencies of the United Nations
      This is a highly contentious resolution and the subject of incredible debate. So I will leave it in the air :)

      Reply to Comment
    29. RichardNYC

      The debate over this resolution is about as meaningful as the debate over “intelligent design” in the American public school system. That is, to call it a “debate” is to flatter those who argue that a GA resolution from 60 years ago is relevant to international law today, or that the word “should” has any legal force even in a binding document, which Res. 194 is not. Among lawyers, the debate w/r/t right of return is about state practice, not Res. 194. Of course, any pro-Palestinian spokesperson who understands all of this also understands that the actual debate is too complicated to interest or influence the general public, which is precisely why Res. 194 is often the subject of anti-Israel marketing campaigns. Ali Abunimah is the only pro-Palestinian spokesperson I’ve seen who explains Res. 194 honestly. He uses it to suggest that “right of return” is “consistent” with international law. That said, the non-enforcement of such a “right” is also “consistent” with international law, as are most policies adopted by sovereign governments. Here Ali obviously hopes that his audience will misunderstand the meaning of “consistent” in this context.

      Reply to Comment
    30. RichardNYC

      Its clear to any fair-minded person with a rudimentary knowledge of the UN system that is it dishonest and/or willfully ignorant to take your position (no offense). To take a similar position vis a vis other GA resolutions would be similarly ridiculous. That Res. 194 is vigorously promoted does not change a thing, it just demonstrates the actual contempt that pro-Palestinian partisans have for international law (see also the assertion that the ICJ opinion directed Israel to tear down the wall as opposed to move it)

      Reply to Comment
    31. Click here to load previous comments

    LEAVE A COMMENT

    Name (Required)
    Mail (Required)
    Website
    Free text

© 2010 - 2014 +972 Magazine
Follow Us
Credits

+972 is an independent, blog-based web magazine. It was launched in August 2010, resulting from a merger of a number of popular English-language blogs dealing with life and politics in Israel and Palestine.

Website empowered by RSVP

Illustrations: Eran Mendel