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Will boycott 'work?'

Four notes on what could be tipping points for — or against — the boycott movement.

A week without a major boycott development in Israel is beginning to seem like a rarity. With a string of celebrity, corporate, cultural and professional threats or actions, the atmosphere is jittery; minor rumors like boycott pressure on Beyoncé are making momentary headlines in Israeli news.

The hot question is what impact will all this have? The peace and anti-occupation camp wonders if such actions will break Israel’s stubborn commitment to its policies (even if many don’t support BDS themselves). Pro-occupation* figures believe the boycott movement is exposing its real face of rabid anti-Semitism, and hope that the ugly truth will drive sensible people away.

Israeli Jews are almost evenly divided between succumbing to the pressure and digging in: the January Peace Index by Tel Aviv University and the Israeli Democracy Institute shows that half of Israeli Jews think the movement will intensify and reach a full-out boycott against Israeli products; nearly one half (47 percent) think it won’t. Nearly half of Israeli Jews (46 percent) think that if the boycott intensifies Israel will not be able to continue its current policies, specifically with relation to settlements, while 49 percent think it can.

I can think of four kinds of developments that might tip the scales – in either direction.

IDF – untouchable? Last week, an Israeli newspaper carried a small item reporting that popular musician Idan Raichel had agreed to perform at a concert exclusively for soldiers doing their mandatory service. The article was saturated with IDF-celebratory tones, including reverential quotes by Raichel. Since cultural figures are commonly assumed to be left wing, such as the Israeli actors, artists and academics who in 2010 protested or boycotted the cultural center in the West Bank settlement of Ariel, the article, to my ears, had a defensive, “so there,” subtext. But the fact is that IDF veneration remains a powerful force in Israeli society; the recent rage against a teacher who discussed politicized topics in the classroom ultimately honed in on the fact that he raised critical questions about the IDF. Over the last two decades there have been some high-profile Israelis who avoided mandatory army service, causing controversy. But they rarely, if ever, do so as a clear statement against Israeli policy or as part of a movement. For now, hyped-up IDF support seems like a symbol of Israel’s self-reinforcing self-justification.

The Octopus boycott. Not too long ago, it seemed like the main disruptive boycott-related activity was heckling at speeches by Israeli diplomats or military figures. At present, boycott actions have been undertaken in the spheres of culture, academia, economy, science and possibly architecture, with even governmental bodies getting involved. As the breadth of the movement spreads, touching more professional, social and political sectors either materially or symbolically, Israeli members of those communities will feel the pressure. My prediction is that groups who were not highly politicized before are less likely to fight to uphold current Israeli policies. An architect or a businessperson is probably more invested in the global community than in a hilltop outpost.

Change from within. This has a double meaning. The “Boycott from Within” group calls for Israelis to support BDS’s goal of encouraging foreigners to boycott. So the first question is whether the number of Israelis supporting the Global BDS movement is growing. I doubt it. Another possible change could be within the boycott concept itself. BDS calls for external pressure on Israel, but Israelis can also decide to call on other Israelis to boycott their own institutions, shifting the onus onto local forces rather than external pressure – in effect, civil resistance. Beyond refusal to serve, which seems unlikely, this could also include a withdrawal from civil institutions. In an otherwise shallow Haaretz op-ed yesterday, Rogel Alpher expressed anger at paying taxes that support policies — like the occupation — that he detests. It’s almost a Thoreau moment. Either approach is possible as the Left in Israel grows desperate regarding both traditional solutions and the means to reach them.

Israel is the settlements. Boycotting Israeli enterprises over the Green Line isn’t terribly good for Palestinian employees of those businesses in the short term. Unemployment and poverty do not increase their willingness to put their jobs at risk. Yet the urgency of political change remains. Since a third violent intifada seems unlikely, that energy must go somewhere and it seems like the focus may shift to “Israel proper.” Already, academic and cultural boycotts target Israeli institutions or venues unrelated to their location, while political efforts (such as the EU guidelines or UN resolutions) are generally directed against settlements. But if the world drops the distinction of “Israel proper” and the “territories” or “settlements” (something the Right advocates anyway), more and more Israelis will be affected.

Maybe none of these things will happen. But it’s worth remembering that eight short years ago, there was no BDS at all.

*Using the term “pro-Israel” in relation to the right wing is biased, as it implies that right-wing positions are synonymous with supporting Israel, exclusively so. The term “pro-occupation” is not intended as a polemic. Rather, it is an attempt to describe their position more accurately, devoid of ideological implications.

The boycott isn’t economic warfare, it’s psychological
The writing on the wall: Boycott is top story in Israel
Scarlett Johansson isn’t naive: She prefers profits over human rights

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    1. Bar

      Of course there was boycott 8 years ago. The movement began at Durban in 2001. It just failed over and over, just as it has in recent years.

      Prior to that, there was the Arab boycott of Israel which compelled many international corporations to choose between selling to Israel and being excluded from sales to all Arab countries. That’s why you should always buy Coke, not Pepsi, by the way since Coke didn’t shy away from selling to Israel. Neither did Subaru.

      And back in the 1930s and 1940s there were internal boycotts of the Yishuv products by local Arabs.

      Needless to say, Israel survived and thrived.

      Maybe you should try to boycott the Palestinians and see whether that gets you peace?

      Reply to Comment
      • Danny

        It’s not about Coke and Pepsi this time. It’s about Israeli products, as they are being shunned more and more in international markets.

        It’s about companies like Soda Stream – a company I would not own shares in if I were an investor simply because its global market is expected to shrink significantly in the long-term.

        It’s about your workplace, Bar. If your employer is an exporter, you should be worried about BDS.

        Reply to Comment
        • Bar

          I hate to tell you this, but the data points in the other direction. Israeli sales abroad are growing and growing. There are sectors which are hurting, but the smart money is betting on Israel. Just take a look at the stream of company purchases and R&D center openings related to Israel.

          Also, the sales of gas found off Israel’s shores haven’t even kicked in yet but you know how the Europeans are currently screwed in their response to Russia/Crimea because 30% of the gas supplies come from Russia? Guess who is going to save them? That’s right, Israel.

          Right now, even after stacking student governments with their own people, using the preponderance of left-wing faculty on their campuses and running campaigns replete with falsehoods, the BDS movement can’t even win on half the campuses where they try to get their boycotts passed. The places where they do win, such as the ASA, have to resort to secret anti-Israel conferences that shame their leadership (and membership).

          Reply to Comment
          • Danny

            I’m happy for you that you’re so upbeat and optimistic. If there’s one thing that warms my heart, it is to see a fellow Jew happy and content with his situation.

            However, the trend is for Israel to become more and more shunned in years to come, especially if places like East Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley continue to be ethnically cleansed from its native populations, and more and more Palestinians become refugees in their own land. There’s no way to hide or sugar-coat that, even with the best hasbara at your disposal.

            If nothing changes, I expect Israel to be a fully-blown pariah state, with all the associated sanctions put in place, in about 10 years’ time.

            Reply to Comment
          • Bar

            Well yes, if people such as you and the BDS proponents, not to mention special rapporteurs at the UN Human Rights Commission (ha!) continue to lie about ethnic cleansing and “refugees” then theoretically Israel will and should become a pariah state. Fortunately, there are many people such as me who hate your lies and make sure to constantly point them out. That’s why BDS can’t even get traction on campuses.

            Reply to Comment
          • Danny


            East Jerusalem and Jordan Valley are not being quietly Judaized? Palestinian homes have ceased to be bulldozed, and their occupants made homeless in the blink of an eye? Has Hebron ceased to be ethnically segregated? Have Palestinian-owned trees ceased to be uprooted or destroyed? Have Palestinian farmers ceased to be attacked on a daily basis by settlers and the soldiers who guard them simply for farming their land?

            Oh yeah… I nearly forgot. All lies.

            Silly me.

            Reply to Comment
          • Bar

            Yes, lies.

            Reply to Comment
          • Felix Reichert

            You’re quite right.

            The assumption that any of these actions and activities by the Israeli institutions and people have ceased is indeed a lie.

            Reply to Comment
          • Bar

            Repeating lies don’t make things true, Felix. Danny wrote, “especially if places like East Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley continue to be ethnically cleansed from its native populations, and more and more Palestinians become refugees in their own land.”

            Those are lies.

            Reply to Comment
          • Danny

            Not lies. Palestinians get evicted from their homes in East Jerusalem in an alarming rate. It is more than clear that Israel has a quiet policy of Judaization by force of East Jerusalem. The same is happening in the Jordan Valley.

            You are the liar.

            Reply to Comment
          • Bar

            Okay, prove me wrong.

            Using a reliable source, tell me how many eastern Jerusalem Palestinians have been evicted from eastern Jerusalem over the past several years.

            Also make sure to relate total eastern Jerusalem Palestinian population size over the same period.

            I claim that you will only be able to show a very small number (if any) of Palestinians who have been compelled to leave and a significant population growth over the same period.

            I doubt you can find serious information for Jordan Valley Palestinians, but you are welcome to try. Remember, to meet your criteria, you may not use Palestinian residents who move in and out seasonally out of the Jordan Valley. It has to be active removal of these families and it has to be in numbers larger than inflow or population growth. Again, I will only accept reliable sources (i.e., propaganda mills don’t count).

            Go ahead. I will apologize and retract if you come back with serious information. If you can’t, I expect you to apologize and retract.

            Reply to Comment
          • Danny

            This is for East Jerusalem:


            I trust you’ll consider Peace Now to be a trustworthy source, so please go over the material and make your own judgements.

            Israel’s plan for East Jerusalem is pretty clear – a slow takeover of Palestinian property by Jewish settlers, one house at a time. It is a transparent ploy to create facts on the ground, so that no compromise in Jerusalem will be possible. So far dozens of Palestinian families have been made homeless after living in their homes for decades. This is a crime by any standard, and if you approve of this, then you are immoral.

            Reply to Comment
          • Bar

            Peace Now has actually made significant errors in the past, such as their original claims about Ma’aleh Edumim’s being built on Palestinian-owned land, a claim they had to retract later.

            But, okay, let’s use Peace Now as your source. You wrote, “especially if places like East Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley continue to be ethnically cleansed from its native populations, and more and more Palestinians become refugees in their own land.”

            I don’t see this in Peace Now’s articles. First of all, in Sheikh Jarrah, the homes were originally Jewish and many of those Jews were long-term Jerusalemites. The Arabs who were moved into their homes by the Jordanians were any more “native” than the Jews who were forced to leave.

            Second, the fact that Israel is building homes in Jewish neighborhoods in what was Jordanian controlled territory for a whopping 19 years is not ethnic cleansing. It is not eviction. It is not turning anyone into a refugee, certainly not on “his own land.” The idea that Palestinians may build wherever they wish but Jews may not is preposterous but that’s what you’re advocating.

            “Israel’s plan for East Jerusalem is pretty clear – a slow takeover of Palestinian property by Jewish settlers, one house at a time. It is a transparent ploy to create facts on the ground, so that no compromise in Jerusalem will be possible. So far dozens of Palestinian families have been made homeless after living in their homes for decades. This is a crime by any standard, and if you approve of this, then you are immoral.”

            Well, actually, the courts had these cases for many, many, many years and ultimately decided in favor of the plaintiffs who are the former Jewish owners of these homes. The process was legal, time consuming and correct. I happen to disagree with its conclusions and think the court should have decided otherwise, or if it decided this way that the government should have made a law to keep those Palestinian families in their homes.

            However, this isn’t ethnic cleansing in any sense of the phrase. Also, during the 15 years or so these properties were in the courts, the Arab population of Jerusalem probably doubled, so again this refutes your claim and shows that your use of language is loaded, shoddy and incorrect.

            My challenge is a very clear one: show me ethnic cleansing. There isn’t an internationally accepted definition of ethnic cleansing in international law, to my knowledge, but Encyclopedia Britannica defines it as “the attempt to create ethnically homogeneous geographic areas through the deportation or forcible displacement of persons belonging to particular ethnic groups.”

            Bringing Jews into a neighborhood is clearly not ethnic cleansing. Removing a small number of families (after years and years in the courts, during which those families stopped paying all rent and payments on their homes which were declared the property of their prior owners) is also not ethnic cleansing. You have a simple assignment. Show me ethnic cleansing. Or apologize.

            Reply to Comment
      • Mike Panzone

        Israel has survived because of its dependence on the US. ..like someone in intensive care survives on life support. And Israel is thriving? You call 60 years of no peace and constantly looking over one’s shoulder thriving?

        Reply to Comment
        • Bar

          Dude, go visit the country. It is thriving.

          Reply to Comment
    2. The people who have made the most dire warnings of the coming effect of the boycott are all Israelis or friends of Israel, and none of them support BDS – Livni, Lapid, Kerry, Obama. Also Brit Amb to Israel Matthew Gould. They may be bullshitting to scare Israel into changing its policy, or maybe not. But the thing is, the boycott will not be isolated – it will be joined by Palestinian political action – The Hague and other intl moves, “popular resistance,” possible collapse of PA, possible demand for Israeli citizenship. None of these things have happened yet – the boycott has been growing in a vacuum. When the Palestinians join in and some real momentum and synergy develop, then we’ll see.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Tomer

      Yes, the Small-brain Leftist Cuckoos should boycot Israel until it ceases to exist.

      Reply to Comment
    4. “An architect or a businessperson is probably more invested in the global community than in a hilltop outpost.”

      This might be an unfortunate formulation. There has long been a shift of focus from the illegality (at international law) of ALL settlements, settlers, wall, and siege toward the unwiseness of NEW settlements, settlers, etc.

      Global-BDS undoubtedly wishes to focus on the “ALL” aspect, not on the “NEW” aspect, on all settlements, not on small new outposts.

      Those (AIPAC, Israel, USA) who do not want to reach a just and lasting peace focus on small irrelevancies, the “NEW” settlements, the “outposts”, as a way of distracting attention from the elephant in the room, the total occupation-settlement regime as an exercise in absolute lawlessness, we-are-above-the-law, not to mention what-me-worry-ism.

      I don’t want Israel to be destroyed, even in its own eyes, but if it insists on its “right” to exist in full-voice-lawlessness, it seems headed for some variety of destruction, perhaps 1SS, perhaps something like trade-sanctions and economic-bankrupcy. The world has given Israel a get-out-of-jail-card for 66 years. Perhaps it always will. The story of the holocaust is a powerful story. Guilt is not just for Jews. But. But. It may not last. And a life based on reliance on being allowed to be lawless is not a good life. some people may finally recognize that. I hope so.

      And I also hope that the world shapes up and accepts its responsibility to peace and justice and international lawfulness.

      Reply to Comment
    5. “Since a third violent intifada seems unlikely, that energy must go somewhere and it seems like the focus may shift to “Israel proper.” Already, academic and cultural boycotts target Israeli institutions or venues unrelated to their location…”

      I don’t see how an intifada, which is a sustained ground uprising among the occupied, can have its building energy transferred to elite institutions involved in boycott. It may be all well and good to hear some elite venue to refusing to meet in Israel, but I doubt it means much to those living and directly hearing others live the restrictions and sometimes violence of military control and whim. I would say that there has not been a third because the security apparatus has begun to understand when to back down–namely under charged symbolic conditions, such as the end of Ramadan. Indeed, ignoring mass breach of the Wall at that time is far distant from last weeks killing of a lone “vandal” at the Wall. What would happen if such an event happened in the former occasion. Strangely, the mass travel, even unto the beach, exemplifies something of an evolving integration across the barrier.

      I think Pabelmont, above, right that there is something of a direct lawless attitude in settler expansion as such. This lawlessness has reached the point of overt refusal to implement a long standing High Court directive to protect the occupied from violence–which should include violence to property. Prior residents to occupied land are indeed in a colonial category of law, even though, I think, the High Court, once at any rate, wanted to avoid this fully obtained. The IDF, subservient Judea and Samarian police force, and settlers have constructed their own law, largely absent effective judicial review, employing their own definition of security. The Yesh Din reports on this site a largely even exterior to that definition to security, involving no direct threat to settlers at all; yet these abuses abide.

      I think an amorphous BDS without clear, incremental, tangible goals will indeed be effectively countered as vague and so anti-Semitic, against the homeland of the Jews and nothing more. After all, courts regularly throw out laws for vagueness; charge and remedy must be clear, believable, and actualizable.

      Thus, I would favor a BDS focus on such abuses, underscoring the fact that they could be corrected without deciding the issue of present settlements at all. But remedy in this limits sphere would entail new oversight of security action and, I think, greater Court oversight. It would also lead to the greater yet limited question of resource redirection from prior residents to settlements.

      While an all or nothing stand raises the level of indignity, it perforce tries to control international decision, and that enters Israel’s home turf. I think the kind of cases reported by 972 a stronger place to start.

      Reply to Comment
      • Penultimate paragraph, “limits” should be “limited.”

        I stubbornly continue to blame Google Speller rather than myself. Of the other errors, ditto.

        Reply to Comment
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