Boycott Israel?

Why a boycott of Israel does not help peace

Latest update May 17, 2012

vlag NL Israël boycot (Dutch language)

In the article below we discuss the campaigns to boycott Israel, and particularly why the arguments for such boycotts are mostly no good. This article addresses the following points:

  1. Israel boycott campaigns  – the different types of campaigns
  2. The Apartheid comparison  – the comparison between Israel and Apartheid South Africa
  3. Ethnic cleansing  – the charges of ethnic cleansing by Israel
  4. The culprit party  – the question whether Israel is the main guilty party in the conflict
  5. The right to self-determination  – self-determination and the refugee question
  6. The UN resolutions  – references to international law
  7. The imbalance of power  – does Israel have the solution in its hands?
  8. Anti-Semitic?  – the question whether a boycott of Israel has to do with anti-Semitism

1. Israel boycott campaigns

Especially since the failure of the peace process and the outbreak of the second intifada in 2000, there are increasing initiatives in the west for boycotting Israel. Several types of boycotts are propagated by different groups. The most important types of boycotts are:

Institutional boycotts (divestment campaigns or freezing of cooperation and contacts). Institutional boycott campaigns are mainly carried by action groups inside churches, universities, unions and other institutes. Especially in the US several divestment campaigns are conducted, which imply that organizations do not invest in Israel or in companies that do business with Israel. The Presbyterian church plays an important role in this, and also the Council of Churches supports such initiatives. Furthermore there are so-called intellectual boycotts, such as a proposal in 2005 within the British Association of University Teachers (the AUT) to boycott Israeli universities. Soon after its initial approval this boycott was revoked again, after it had aroused much controversy. [See also: opinion & discussion]. In 2006 AUT’s fusion partner NATFHE, another British teachers’ union, endorsed a similar boycott resolution, as did the Canadian Union of Public Employees’ Ontario wing, which also calls for divestment. In 2007 several, often British, unions have endorsed boycott resolutions against Israel.

Consumer boycotts of Israeli products. Consumer boycotts are especially propagated by Palestinian solidarity groups and radical political organizations, but also by some third world groups and development organizations. A province in Norway declared a boycott against all goods from Israel in 2006.

– Total or partly suspension of the EU association treaty with Israel. Since the 1990s the European Union has association treaties with several countries around the Mediterranean Sea that are not members of the EU, as well as with the Palestinian Authority. Besides trade advantages and economic cooperation these treaties also aim for political dialogue and improving human rights. Several less extreme organizations and political parties argue to suspend the EU association treaty with Israel.

– Stopping  weapon supplies or assistance to Israel. Since 2000 several European countries have vastly limited their weapon supplies to Israel.

– Boycott of companies and institutions (foreign or Israeli) that play a role in the occupied territories. This is mostly a more limited form of the institutional and consumer boycotts. An example is the (failed) boycotting of Caterpillar, an American company that among other things provided bulldozers with which Palestinian houses in the occupied territories have been demolished.

The exact demands which are made to Israel differ slightly by organization, but almost all demand a unilateral and total withdrawal to the armistice borders of 1949, also called the Green Line, including withdrawal from East-Jerusalem. Moreover some demand things like an end to the discrimination of Israeli Arabs in Israel, allowing all refugees and their offspring who wish so to return to Israel (the so-called ‘right of return’), compensation payments for devastations which the army has caused to Palestinian infrastructure and houses during the second intifada, and ending the Israeli nuclear weapons program or putting it under international supervision. Also added to this list is the tearing down of the separation barrier which is being build on the West Bank.

Israel boycott activists mostly refer to UN resolutions and international law as a basis for their demands. Moreover Israel is frequently demonized by using terms like ‘Apartheid wall’, ‘racist state’, ‘ethnic cleansing’ and sometimes even ‘Palestinian Holocaust’. The most important of these issues will be discussed hereafter.

2. The Apartheid comparison

Frequently Israel is being compared to the Apartheid regime of South Africa, which collapsed in the late eighties due to – among other things – an international boycott, and which was finally abolished in 1994. Israel would also be a type of Apartheid state, in which the Arabs are discriminated against in all kinds of manners, and the occupied territories are being compared to the South African Bantustans (homelands). The separation barrier around the West bank is thus gladly labeled an ‘Apartheid wall’.

The charge of Apartheid is severe: Apartheid is more than unequal treatment or discrimination of certain groups. The term was introduced when from 1948 on the South African government started implementing laws for race separation and discrimination. This race separation concerned all aspects of daily living. Where you were born, where you worked, where your should recreate and how you could transport yourself, up to and including where your were buried: everything was stipulated by your skin color. These laws had been imposed by the white minority and originated from an ideology of superiority of the white race and basically from pure power politics.

The comparison between Apartheid and Israel does not hold for several reasons:

* Inequality in Israel. 

Israeli Arabs have equal rights before the law, they can vote, they are represented in parliament and in other government agencies, and there is legislature against discrimination, as a result of which they can contest unequal treatment before the court. Moreover they have far-reaching freedom concerning religion and religious laws in the area of marriage etc., their own schools, management of religious institutions and holy places, etc. This is for us perhaps normal, but in the Arab world it is unprecedented: a Coptic Christian in Egypt or a Kurd in Syria would be jealous. Nevertheless Israeli Arabs are considerably discriminated against compared to Western standards. Israeli Arabs do not have to serve  in the army (they can however join the army, and particularly Druze and Bedouins do so), and without serving in the army, doors to a number of jobs remain closed. This way employers can get round anti-discrimination legislation. It is also more difficult for Israeli Arabs to buy land, and the government invests less money in development of Arab villages and cities than in Jewish ones (both communities live rather separated of each other), as a result of which Arab towns are worse off than Jewish ones. Anti-discrimination legislation is frequently violated in practice and it is difficult to enforce, though from time to time court procedures against discrimination are successful. Israeli Arabs often feel like second class citizens.
Although discrimination occurs on a large scale, in Israel this is in spite of equal rights before the law, whereas in South Africa the inequality was regulated in the law. This discrimination is unacceptable, but incomparable with the system of race separation in South Africa.

In this context there is also frequent criticism of the ‘law of return’ and land laws of Israel, which are however means for achieving the specific aim of the Jewish state: to create of a safe haven and homeland for Jews, and to offer means of existence to new immigrants in Israel. Recently the discriminating aspects of the land laws, which make it more difficult for Israeli Arabs to acquire land, were successfully contested before the supreme court, giving hope for the future.
The difficult relationship between Jews and Arabs in Israel originates from history and the still unsolved conflict between Israel and the Palestinians and Arabs: the Israeli Arabs are distrusted as part of the larger Arab world which has always opposed Israel. Some Israeli-Arab leaders openly support the Hamas and Hezbollah and call for dismantling of the state of Israel. Israeli Arabs themselves often feel torn between on the one hand allegiance to the state of which they are citizens and on the other hand solidarity with their family members and fellow Muslims in the Palestinian territories who suffer under the occupation.

* The occupied territories. 

The Palestinians in the occupied territories fare much worse. The occupation puts a heavy toll on daily life in the territories, especially since the second intifada. The increased number of checkpoints and the construction of the separation barrier has drastically restricted their freedom of movement, and for most Palestinians it has become impossible to work in Israel, as a result of which the poverty and unemployment has vastly increased. The separation barrier forms an extra obstruction to reach land, hospitals and schools.
However the Palestinians are not being oppressed because of their race, but as a consequence of the conflict lasting already almost a century between two national movements aspiring for the same country. As the weaker party the Palestinians suffer the heaviest from this conflict, but they are not only helpless victims: their violent struggle against the arrival and presence of the Zionists and their national aspirations go back to the 1920’s, and the harshness of the occupation is in any case at least partially a result of the many terrorist attacks.

Up till the massacre in Sharpville in 1960, the black population of South Africa had resisted with peaceful means against the Apartheid laws, and also afterwards violence was itself never primary aimed against citizens but against infrastructure and Apartheid institutes. Moreover the comparison of the Palestinian territories with South-African Bantustans does not hold: the Bantustans had been designed as cheap labor sources and as an excuse to withhold voting rights or citizens rights to the black population in South Africa. Israel on the other hand wants to have as little as possible to do with the Palestinians and to keep them out of Israel as much as possible – particularly for security reasons. The Palestinians in the occupied territories want to be able to work in Israel; they want however no citizens rights in Israel, but to have their own independent state. The Palestinians in annexed East-Jerusalem were offered Israeli citizenship if they would take an oath of allegiance, but nearly all refused this. They do have voting rights for the municipal elections in Jerusalem, as well as for elections in the occupied Palestinian territories.

* The essence of the conflict and its history.

The core of the conflict is that two peoples claim the same country. The Zionists wanted to build a home in the country of their ancestors, for a people which had to do without one for 1800 years, and had been exposed to prosecution more than any other people. The Arabs living in Palestine wanted this area to be under Arab rule like the neighboring countries. Meanwhile a majority in both Israel and the Palestinian territories says to favor a two-state solution, although both sides have a different idea of what that would mean. A one-state or bi-national state solution is supported only by a small minority on both sides. Both peoples fear that the other side would try to dominate them: the Arabs by their higher population increase, the Jews by their economic and technical advancement. The chance of a civil war is not imaginary.

It is therefore primarily a national conflict, in which both peoples want as much land as possible for themselves, and want to have as little as possible involvement with the other side. The conflict between whites and blacks in South Africa was not a national but a colonial conflict, in which the whites subjected the blacks to themselves and exploited them economically.
Although early Zionists also founded a type of plantations in Palestine, where they hired cheap Arab workers, these met with resistance from the mainly socialist oriented Zionists, who were driven by ideals of equality and emancipation of the Jewish people through labor. When they tried to limit the employment of Arab workers the Arabs blamed them for it. The economic activities of the Zionists in Palestine attracted Arabs from the region who were looking for jobs. Because of the difference in organization, culture and background, the relationship between both peoples was unequal, and superficially there were resemblances to colonial relations. The Zionists however were not out to colonize the Arabs.

The comparison of Israel with the South African Apartheid system is at its best naive and misleading and at its worst propagandist and malicious. The Apartheid regime was justly forced on its knees by an international boycott. By suggesting a resemblance between Israel and Apartheid, Israel is labeled as a state just as inhuman and criminal, and her destruction is presented as equally moral and desirable as the destruction of Apartheid.

3. Ethnic cleansing

The charge that Israel would be guilty of ethnic cleansing, the murdering and/or expelling of large numbers of Palestinian citizens, serves the same goal as the Apartheid comparison, namely the delegitimatization of Israel as a Jewish state. Although Israeli army actions in the occupied territories frequently claim civilian casualties, these actions are primarily aimed at arresting – or sometimes eliminating – terrorists. The army does too little to avoid innocent victims, but this is something else than deliberately targeting children and women. Moreover, the occupied territories are densely populated and terrorists sometimes consciously use civil targets (stocking weapons in a mosque, making tunnels for arms smuggling in private homes) to make it difficult for Israel to act against them. Although the terrorists themselves do not generally distinguish between civil targets and soldiers in their attacks, and make no secret of it that they strive to make as many civilian casualties as possible, they are never blamed for this by Israel boycott advocates. Talk about double standards. Even if Israel were trying to ethnically cleanse the occupied territories, she would be failing pitifully: there now live more Palestinians in the territories than ever before, and their numbers continue to grow. During the second intifada about 3500 Palestinians were killed. Every death is one too many, but this does not sound like ethnic cleansing. Compare the numbers of deaths in the Balkan wars or Rwanda or Sudan, and the difference is obvious. Some extreme right politicians propagate compulsory ’transfer’ of Palestinians from the occupied territories. They are supported only by a small minority of the Israeli population. Radical settlers, particularly in the more isolated settlements deep in Palestinian territory, like in Hebron, support transfer and sometimes harass and attack neighboring Palestinians and for example destroy their olive trees and crops. Israel often fails to take action against such repugnant practices.

Likewise radical Palestinians argue a ‘return’ of the Jews in Israel to the countries where they or their ancestors came from. Their anti-Semitism is reminiscent of the language which was common in the thirties in Nazi Germany. Sometimes the fact that Israel time and again confiscates Palestinian land for settlements and for building ’the Wall’ is considered a form of ethnic cleansing. In the first place this is a rather overstrained use of the term ethnic cleansing, which is generally reserved for the type of thing that happens in Sudan. Moreover, these confiscations are sometimes successfully challenged at the Israeli High Court; the construction of the ‘Wall’ is being considerably slowed down by the many legal procedures which have been filed against it. This does not alter the fact that Palestinian rights are frequently infringed upon.

4. The culprit party

Israel boycott activists put the blame of the conflict entirely on Israel. Palestinian and Arab violence is minimized and dismissed as actions of despair by some individuals. It is being ignored that Palestinian violence preceded the founding of Israel. For example the Jewish community in Hebron, which existed peacefully among the Arabs for centuries, was attacked in 1929 by an Arab mob and 60 people were killed. Thereafter the rest were evacuated under British escort. Before 1948 the Palestinians rejected several compromises, and were fundamentally against Jewish self-determination, even if it would be in but a small part of Palestine, like the Peel report from 1937 proposed. After the UN proposed division in two approximately equal parts in 1947, the Palestinian Arabs started a civil war against the Jewish communities, which they lost after initial success (particularly concerning attacks of distant communities and blocking Jerusalem). The proponents of a boycott of Israel however present it as if the Zionists attacked the Palestinians and drove them out without reason. No Israel boycott website mentions the leading role of Nazi-collaborator Hai Amin al Husseini in the Arab insurrections, the many Jewish convoys that were attacked, the precarious situation of the approximately 100.000 Jews in Jerusalem by the blockade. History is rewritten, to accommodate their picture of black and white, good and evil.

The same applies to more recent history. Proponents of a boycott of Israel lay the causes for the failure of the Oslo peace process entirely at Israel’s feet. Israel indeed went on expanding settlements  during most of the time, and Shimon Peres explained in the Knesset that the peace process would not necessarily lead to an independent Palestinian state. In spite of the fact that the Oslo agreements did not require Israel to stop expanding settlements, it is hard to imagine how Israel would envision real peace without Palestinian sovereignty and without a contiguous territory for a Palestinian state. And even still the Israeli opposition considered the concessions too far-reaching and was vehemently opposed to transferring Palestinian cities to the newly created Palestinian Authority (PA). The Palestinians however equally failed to meet their obligations, and Arafat frequently contradicted his so-called recognition of Israel when speaking in Arab. During most of the time the PA under the guidance of Arafat continued to support terrorism, and violence against Israel and Jews was glorified in the PA media. The Palestinians also persisted in demanding unlimited right of return for all refugees and their offspring, which contradicts a two state solution. It is hard to imagine how they could be for peace nonetheless. Neither the Israeli nor the Palestinian leadership made an effort to prepare their people for the painful concessions which are necessary for reaching peace. Third parties, such as the US, Europe and the UN, failed to sufficiently address this point towards both parties. The Nobel Peace Prices were too easily given.
The second intifada was not only the result of Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount, but rather of Palestinian dissatisfaction with the absence of real improvements their daily lives, combined with intentional anti-Israel propaganda. There are strong indications that the intifada had been planned to compel concessions by means of violence, which the PA thought it could not achieve by means of negotiations. It however remains the question whether Barak’s far-reaching peace proposals would have been accepted by the Israeli public, even if the Palestinians had accepted them, more so since the second intifada had already broken out at that point. Even so Arafat knew that accepting these proposals would not have won him the approval of the Palestinians.

The second intifada brought Ariel Sharon to power, who implemented a harsh reprisal policy against Palestinian terrorism, not only re-occupying cities which had been previously transferred to the PA, but also destroying Palestinian infrastructure on large scale. From documents obtained by these operations it became apparent that Arafat and the PA had been involved directly in the intifada and the terrorist attacks. The Israeli peace movement, which had considered Arafat to be a peace partner and had been advocating negotiations with him, lost many of its followers by the constant waves of terrorism. The second intifada and Israel’s harsh repression of it have blown up and shot down the atmosphere of hope and expectations of the nineteen nineties.

The reasons why the peace process failed lay on both sides. Again proponents of an Israel boycott rewrite history by denying or minimizing Arafat’s share in terrorism, labeling Barak’s proposals as ‘Bantustans’ for the Palestinians whereas they implied a coherent Palestinian state in approximately 95% of the West Bank, and repeating Palestinian charges which have never been confirmed by the UN or human rights groups, such as ’the massacre in Jenin’, Israeli soldiers using uranium enriched ammunition and deliberately targeting women and children, the separation barrier (wall, fence) annexing 50% of the West Bank, etc.

5. The right to self-determination

Both parties basically want the land and their own self-determination on it, and for this reason every ‘solution’ that contradicts self-determination for one side, is doomed to fail. The Israel boycott campaigns however mostly oppose a two state solution. Zionism, and Israel as a Jewish state, are frequently labeled ‘racist’. They often advocate ‘a secular state for all its citizens’, where all (now more than four million) Palestinian refugees should be able to return to, which is incompatible with Jewish self-determination. The fact that Jews had no equal rights as minorities in most times and places is ignored. Considering the mutual animosity and Arab anti-Semitism, the chances that this would be different now are nil. It is unlikely that the Jews as a minority in a Palestinian state would be treated as well as or better than the Israeli Arabs are treated now in Israel. In general the position of minorities in the Arab countries is miserable. During the 1948 war all Jewish communities were driven out of the areas that came under Arab rule, and afterwards Jews were driven out of almost all Arab countries.
The official position of the PLO for a long time was that all Jews who had entered Palestine after 1917, had to return to where they came from. Radical groups such as the Hamas and Islamic Jihad still hold this position (or worse), and they have a considerable following among Palestinians.

Israel as a Jewish state is not based on Jewish superiority or religion, but is a state is where Jews (of which most are secular) form the majority, and can maintain their language, culture and history, and whereto they can freely emigrate. A right which many peoples enjoy, even if the founding of their countries was accompanied by bloody conflicts. No other country has its legitimacy questioned as frequently as Israel, not even when human rights are violated on a larger scale, or area that belongs to another people is kept occupied. Sympathizers of the Palestinians frequently point out that it is racist that all Jews in the world can emigrate to Israel whereas the Palestinian refugees are not allowed to return. This criticism is understandable, but people forget that Israel is the only state where Jews can freely migrate to at all times, and that history has proven this possibility necessary. The right to return of the refugees is not univocally written down in international law. Refugees from other conflicts, such as India and Pakistan or the Sudeten Germans, were unable to return after hostilities ended. It is sour for the involved, but not without precedent. The Palestinians started the hostilities, and some of their leaders were very explicit in their aim of expelling the Jews from Palestine or exterminating them.

Within the framework of a peace treaty, part of the refugees can return to the future Palestinian state and part can be resettled in their host countries. On humanitarian grounds part of the refugees must also be enabled to return to Israel. It is however clear that Israel will never agree with dissolving itself, or with measures which endanger the state, such as indefinite return of refugees. Just as an Israeli ‘dictate’ cannot force the Palestinians to make peace, it is impossible for a ‘dictate’ imposed on Israel to force the Israeli’s to make peace. This type of demands by definition do not lead to peace, and the stronger the pressure on Israel to give in to these kinds of unrealistic demands, the more this goes at the expense of people who sincerely strive for peace and for an end to the occupation under reasonable conditions. The radical demands of the boycotters play into the hands of the Israeli hardliners, and reinforces the feeling under Israelis that the rest of the world is against them.

6. The UN resolutions

Israel boycott activists frequently point to the many UN resolutions and Israeli violations of international law, and to the fact that these resolutions are ignored by Israel. The resolutions which have been adopted by the Security Council that are frequently referred to, are interpreted rather one-sidedly. For instance Resolution 194, adopted in 1949, is quoted frequently to support the right to return. This resolution says that the refugees who wish to live in peace with their neighbors must be enabled to return to Israel. That is somewhat different than claiming almost 60 years later that all refugees and their offspring (only a small number of the current four millions refugees fled or were expelled originally) are entitled to an inalienable right to return. Resolution 242, adopted after the Six Day War in 1967, calls for the withdrawal from occupied territories, acknowledges the right of all states in the region to have recognized and safe borders, and calls for negotiations to come to a just solution of the conflict. This is clearly something else than Israel unilaterally withdrawing from all areas conquered in 1967, without recognition and security guarantees and without requirements from the Palestinians and Arab countries concerning their support of terrorism. Indeed there have been numerous resolutions adopted by the UN General Assembly that require unilateral withdrawals from Israel, demolishing of ’the wall’, and even allowing all refugees to return, but these do not compose international law. Only Security Council resolutions are binding. In the UN Arab and Islamic states form a large block, and most of the unaffiliated states (mainly African but also some South American countries) vote with the Islamic block. Thus it proves to be almost impossible for example to condemn Sudan, where millions of people have been killed or fled, because the Islamic block prevents this. Also China’s occupation of Tibet or the Russian misbehavings in Chechnya mostly escape UN condemnation. Resolutions by the General Assembly are adopted on the basis of numbers of countries (and their dominance), not on the basis of objective criteria concerning nature, seriousness and causes of human rights violations or numbers of victims. Likewise the UN Human Rights Counsel, which includes members like Sudan, Cuba, Saudi Arabia and Zimbabwe, is characterized by ‘horse trades’ as a result of which rogue states go unpunished. There are several proposals, some by Kofi Annan, to reform this commission and the whole UN.

7. The imbalance of power

Another argument in Israel boycott campaigns is, that all negotiations aimed at reaching a Palestinian state have failed so far, because Israel, being the strongest party, refuses to give the Palestinians what they are entitled to. Since talking does not help, harder pressure like sanctions become necessary to force Israel to make concessions. Moreover, an end is to the occupation is not a favor which requires a counter-favor, but a non-negotiable right.

Israel however is not only in conflict with the Palestinians, but with large parts of the Arab world. Palestinian terrorism is directly supported by Syria and Iran, and in the Arab world Israel and the Jews are being accused of most absurd things, such as injecting Palestinians with AIDS, distributing toxic candies to Palestinian children, killing Christian children for making matzo, etc. Soap series are broadcasted on TV in which the Jews are depicted as diabolic, conspiring for world domination and for murdering all non-Jews. Many Arab people believe that Israel was behind the attacks on the WTC, to set the US up against the Moslems. Despite the peace with Egypt and Jordan, these countries also frequently broadcast TV shows in which the Holocaust is denied, and MP’s and intellectuals who make overtures to Israel are condemned harshly. The Arab states consistently side with the Palestinians and demand full right of return for all refugees in exchange of peace.

The occupation is not the cause, but a result of the Israeli-Arab conflict.
Although Israel has won all wars so far, it still is a small country (half the size of the Netherlands), and if it loses but one war that can mean the end of it. With the occupied territories and the Golan Heights Israel holds but one trump card, which it can play one time, to gain as much recognition and peace as possible. Although the peace with Egypt is a cold one in a lot of ways, Israel gained much by it, mainly because it was the first peace treaty with an Arab country, it broke the Arab boycott, and Israel needed to be concerned no longer over its south border. It is legitimate that Israel should also expect gains for returning the remaining occupied territories, not because returning it to Arab control would be a ‘favor’, but because it is the only way for Israel to gain recognition (and thus an end to the support of terrorism and anti-Semitic propaganda).

Although protecting settlements on the West Bank contributes little to Israel’s security (rather the opposite), the checkpoints regularly succeed in stopping Palestinians with explosives, who otherwise would have been able to travel unhindered. Although only approximately a third of the separation barrier has been completed, it too helps to prevent attacks, as do the arrests of (alleged) terrorists in the West Bank. According to Israel boycotters a unilateral withdrawal would diminish terrorist attacks. It would probably indeed lead to a decrease in popularity of terrorism, but the Hamas and their ilk will not be satisfied before at least all refugees can return to Israel. In the past they have often committed assaults when peace agreements were closed, because they oppose peace and recognition of Israel. The second Intifada was started not so much in response to Sharon’s provocative visit to the Temple Mount, but also in response to the peace proposals of Barak and Clinton. It is therefore rather a risk for Israel to unilaterally withdraw from the occupied territories and then hope that Palestinian terrorism will stop automatically.

After the first Intifada put the Palestinian desire for self-determination on the map, and it became clear to the Israelis that they could not continue to rule over the Palestinians forever, the second Intifada embedded a deep suspicion in the Israelis regarding the true aims of the Palestinians. Meanwhile the continuation of settlement construction has demolished all faith on the Palestinian side. Both parties thus demand that the other side first demonstrates his true desire for peace. Israelis point to the fact that they have withdrawn from the Gaza Strip – which they did out of self-interest – and Palestinians point to the informal and temporal truce that Hamas agreed to – which was also in their own interest (because they had been severely affected by Israeli actions during the Intifada and could use a time-out). The Palestinians also point out that Israel is further tightening its grip on the West Bank, and Israel points out that Hamas continues producing and smuggling weapons, as well as firing of Quassam rockets on Israel and spreading anti-Semitic propaganda.

8. Anti-Semitic?

Many Israelis perceive the calls for an Israel boycott, the divestment campaigns and the calls to suspend trade treaties as a form of anti-Semitism. They indicate that most of these campaigns contest Israel’s legitimacy, and thus the Jewish right to self-determination. They further indicate that the proponents of boycotts disregard Arab incitement against Israel and Jews, and are selectively outraged about Israeli violence. Moreover, Jews and Israel are depicted as disproportionately powerful, by claiming for example that the US dances to the Israeli tune. Furthermore, these Israel boycotts stand in a dubious tradition. The Nazi boycott of Jewish shops and companies in 1933 was followed by an Arab boycott of Jewish/Zionist products in 1945 and of the state of Israel from 1948 on. The Palestinian leader Hai Amin Al Husseini, Nazi collaborator and advocate of an ‘Endlösung’ also in Palestine, was probably one of the instigators of the Arab boycott, which continued until the Oslo peace process, and was partially resumed in 2002. The Arab boycott had not been aimed against any ‘occupation’, but against the establishment of a Jewish state. Apart from Israel itself this boycott was also aimed at companies that did business with Israel, and even companies doing business with companies that did business with Israel. Some Arabs even refused to allow Western business partners to delegate Jewish representatives. These ‘non-Jew declarations’ caused much fuss in the Netherlands in the nineteen seventies and were explicitly prohibited.

Contemporary Israel boycott campaigns are also frequently aimed not only against the occupation of the Palestinian territories, but against the existence of Israel as a Jewish state. They thus seamlessly fit in with the Arab boycott. Several leaders of Israel boycott actions have made dubious statements concerning Jews. The Presbyterian church in America has contacts with the Lebanese Hezbollah – defined by her as ‘peaceful’ -, which besides launching attacks against Israel, also spreads extreme anti-Semitic propaganda through her TV station Al-Manar. Of course this does not mean that everyone who supports a boycott of Israel is an anti-Semite, however it indicates that boycott calls sometimes tend to have a bad taste to them. Also if one reads the reports from the European ‘Stop The Wall’ Caravan, which enthusiastically describes the warm reception at the Syrian border (without a trace of criticism of that country) and with indignation criticizes their hard-handed removal from the occupied territories by Israel, one is left to wonder what world view these people have. Lucas Cathérine of the Belgian boycott campaign remarked concerning the Sabra nickname for Israeli-born Jews: “By now we know that Israelis are hard and prickly.”

An important question, which is also addressed in our Anti-Zionism article (in Dutch), is to what extent anti-Zionism (denying Israel’s legitimacy) is a form of anti-Semitism. The proponents of a boycott and a many other critics of Israel claim that these matters are strictly separate: It all has nothing to do with Jews, but only with the state of Israel. This distinction is of course a bit odd. Something like: ‘It has nothing to do with the Dutch, but the state of the Netherlands is racist and therefore should disappear’. Israel is the Jewish state, and the fact that half of the Jews live outside of Israel and not all Jews are Zionists, is irrelevant to that. The unique position of the Jews, how they live scattered more than any other people, are no justification to deny them the right to self-determination.

The way in which Israel is demonized and is labeled as the only culprit in the conflict, is reminiscent for Israelis of how previously anti-Semites blamed the Jews for everything. It is difficult, if not impossible, to give an entirely evenhanded description of the conflict’s history, but to totally omit the violence and the intentions of one side are in fact nothing less than a falsification of history and propaganda. (Rightwing Zionist groups frequently do the same, and deny for example the massacre in Deir Yassin in 1948, claim that all Palestinian refugees left voluntarily after they were encouraged to do so by Arab leaders, and claim that the Jews came to a deserted country in Palestine at the beginning of the 20th century.)

Jewish nationalism is not substantially different from other forms of nationalism. Nationalism can degenerate into racism, but it is not the same thing. He who equates Zionism to racism, claims that Jewish nationalism substantially and inevitably it is worse than any other form of nationalism, and that for this reason unlike other peoples the Jews have no right to self-determination. This in itself is a form of racism.


A final comment concerning the term ‘a just solution’ that is frequently used by advocates of an Israel boycott and other peace and solidarity groups: everyone wants a ‘just solution’, but the problem is precisely that there are different opinions concerning what is just. For many of the aforementioned groups ‘just’ means that the whole area from the river to the sea should be one single state where the Jews become a minority again and have to live under a predominately Arab regime, where in the bests case they will be tolerated as a minority. According to rightwing Zionists ‘just’ means that the Palestinians in the best case get a kind of limited autonomy. The word ‘just’ therefore is rather subjective, and by no means a guarantee that the needs and wishes of both parties are addressed.


© This article is copyright Israel-Palestina Informatie, aside from parts that mention outside sources. For permission to copy our materials please contact us through our e-mail address. Limited citations accompanied with a link to this website are allowed.

On this website we have some links to peace initiatives that do justice to the legitimate rights of both sides:

More information about anti-Israel boycotts

Zionism on the Web:
* The Anti-Israel Academic Boycott Resource Pages 
Anti-Zionism and Israel boycotts 
Zionism and Israel Information Center:
* Boycott Israel?
* The (anti) Zionism and anti-Israel boycotts and the Stop the Wall campain 
* How to stop the UCU boycott – A strategy
* Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI)
* Comments on the Canadian CUPE boycott 
* Anti-Zionist arguments and myths on Zionism and Israel FAQ 
Stop the Boycott Campain (UK):
* Stop the Israel Boycott
* BICOM – Stop the Israel Boycott
Engage (UK):
* Posts on academic boycott of Israel
Labour Start – Unions News from Israel:
* LabourStart Israel News Database 
Israël-Palestijnen Newsblog:
* 1-7-2007 An Academic Hijacking – Alan Dershowitz on the Israel boycott
* 23-6-2007 The British anti-Israel boycott campaign
* 20-4-2007 British Journalists’ union boycotts Israel
* 19-4-2007 British journalist union votes to boycott Israel
* 18-4-2007 Saudis continue to boycott Israel
Washington Post:
* 24-4-2007 Why Boycott Israel? (Richard Cohen)

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