Published on Portside (https://portside.org)
Boycott Is the Only Way to Stop the Israeli Occupation
May 5, 2016
Sunday, May 1, 2016
Haaretz Editor-in-Chief Aluf Benn calls on us not to get too enthusiastic about the effects of a boycott of Israel (Haaretz, April 28) . I agree with him, but even if we are not enthusiastic about it we have no choice but to recognize that boycott, divestment and sanctions is the only game in town, the last hope for the change that Benn also wants. This is the only means to stop Israel from persisting in its crimes. The only alternative is bloodshed, which no one wants.
Sanctions and boycott are the most non-violent, legitimate means there are (Israel constantly preaches to the world to use them against its enemies) and have been proven effective. Even people who share Benn’s reservations, and I share some of his doubts, must concede that he doesn’t offer a more certain alternative. His proposal for the left to establish a base of domestic support for its positions is hopeless considering the brainwashing, ignorance, blindness, the good life, lack of opposition and increasing extremism of Israeli society.
Because this is a criminal situation, which must not be allowed to persist, we cannot leave it alone until public opinion has the good grace to change. It will never do so of its own accord, it has no reason to do so as long as it is not paying for its crimes and being punished for them. People who claim this have reached a new height of Israeli chutzpah: to allow tyranny, abuse and oppression to go on in the name of democracy.
Benn begins his article by describing a fantasy – that the world imposes sanctions on Israel. The truth is that this is sometimes my fantasy, a manifestation of a primeval desire of someone who sees the sins every day and yearns to see the punishment. When Border Police personnel execute a pregnant woman and her brother claiming that they “threw a knife,” and society yawns in boredom, the desire awakens to shake and punish it. This is not a desire for revenge, but rather for change. Benn believes that a boycott will make Israel harden its position. The past has shown that the opposite is true. Israel has always made the few concessions it did after it paid a heavy price, or in the face of an overt threat.
It is true that North Korea and Cuba did not surrender to boycotts, but they are not democracies and public opinion in those countries carries little weight. The Israelis, based on the experience of the past, are much more spoiled. Close down the international airport for two days and let’s see who’s for the settlement of Yitzhar; demand a visa for every little vacation abroad and let’s see who will say “the Land of Israel for the People of Israel.” And we haven’t even begun to talk about ongoing conditions of shortages and economic crisis that will require Israel to finally ask: Is all this really worthwhile to satisfy an appetite for real estate, is all this worthwhile for the caprice of the occupation, are they prepared to pay out of their own pocket and lifestyle for regions of the country that most people have never even seen and have no real interest in their fate?
The first response to the boycott will be the one Benn describes: Masada, banding together, taking a harder line. But in the blink of an eye the questions will start mounting, followed by protest. Israelis of 2016 are not built to live in Sparta, not even in Cuba, to drive around in cars from the 1950s and stand in long lines for meat in order to keep the settlement of Esh Kadosh in existence. They will sell Elkana to keep Varna, and that’s a good thing. And if that leaves Elkana in a single democratic state, even better. Marwan Barghouti as prime minister of a democratic government doesn’t scare me, Benn.
BDS has not yet begun to lick at our lives here. Meanwhile there is no real economic warfare, rather only movements that are only gradually changing international discourse about Israel. On the edges there are perhaps some elements of anti-Semitism, but it is basically a protest movement by people of conscience who want to do something. Economic decline as a result of it might occur quickly, not necessarily gradually. In South Africa the business community came to the government and said: Enough, this cannot go on. That could happen here too. That actually imbues me with great hope, Benn, I don’t see any other alternative.
Gideon Levy is a Haaretz columnist and a member of the newspaper's editorial board. He joined Haaretz in 1982, and spent four years as the newspaper's deputy editor. Levy is the author of the weekly Twilight Zone feature, which covers the Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza over the last 25 years, as well as the writer of political editorials for the newspaper. Levy was the recipient of the Euro-Med Journalist Prize for 2008; the Leipzig Freedom Prize in 2001; the Israeli Journalists' Union Prize in 1997; and The Association of Human Rights in Israel Award for 1996. His new book, The Punishment of Gaza , has just been published by Verso Publishing House in London and New York.
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