[Marxism] Why the Boycott Movement Scares Israel

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Jan 31 09:20:55 MST 2014

NY Times Op-Ed, Jan. 31 2014
Why the Boycott Movement Scares Israel

JERUSALEM — If Secretary of State John Kerry’s attempts to revive talks 
between Israel and the Palestinian Authority fail because of Israel’s 
continuing construction of illegal settlements, the Israeli government 
will likely face an international boycott ‘‘on steroids" as Mr. Kerry 
warned last August.

These days, Israel seems as terrified by the ‘‘exponential’’ growth of 
the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (or B.D.S.) 
movement as it is by Iran’s rising clout in the region. Last June, Prime 
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu effectively declared B.D.S. a strategic 
threat. Calling it the “delegitimization” movement, he assigned the 
overall responsibility for fighting it to his Strategic Affairs 
Ministry. But B.D.S. doesn’t pose an existential threat to Israel; it 
poses a serious challenge to Israel’s system of oppression of the 
Palestinian people, which is the root cause of its growing worldwide 

The Israeli government’s view of B.D.S. as a strategic threat reveals 
its heightened anxiety at the movement’s spread into the mainstream 
lately. It also reflects the failure of the Foreign Affairs Ministry’s 
well-endowed “Brand Israel” campaign, which reduces B.D.S. to an image 
problem and employs culture as a propaganda tool, sending well-known 
Israeli figures around the world to show Israel’s prettier face.

Launched in 2005 by the largest trade union federations and 
organizations in Palestinian society, B.D.S. calls for ending Israel’s 
1967 occupation, “recognizing the fundamental rights of the 
Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality,” and the right of 
Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and lands from which they 
were forcibly displaced and dispossessed in 1948.

Why should Israel, a nuclear power with a strong economy, feel so 
vulnerable to a nonviolent human rights movement?

Israel is deeply apprehensive about the increasing number of American 
Jews who vocally oppose its policies — especially those who are joining 
or leading B.D.S. campaigns. It also perceives as a profound threat the 
rising dissent among prominent Jewish figures who reject its tendency to 
speak on their behalf, challenge its claim to be the “national home” of 
all Jews, or raise the inherent conflict between its ethno-religious 
self-definition and its claim to democracy. What I.F. Stone 
prophetically wrote about Israel back in 1967, that it is “creating a 
kind of moral schizophrenia in world Jewry” because of its “racial and 
exclusionist” ideal, is no longer beyond the pale.

Israel is also threatened by the effectiveness of the nonviolent 
strategies used by the B.D.S. movement, including its Israeli component, 
and by the negative impact they have had on Israel’s standing in world 
public opinion. As one Israeli military commander said in the context of 
suppressing Palestinian popular resistance to the occupation, “We don’t 
do Gandhi very well.”

The landslide vote by the American Studies Association in December to 
endorse an academic boycott of Israel, coming on the heels of a similar 
decision by the Association for Asian-American Studies, among others, as 
well as divestment votes by several university student councils, proves 
that B.D.S. is no longer a taboo in the United States.

The B.D.S. movement’s economic impact is also becoming evident. The 
recent decision by the $200 billion Dutch pension fund, PGGM, to divest 
from the five largest Israeli banks due to their involvement in occupied 
Palestinian territory has sent shock waves through the Israeli 

To underscore the “existential” danger that B.D.S. poses, Israel and its 
lobby groups often invoke the smear of anti-Semitism, despite the 
unequivocal, consistent position of the movement against all forms of 
racism, including anti-Semitism. This unfounded allegation is intended 
to intimidate into silence those who criticize Israel and to conflate 
such criticism with anti-Jewish racism.

Arguing that boycotting Israel is intrinsically anti-Semitic is not only 
false, it also presumes that Israel and “the Jews” are one and the same. 
This is as absurd and bigoted as claiming that a boycott of a 
self-defined Islamic state like Saudi Arabia, say, because of its 
horrific human rights record, would of necessity be Islamophobic.

The B.D.S. movement’s call for full equality in law and policies for the 
Palestinian citizens of Israel is particularly troubling for Israel 
because it raises questions about its self-definition as an exclusionary 
Jewish state. Israel considers any challenge to what even the Department 
of State has criticized as its system of “institutional, legal, and 
societal discrimination” against its Palestinian citizens as an 
“existential threat,” partially because of the apartheid image that this 
challenge evokes.

Tellingly, a recent attempt by Israeli liberals to have their civic 
national identity as “Israelis” recognized by the state was squarely 
rejected by Israel’s Supreme Court on the grounds that it posed a 
serious threat to Israel’s founding principle: to be a Jewish state for 
the Jewish people. Israel remains the only country on earth that does 
not recognize its own nationality, as that would theoretically avail 
equal rights to all its citizens, undermining its “ethnocratic” 
identity. The claim that B.D.S., a nonviolent movement anchored in 
universal principles of human rights, aims to “destroy” Israel must be 
understood in this context.

Would justice and equal rights for all really destroy Israel? Did 
equality destroy the American South? Or South Africa? Certainly, it 
destroyed the discriminatory racial order that prevailed in both places, 
but it did not destroy the people or the country.

Likewise, only Israel’s unjust order is threatened by boycotts, 
divestment and sanctions.

Omar Barghouti is a Palestinian human rights activist and the author of 
“Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions: The Global Struggle for Palestinian 

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