Naomi Klein on BDS

I’ve taken a long time to write about this because I wanted to make sure I had my thoughts on it sorted out. This article by Naomi Klein finally brought me around to the BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) campaign against Israel. (Note: as you can probably tell, I’m very new to BDS, so this post is directed at other people who are new to it, too. I realize that many readers have been working on this for a long time.) This passage was what turned the lightbulb on for me:

Why single out Israel when the United States, Britain and other Western countries do the same things in Iraq and Afghanistan? Boycott is not a dogma; it is a tactic. The reason the BDS strategy should be tried against Israel is practical: in a country so small and trade-dependent, it could actually work. (Emphasis hers.)

The problem, up until I read the article, was that most of the calls for boycotts I read were the dogmatic kind. Boycott Israeli academics! Boycott Israeli artists! Boycott non-Israeli Jewish business owners! Why? Because we hate them, that’s why! Because Zionism is racism! Even the ones that didn’t come off as dogmatic – or that made passing references to tactics – failed to address Jews’ concerns about anti-Semitism, and that turned me off to them. Was that irrational of me? Yeah, sometimes. But Jews have good reason to be wary.

I know, of course, that BDS will continue to attract anti-Semites, and I still fear that anti-Semitism will drown out pragmatism. I don’t know how to solve that problem – but we can address it by emphasizing, as Klein does, that it’s a tactic, not a dogma. We’re doing it because it works. We’re doing it out of love (for Israelis, too!). And, as Klein says, we’re targeting “the Israeli economy but not Israelis.” Strategy, not punishment.

Do check out the whole article – she responded very effectively to almost every concern that I had.

The Global BDS Movement’s website is here.

Thoughts? (When you comment, please remember that this is a very sensitive and complicated subject. Rude or hostile comments will be deleted.)

(Cross-posted at Alas, A Blog.)

This entry posted in Anti-Semitism, International issues, Palestine & Israel. Bookmark the permalink. 

68 Responses to Naomi Klein on BDS

  1. 1
    Tank says:

    I’m a socialist from Britain, for a two-state settlement and very much in solidarity with Palestinians. I’m against the boycott, but I welcome Naomi Klein’s distinction that it’s a tactic, not a dogma. However, I can still see two potential problems with supporting this “wing” of a boycott movement;

    1. Differentiating yourselves from those, in the same movement, who take a hardline “boycott everything Israeli” stance. The logic of this position shades well into anti-semitism – in the 80s in Britain it even led to attempts by socialist to shut down Jewish Student Societies under the “No Platform for Fascists” policies many Student Unions hold.

    2. Is targetting the economy not also going to affect ordinary Israeli workers? If companies lose profits I can see them cutting workers’ wages and conditions before cutting bosses’ paychecks or shareholders’ dividends. Boycotts run the risk of alienating workers – they certainly don’t help to organise them, and organising the Israeli and Palestinian working class to work together is the goal I’m working for.

  2. 2
    Whit says:

    I do think it’s a tricky territory, and that we should be wary of and call out any anti-anti-Semitism, but having a knee-jerk reaction that everything Israeli is good and/or understandable because it’s coming from a place of self-defense is a tactic I see a lot of people take. And that needs to be squashed out. If you can’t honestly criticize those that you love with the hope for their improvement, what kind of relationship is that?

  3. 3
    chingona says:

    Is there any consensus about what impact sanctions had on apartheid South Africa? I tend to see sanctions working better on countries that care what other countries think of them, and to the extent sanctions worked in South Africa, I think it was because SA wanted to see itself as a first world country that just happened to be in Africa and being treated like a pariah really bothered them. Whereas a regime like North Korea or the junta in Burma probably doesn’t care much what others think (and seem to have little qualms about continuing with policies that have a negative impact on the population). So in that sense, I see BDS as potentially effective against Israel.

    On the other hand, I’ve seen it suggested that sanctions had relatively little impact on SA, and it was domestic political considerations and principled leadership that led to the end of apartheid. I don’t know enough about SA to really judge the merits of those arguments.

    I also think the amount of bleed-over from antisemitism has the potential to seriously undermine the effectiveness of BDS. If advocates of BDS cannot seriously quash that antisemitic elements and don’t take that charge very seriously and just do everything in their power to disassociate from and condemn people who do things like, oh, boycott Jewish businesses in their home countries, I think any potential effectiveness just evaporates. And I’m very skeptical of the ability to effectively make that separation.

    I’m not arguing against BDS because antisemites also favor BDS, just to be clear. I’m saying that if BDS cannot effectively separate itself from the antisemites, it probably won’t work.

  4. 4
    Xelgaex says:

    Is it just me or did she avoid answering her own objection in #1? She puts forth a hypothetical reason that it won’t work and responds by saying that our current approach doesn’t work. That may be so, but it’s hardly a compelling argument for why BDS will in fact work.

    For me the example of South Africa would have to be balanced with the examples of Cuba and Iraq. South Africa under apartheid was more democratic than Iraq or Cuba, and that might have some significance. Articles like Nicholas Kristof’s “Sanctions Don’t Work” do tend to focus on dictatorships, but I’m not enough of an expert to know whether that was the crucial factor in the success of the South African sanctions.

    Work like Kristof’s makes me leery of sanctions because the idea that they impact the poor more than the policy-setting elites makes sense. But as I said I’m not an expert, so further reading might convince me even though Naomi Klein’s piece doesn’t.

  5. 5
    PG says:

    Julie, does BDS include boycotting academics? Because if so, I don’t see how that’s “targeting the Israeli economy but not Israelis.” Klein doesn’t mention academics at all, but the BDS website does.

    chingona, I think it could have been a mix of both outside and internal pressure (just as the civil rights movement in the U.S., though largely internally driven, got an extra push by America’s self-consciousness in the Cold War that racial inequality looked bad).

    I’m a bit skeptical of SA’s having worried about its place in the community of 1st world nations in an abstract sense (as opposed to an economically and politically practical one), though, because they were banned from the Olympics for thirty years (remember this plotline from Muriel’s Wedding?). That’s about as kicked-out-of-symbolic-community-of-nations as possible, yet it doesn’t seem to have spurred them to end apartheid. I think the economic sanctions, which didn’t even get fully going in the U.S. until at least 1985, when Reagan did a 180 and agreed to them, had more impact than the more symbolic stuff.

  6. 6
    chingona says:

    I hadn’t realized SA was barred from the Olympics for such a long time. See, I was right: I don’t know enough about SA to judge those arguments on their merits.

  7. 7
    Whit says:

    BDS is being argued as a potentially successful tactic against Israel’s policies because Israel is so dependent on exports. Cuba was not. Yes, it did export a lot of sugar, but it was also a huge entertainment mecca, and the crop land that no longer grows sugar for export now grows other crops that aren’t exported.

    Chingona, I found this article about divestment in South Africa. Googling Sullivan Principles should also be informative.

  8. 8
    Julie says:

    Tank – good points.

    Chingona – I agree with you about the bleed-over from anti-Semitism. It’s something that I really wish BDSers would seriously address. It’s like they don’t realize that actual Jewish people are suffering actual consequences from discrimination. (Italy and Venezuela, for example… I know Jews have been targeted in Yemen, too, although I don’t know if that’s directly related to “boycott” movements.)

    Zelgaex – Her first point might be poorly worded, but I think she’s focusing solely on what’s going to do the most good for Palestinians. I’ve heard – and made, I think – the argument that alienating Israelis will only make things worse, but I saw her point that “constructive engagement” hasn’t had any effect. Now, if we were to go in the opposite direction and find that BDS was *also* counterproductive, then it’d be time to reevaluate it. But I think she’s pointing out that it hasn’t even been tried yet.

    As for sanctions, I know almost nothing about them, so I’d have to do more reading, too.

    PG – ew, really!? Where does the BDS website mention academics? I didn’t see that…

  9. 9
    Whit says:

    Julie, it’s on the left-hand column http://www.bdsmovement.net/?q=node/7

  10. 10
    chingona says:

    From Whit’s link above:

    1. Resolutions, statements and declarations from artistic groups, academics and institutions acknowledging the rights of the Palestinian people while refusing to maintain links with the Israeli state, its institutions and the artists and academics representing them.

    Institutions, festivals and other events should refuse to allow themselves to be an arena where Israel can promote itself as an internationally accepted and respected state and society and refuse participation to Israeli or international artwork and artists accordingly.

    What does international mean in that sentence?

  11. 11
    Matt says:

    First off, I don’t think it will work. I think her first point, addressing the belief that bds will “alienate rather than persuade” is wrong. For starters, she doesn’t actually address whether bds will alienate anyone, which I think she really needs to do. She only claims that other techniques have failed. But it wasn’t that long ago there was no support for a two-state solution. I see great progress on a longer scale where she sees none on a shorter scale. And I do think bds will turn that progress around. But assuming it can work..

    To say it’s a tactic, to say that it’s worthwhile because it can work, I think that requires an analysis of why it can work: Because Israel and its supporters are already marginalized in a way that the US, Britain, China aren’t. And why is that? History.

    Not only does are academic and sports boycotts on the website. It also links to PACBI and looks like it’s probably run by many of the same people. People who have argued that any program for coexistence must be boycotted. They’ve tried to shut down One Voice (and a concert was shut down for security reasons) and argued for a boycott against Seeds of Peace. Supporters have protested outside performances by the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra in Europe and the US. They’ve tried to keep Paul McCartney and Leonard Cohen from performing in Israel. At the very least, if you decide to stay with boycotts, I’d urge you to find a different organization.

    (In her second point, btw, Klein cites Ronnie Kasrils. It’s really an aside, but you should look into the types of things he’s said. I don’t think you’ll appreciate them.)

  12. 12
    Julie says:

    Whit, thanks for the link. I should have studied the site more carefully.

    I have to do more thinking about this. What I liked about Klein’s approach was that she advocated ways of using BDS to foster communication and partnerships with pro-Palestine Israelis (see the example of the Israeli publishing house she worked with). That approach runs the danger of turning into loyalty oaths, of course, but that’s a whole separate problem.

    But the way it’s described on the site makes me think of the calls to boycott the Jerusalem symphony orchestra, – an orchestra that contained left-wing activists, and whose success or failure would have no impact on the Israeli economy. The boycott wasn’t a tactic – it was dogma. And that very boycott is listed on the right sidebar of the site.

  13. 13
    Dianne says:

    Why single out Israel when the United States, Britain and other Western countries do the same things in Iraq and Afghanistan? Boycott is not a dogma; it is a tactic. The reason the BDS strategy should be tried against Israel is practical: in a country so small and trade-dependent, it could actually work.

    Even leaving aside, for the moment, the question of anti-semitism, this quote still bothers me. As a tactic I suppose it makes sense–it’s probably simply impossible to influence the US, for example, but essentially it says that Israel is being targeted because it is a relatively weak and easily damaged country. In short, bullying.

  14. 14
    PG says:

    Dianne,

    I don’t think it’s precisely about Israel being weak, but to some degree about its being persuadable. Unlike North Korea and other dictatorships, Israel is a democracy and if its actions in the Territories create an economic backlash, theoretically the citizens may vote out the government that takes those actions and bring in a more peaceful one. (I say theoretically because I think this theory completely ignores the extent to which Israelis have had to build up a kind of bunker mentality to create the state of Israel and then survive under constant attack.)

    It’s sort of like the conservatives who sneered at war protestors and said, “Why don’t you protest what Saddam is doing in Iraq?” Uh, because he won’t listen, and there’s at least a tiny chance that the American president might?

    In a sense you’re actually banking on your opponent’s morality: your tactic won’t work unless they are subject to being persuaded this way. It’s why Gandhi’s vague idea that perhaps the Jews in the Holocaust should have used nonviolent resistant was so goofy — the British imperialists could be affected by being perceived as indecent, but Nazis couldn’t be.

  15. 15
    Eurosabra says:

    @Chingona #10

    It means pro-Israel Diaspora Jewish artists. Emily Jacir can have a memorial to a suspected terrorist shown at the Guggenheim and get a major award for it, but Jews can’t produce pro-Israel art. Most of the Israeli art world is post-modern abstract art anyway (Agam, Tumarkin), and a lot of the graphic design (Tartakover) is either highly critical or explicitly anti-Zionist. It’s a bit like announcing that you’ll exterminate the unicorn, and it may be cover for a blanket boycott of Jews.

  16. 16
    Dianne says:

    the British imperialists could be affected by being perceived as indecent, but Nazis couldn’t be.

    Actually, there are several examples of the Nazis being influenced by moral persuasion and Gandhi type tactics. Denmark saved nearly all its Jewish population by nonviolent means and there was at least one successful protest in Berlin (the Rosenstrasse protest). Whether these tactics would have been successful if used by Jews, Gyspies, communists, etc is less clear to me.

  17. 17
    chingona says:

    Eurosabra,

    Yeah, that’s kind of what it sounded like to me. That concerns me especially because of the ambiguity about what “pro-Israel” means. It’s a bit weird because in most of the other parts of the document, it doesn’t use that phrase “Israeli or international.” (I didn’t have time to parse the entire thing, but I did skim through the action items and only saw “international” once). It just says Israeli. It almost made me wonder if it was left over from an earlier draft, which … didn’t exactly inspire my confidence.

    I can understand wanting to target academic institutions because they are so tied in with all the high-tech aspects of Israel’s economy, but the description at the link is of an across-the-board boycott and makes no distinction between people who actively contribute to the occupation, those who actively oppose it and everyone in between.

  18. 18
    chingona says:

    Dianne,

    I’m not sure unwillingness to deport and exterminate the entire population of Danes along with the Jews is quite the same as bending to “moral persuasion.” I’m pretty sure the Danish Jews were evacuated pretty shortly after everyone started wearing the stars. The Danes were able to throw up a practical barrier to the Nazi program to buy time. They didn’t actually force a political concession from the Nazis.

    ETA: Google informs me the whole bit about all Danes adopting the yellow star is an urban legend, but they did go to great lengths to evacuate their Jewish population to Sweden. I still don’t think it’s an example of getting the Germans to yield to moral persuasion.

  19. 19
    Dianne says:

    I don’t think it’s precisely about Israel being weak, but to some degree about its being persuadable. Unlike North Korea and other dictatorships, Israel is a democracy and if its actions in the Territories create an economic backlash, theoretically the citizens may vote out the government that takes those actions and bring in a more peaceful one.

    Perhaps, but in the quote Israel is being contrasted with Britain, the US, and other western democracies (republics, really, but who’s counting), not North Korea or Iran.

  20. 20
    PG says:

    What chingona said @ 18. Denmark’s Jews were saved not by Nazis’ self-consciousness of being seen as monsters, but by Danes who moved 8000 Jews and their non-Jewish family members to Sweden before the Nazis could move on them. Even then, almost 500 Danish Jews were deported to the Theresienstadt ghetto in Czechoslovakia, and 51 perished.

  21. 21
    David Schraub says:

    I think, unfortunately, that Ms. Klein’s proposal dovetails extensively with the argument I put out in my Why Israel post. Basically, my thesis there was that progressives focus their fire on Israel not (necessarily) because they’re anti-Semitic per se, but because Israel represents low-hanging fruit. It is small, vulnerable, not particularly critical to the international order, and there is a pre-built constituency already committed to trying to undermine and/or destroy it. Compared to, say, China, it’s easy pickings. And that seems to be Klein’s view as well — a bds campaign targeted at Israel will “work” in a way that one targeted at the big kids won’t, because Israel is “small” and “trade-dependent” (it is not because it’s “persuadable” — in addition to what Dianne said, Klein’s proposed move away from “constructive engagement” to “boycott” is another way of saying “you won’t respond to reason; perhaps you’ll respond to pain”).

    The problem with that approach, though, is twofold. First, Israel is easy pickings because it’s vulnerable, and it’s vulnerable in part because there are still substantial anti-Semitic players in the region and the world that wish to see it destroyed and either actively promote or are indifferent to the resulting harm to Jews. Klein assumes that a weakened Israel will become an Israel that makes peace with its neighbors. It is at least as likely that a weakened Israel is one that is devoured by its neighbors. It’s not just that Klein’s endgame is optimistic speculation (and it’s bad enough that she feels privileged to play dice with the lives of others), it’s that her own rationale for the bds move (Israel’s vulnerability) is actually dependent on the very factors which point towards a grimmer outcome — and thus it seems likely that they’ll strengthen those reactionary elements.

    The second problem is that Klein is at least mildly disingenuous about why bds should be targeted at Israel instead of, say, China or the US. All major global powers are trade-dependent — an actual boycott aimed at China or the US would be devastating to those economies and probably “work” just as well. The difference isn’t prospective efficacy at all, it’s that such a boycott would exact a tremendous toll on the boycotters as well — it’s pretty tough to get by without Chinese or American goods. It’s not “trade-dependent” but “small” that is doing virtually all of the work here.

    If, as Shulamit Volkov put it, Anti-Semitism is a “convenient way of attacking the existing order without demanding its total overthrow and without having to offer a comprehensive alternative,” then boycotting Israel is a convenient way to flash progressive bona fides while not actually threatening the privileges one enjoys through one’s position in the global marketplace. That’s “pragmatic”, but only in the sense that it’s less risky to pick on a first grader than a high school linebacker. This, I argue, is why many progressives devote so much energy towards building up this Jewish/Zionist hyperpower myth — it helps dissipate the cognitive dissonance that inevitably forms when your political program is explicitly based upon exploiting Jewish vulnerability.

    At the end of the day, Klein’s rationale for supporting bds is that it’s easier (and less exacting) to prey on the weak than the strong. That’s really it. And that really doesn’t impress me.

  22. 22
    Ampersand says:

    Klein assumes that a weakened Israel will become an Israel that makes peace with its neighbors. It is at least as likely that a weakened Israel is one that is devoured by its neighbors.

    I’m sorry, David, but any argument based on the premise that Israel is weak and vulnerable militarily and liable to be wiped out at any time by its neighbors is impossible to respect or take seriously. Militarily, Israel vastly outpowers not only any of its neighbors, but all of them combined. This is even ignoring the extremely strong US/Israel alliance, which is no where close to being weakened to the point that the US would stand aside and watch Israel being devoured by its neighbors.

    There is no plausible scenario in which Israel is devoured by its neighbors. To suggest that action to help the Palestinians — who actually are being brutalized, tortured and harmed by Israel in ways a hundred times worse than anything any neighbor of Israel is doing to Israel, not in a implausible hypothetical future but in the actual present — should be forgone in order to avoid a nonexistent chance of Israel being defeated militarily by its neighbors, is obscene.

    Israel is vulnerable in the sense that it could become less wealthy, and its people could live less well, if its trade goes down. It is also vulnerable in that it is a democracy, and an elected government that presides over people becoming poorer might feel pressure to change its policies, or be replaced by new people who change the policies.

    It is not all vulnerable in the sense of an impending danger of “being devoured by its neighbors.” That is a fairy tale, which — whatever the intent — is used in practice to defend the inhumane treatment of Palestinians by the Israeli government.

    All major global powers are trade-dependent — an actual boycott aimed at China or the US would be devastating to those economies and probably “work” just as well. The difference isn’t prospective efficacy at all, it’s that such a boycott would exact a tremendous toll on the boycotters as well — it’s pretty tough to get by without Chinese or American goods. It’s not “trade-dependent” but “small” that is doing virtually all of the work here.

    True. But so what?

    Yes, it’s unfair that big countries, like the US and China, aren’t as vulnerable to economic boycotts as small countries, like Israel and South Africa, are. However, I don’t think that leads to the conclusion that we should take a pass on boycotting Israeli goods if such a boycott could plausibly lead to an end of Israeli attacks on Palestinian human rights. The unfairness to Israel caused by the fact that the US can’t be fairly punished for its human rights abuses, although real, is far outweighed by the unfairness to Palestinians that they have to live under the constant brutal abuses of the Israeli government.

    I don’t see any way to fix all global inequities. That doesn’t mean that we should postpone action to help Palestinians until some unknown future time when fixing all global inequities simultaneously is possible.

  23. 23
    Julie says:

    David – I understand where you’re coming from, and I think you raise a lot of important points. I feel like what you’re saying has a lot to do with people being attracted to BDS for the wrong reasons – using it as a screen for anti-Semitism, or, as you said, “flashing progressive bona fides.”

    But I disagree with you and Dianne that effective BDS is tantamount to “preying on” or “bullying” Israel. You say that “Klein assumes that a weakened Israel will become an Israel that makes peace with its neighbors.” I don’t think that’s the case at all – unless by “neighbors,” you’re only talking about Gaza and the West Bank. I think the sole aim of the BDS movement is to end the blockade and occupation (the website just talks about the West Bank wall, but other Palestinian activists fold in Gaza and the settlements). I think that’s a very achievable goal, and one that absolutely doesn’t necessitate picking on Israelis or putting them in danger. (But, like I said, I’m new to this, so there’s a lot of research I haven’t yet done.)

    Now, if we achieved a stable Palestinian state and a significant number of people still advocated for BDS – then we’d have to deal with that problem. And I think it’s very likely that they would. But in the meantime, Palestinians are still being oppressed and Hamas still has a high level of support, and nothing activists are doing right now is working.

    In short, I don’t think this has to be an all-or-nothing issue. Rather, I’d like the main question to be this: How can allies use the preferred method of Palestinian activists to work for Palestinian self-determination, while simultaneously addressing problems like the ones you and other commenters brought up?

    Sorry this comment is a little rambly, by the way – I’m away from home right now so it’s a little hard to concentrate.

  24. 24
    David Schraub says:

    Yes, it’s unfair that big countries, like the US and China, aren’t as vulnerable to economic boycotts as small countries, like Israel and South Africa, are.

    That’s the opposite of my point. The US and China are every bit as vulnerable to a boycott as Israel is. A true bds campaign against the US would be devastatingly effective if it were pulled off. The difference is that boycotting the US would require much greater sacrifices by Ms. Klein and her ilk than boycotting Israel would. Hence, the distinguishing factor between “boycott Israel” and “boycott America” isn’t “Israel is more vulnerable; it’s more likely to work.” It’s “I’m not willing to pay the price it would cost to boycott America; Israel, on the other hand, doesn’t require much out of me, so I’m willing to take them on.”

    I’m sorry, David, but any argument based on the premise that Israel is weak and vulnerable militarily and liable to be wiped out at any time by its neighbors is impossible to respect or take seriously. Militarily, Israel vastly outpowers not only any of its neighbors, but all of them combined. This is even ignoring the extremely strong US/Israel alliance, which is no where close to being weakened to the point that the US would stand aside and watch Israel being devoured by its neighbors.

    I find it hard to take seriously that Ms. Klein envisions her bds campaign as occurring in tandem with continued support for American military aid to Israel. Likewise, I don’t think it is beyond dispute that America would rush to send land troops to defend Israel if it were faced with the type of large-scale conflict which could truly threaten it (we’ve never done so in the past, and there are a metric fuckton of geopolitical reasons why inertia would get the better of the day. Tack onto that that the only way bds actually would get anywhere is if Israel was unpopular enough to make it really fanciful that we’d stick our neck out for it, and this hedge strikes me as the height of absurdism). It’s like anti-90s Iraq: We’ll sell you weapons but not food. It’s tough for me to imagine that this is a direction anyone is actually contemplating.

    But that’s neither here nor there. Hermetically sealing off Israel’s economic stability and its ability to defend itself is a rather bizarre framework from which to view military power. You think Israel’s army will still be this indestructible juggernaut if its economy is in shambles? Really, truly? That’s the position that’s tough to take seriously.

    Moreover, you ignore the causal argument I put out vis-a-vis how Ms. Klein’s position is predicated on Israel’s standing in the global community which renders it vulnerable to these sorts of tactics (and this is a scenario I find very, very plausible, and I think you’re naive to discount it).

    Because the viability of bds supervenes upon the significant presence of groups (including states) that are anti-Israel in the strong sense (that is, they want to see the destruction of the state), it is reasonable to believe that Klein’s policies, if enacted, would not just strengthen that element, but would be a powerful signal indicating that they are now considered to be the “right” side. Regardless of her intent, this would likely be seen as a green light for further violent actions by these elements (and honestly, Klein has no way to control how her movement will be interpreted on the ground in and around Israel). Sure, that’s not what she means, and if she’s miscalculated she’ll cry a river of good intentions. Huzzah. But put simply: In this context, why wouldn’t the groups who already think that Israel should be torn apart militarily take this a signal that the world now agrees with them — that Israel is worthy of this sort of concerted military action?

    The point being that, in a world ideologically constructed where Israel is facing wide-spread boycotts from the Western powers (who nominally “support” it), and strong pressures to simply eliminate it flat out by its neighbors — well, you better be damn sure that Israel, alone, even in its economically hobbled state, can take on all of the neighbors who would be tempted to ride this wave, combined in military conflict. A hell of a gamble for you to take, but fortunately, nothing all that bad happens if you lose. Well, to you anyway.

    Finally, on the whole “wait and see” point (we’ll boycott until they leave the west bank, and if people still support it, then we’ll get upset): I think I’ve seen enough movies where Good Intentions Man makes a pact with Shady Character Group just so they can accomplish this one thing, and then we’ll put the monster back in its box. It would be an interesting twist if it ever worked out the way. Again: the only reason why bds against Israel is viable is because it depends upon the support of folks who don’t just want to see a two state solution. There’s no reason to think you’ll be able to close this box once its opened. Once you get this ball rolling, you have no idea where the avalanche will take you. It’s out of your hands (cf. Eugene Volokh, “The Mechanisms of the Slippery Slope”.).

  25. 25
    PG says:

    I think David’s point about with whom you will ally yourself is particularly relevant to the Global BDS Movement, which wants to boycott people (e.g. academics), not just monetized goods and services. If I were inclined to take action against the Israeli government, I might support a truly economic boycott. But that’s clearly not where the Movement as a whole is drawing its line, and I wouldn’t want my name added to their list and invoked as “We have so many millions of people in favor of our Movement, which includes boycotts of Israeli academics.” As Matt says, I would recommend starting a fresh, clean, hopefully anti-Semitism-free pressure group rather than joining the Global BDS Movement.

  26. 26
    Ampersand says:

    I don’t agree with the academic boycotts, but that wouldn’t keep me from signing on to the global BDS movement (is there a place to sign?). There are things I can’t sign agreement to, under any circumstances — most forms of violence, for example. Or explicit antiSemitism.

    But the difference between a BDS movement that is or isn’t including academics and artists in the boycott is a relatively narrow difference. I’m not willing to say that I won’t sign on to the only prominent non-violent international civilian movement to oppose Israeli violence against Palestinians because they’re including academics in their boycott movement. That seems to me to be weighing the plight of Israeli academics affected by the BDS movement, above the plight of Palestinians suffering under Israeli oppression.

  27. 27
    Ampersand says:

    David wrote:

    The US and China are every bit as vulnerable to a boycott as Israel is. A true bds campaign against the US would be devastatingly effective if it were pulled off.

    Yes, but it couldn’t be pulled off, imo. Which is why I say — practically speaking — the US isn’t vulnerable to the tactic.

    I think our difference here is semantics; when you say it’s vulnerable, you’re speaking in theory, and I agree that the US is theoretically vulnerable. But when I say it’s not vulnerable, I mean I don’t think it would happen in the real world, despite being a theoretical possibility.

    The difference is that boycotting the US would require much greater sacrifices by Ms. Klein and her ilk than boycotting Israel would.

    So according to you, Naomi Klein hasn’t jumped through an entirely hypothetical hoop that you just pulled out of your ass, and therefore she’s picking on Israel because she’s a hypocrite who would never sacrifice anything herself for the cause.

    Do I have to dignify this ad hom nonsense with a rebuttal?

    I find it hard to take seriously that Ms. Klein envisions her bds campaign as occurring in tandem with continued support for American military aid to Israel.

    Why do you find that hard to take seriously?

    The BDS campaign is an attempt to find an immediate alternative to the US seriously threatening to withdraw support, because no one — at least, no one who is a serious critic of Israeli policy that I’ve ever met — believes the US will withdraw military support.

    At most, the US will apply diplomatic pressure (there is a wide range of US options between the extremes of “support everything that Israel does uncritically” and “do nothing while Israel is wiped out by invading neighbors.”) And even that isn’t a sure thing.

    Let’s go back to what you imagine Klein thinks. Is there anything in Klein’s published views which indicates that she imagines the US government to be in agreement with her views, and willing to act extremely strongly on behalf of Palestinian human rights? Because my impression is that Klein is about as critical of the US government as anyone this side of Noam Chomsky.

    I don’t think it is beyond dispute that America would rush to send land troops to defend Israel if it were faced with the type of large-scale conflict which could truly threaten it…

    Why not? This isn’t the past (not that past conflicts were really existential threats for Israel). Support for Israel is extremely strong in the US, and we’re currently entirely willing to put boots on the ground in the mid-east (alas). Even I — and I’m more critical of Israel, and US support for Israel, than 90% of Americans — would expect that in the event of a existential military threat to Israel, the US can and should intervene.

    However, even short of boots on the ground, there’s a lot the US could do. American planes in the air combined with Israeli boots on the ground would be a devastating combo.

    All of this is ignoring, however, that Israel doesn’t need our military help (apart from the weapons we’ve already provided, that is). With or without the US, Israel is simply too powerful to be threatened militarily by the states around it.

    You think Israel’s army will still be this indestructible juggernaut if its economy is in shambles? Really, truly? That’s the position that’s tough to take seriously.

    Goodness knows, during the great depression, the US wasn’t able to be a military power. Nor are we a military power right now, actually, since our economy is in shambles. And everyone knows that every time there’s been an economic slowdown in the last 40 years, Israel’s military capacity collapsed.

    It’s not plausible that Israel would allow itself to get to the point of no longer being the most powerful military power in its region, rather than withdraw to the 1967 lines. The goal of the BDS movement isn’t to destroy the Israeli economy; it’s to put enough pressure on Israel that it changes its policies in order to find relief, before its economy is in “shambles.”

    Regardless of her intent, this would likely be seen as a green light for further violent actions by these elements (and honestly, Klein has no way to control how her movement will be interpreted on the ground in and around Israel). Sure, that’s not what she means, and if she’s miscalculated she’ll cry a river of good intentions. Huzzah. But put simply: In this context, why wouldn’t the groups who already think that Israel should be torn apart militarily take this a signal that the world now agrees with them — that Israel is worthy of this sort of concerted military action?

    This would lead to the conclusion that activists worldwide must freeze in inaction and never, ever criticize Israel or attempt to fight for Palestinian human rights in any way, lest we be misunderstood and accidentally set off anti-Israel Armageddon. Although I don’t think dehumanizing Palestinians is your intention, I don’t see how your argument is compatible with a serious commitment to the idea that the lives and human rights of Palestinians have value.

    Contrary to what you seem to believe, the reason the most Israel-hating countries don’t invade and destroy Israel isn’t that they’re waiting for Naomi Klein to give the (misinterpreted) word. The primary reason they don’t is that they are hugely outpowered by Israel. Putting pressure on Israel to treat Palestinians humanely does not change that calculus.

    Because the viability of bds supervenes upon the significant presence of groups (including states) that are anti-Israel in the strong sense (that is, they want to see the destruction of the state)

    I’m not convinced it does (although it wouldn’t matter much if it were — the importance of Palestinian lives and rights shouldn’t be something that waits until some unknown future date after all countries in the world love Israel).

    South Africa wasn’t vulnerable to a BDS movement because it faced existential military threats; it was vulnerable to it because it relied on trade with the first world economically, and because some South Africans cared about international opinion.

    A hell of a gamble for you to take, but fortunately, nothing all that bad happens if you lose. Well, to you anyway.

    David, do you really want to lower the argument down to this level? Because I could certainly respond tit-for-tat, but I’d like to think we’re both better than that.

  28. 28
    David Schraub says:

    The fact that the US is vulnerable to a boycott only in “theory” is precisely because practically, it would exact too great a price on the boycotters to do so. I’m not sure that you even dispute this, much less find it controversial — you just don’t seem to like the implications of it (namely, that fundamentally Klein is targeting Israel for a boycott because it’s easier to attack than the alternatives). But “that makes me sad” is even worse of a reason for dismissing an argument then “we have different assessments of Israel’s geopolitical situation in a boycott-world”.

    I’m taking Klein’s advocacy seriously — that is, I’m imagining what the world would look like if her program was popular enough so that it would actually bring the hurt onto Israel. It would seem that it would correlate rather heavily with no longer supporting military assistance to (much less intervention for) Israel. Your argument bizarrely blends the status quo (Israel is so powerful and so popularly supported by the West that it is indestructable!) with a major substantive change in Israel’s global position (widespread boycotting, divestment, and sanctions coming from the Western world!). It is simply irrational to the extreme to impose a bds and assume everything else holds constant. That’s not going to be what happens. We need to think critically about exactly how the dominos will fall.

    At the end of the day, we have different assessments of Israel’s geopolitical position — which is fine, though again I find it slightly disconcerting how confident you are in your position which seems to take as its predicate that the Israeli military is some sort of invulnerable godbeast (and I do think it is legitimate, on democratic grounds, to at least raise the issue when the folks making the policy don’t have to deal with the consequences. That isn’t to say external intervention is never permissible — only that it comes with democratic costs and we should forthrightly admit them, while saying they’re outweighed. The BDSers mostly face any negative consequences aside from guilt if they’re wrong. They should be clear that they know they don’t have a physical stake, but they feel confident enough to gamble with other people’s lives without their consent). Israel’s military can only stay at full mobilization for a short amount of time even right now. That’s because it is a small country with limited resources — the economic toll it takes to run Israel’s military at full tilt (as it would have to to defend itself against a major Arab assault) is massive. The US is a huge country with a massive population — its position in the great depression is no way comparable with an economically depressed Israel (where the rest of the world is actively trying to make the economy worse).

    This would lead to the conclusion that activists worldwide must freeze in inaction and never, ever criticize Israel or attempt to fight for Palestinian human rights in any way, lest we be misunderstood and accidentally set off anti-Israel Armageddon. Although I don’t think dehumanizing Palestinians is your intention, I don’t see how your argument is compatible with a serious commitment to the idea that the lives and human rights of Palestinians have value.

    This is a vicious ad hominem, and frankly a bizarre statement to boot. My argument is based off the expressive function that a large scale bds program emanating from the west would necessarily entail (I wrote rather extensively about the risks here). Diplomatic summits, negotiations, engagement, fostering of civic ties, specific (and proportionate) criticisms of particular policies — there are plenty of ways to try and end the conflict that wouldn’t lead to the expressive problems I worry about and you so cavalierly dismiss. Criticizing Israel really can’t be interpreted as sanctioning its destruction — saying it’s an international pariah state rather clearly can be. We cheer when pariah states collapse — we don’t prop them up. The bds is a heuristic for what the international community will accept vis-a-vis Israel. It isn’t paranoia to think that what would be a major change in that schema might alter folks’ interpretation of what they’re allowed to do. It is far more unreasonable to suspect that there would be no impact in the field whatsoever.

    At the end of the day, you’re really dependent on pulling this debate to the poles, because you can only ignore the scary implications of the program by pretending like its inevitable that we’ll hit nothing but net. We can be sure that Israel won’t be truly threatened by bds because Israel is invulnerable — it’s like evil Superman. America will still rush to Israel’s aid even after spending however many months or years of (at least) a large domestic constituency saying it is worthy of boycott (and which likely would oppose such an intervention) because nothing could ever crack America’s fundamental support for Israel (who knew Jews were so beloved?). Noting that we have to be mindful of the expressive function of particular programs of action which can have huge consequences that we don’t intend means nobody can ever criticize Israel ever — or take any action which might help bring an end to the conflict (It’s bds or nothing! Fuck OneVoice!). We can be sure that the bds movement will stay contained to exactly the perfectly just and limited lines we draw for it because … wait. You never did explain how that part works. Has nobody on this thread seen The Dark Knight?

  29. 29
    Mandolin says:

    and I do think it is legitimate, on democratic grounds, to at least raise the issue when the folks making the policy don’t have to deal with the consequences.

    Okay.

    I guess my problem with that in this conversation is that, well, as far as I know, neither you nor Barry (nor I) will suffer the consequences — either those which Israelis suffer, or those which Palestinians suffer.

    Why should it be appropriate to counter Barry’s argument with “you don’t have to personally, bodily deal with what happens to Israel when you take this position against Israeli actions”, when the correlate isn’t therefore offered to you: “you don’t have to personally, bodily deal with what happens to Palestinians when you don’t take a position against Israeli actions.”?

  30. 30
    Korolev says:

    The boycott SHOULD go ahead, even if it doesn’t work.

    Unfortunately, it will not work. The Chinese government is VERY interested in Israeli military technology. The Israeli government has tried to sell it to the Chinese government, with the US government actually stopping them on some occasions – pretty much the only time the US has stood up to Israel.

    If the US boycotts israel, if we boycott the Israeli military industry and their economy, over the crimes they’ve done to the palestinians, it will still be a worthwhile and moral thing to do. But they’d just find another buyer. And last time I checked, the Chinese government didn’t care much about the Palestinians (just a disclaimer, I’m half chinese, I obviously have nothing against the chinese people, but unfortunately, the government of the PRC isn’t exactly open to public criticism and debate). Israel would just become the best friend of the Russians and the Chinese and anyone else who wants their military tech. And you can’t boycott China.

    Well technically you can, but that has a snowflake’s chance in hell of happening.

    Again – we should go ahead with the boycott. Even if governments like the PRC step into fill our void, our stand would not be meaningless, and ulimately, we would not be contributing to the problem of the destruction of Palestine.

  31. 31
    Ampersand says:

    Diplomatic summits, negotiations, engagement, fostering of civic ties, specific (and proportionate) criticisms of particular policies — there are plenty of ways to try and end the conflict that wouldn’t lead to the expressive problems I worry about and you so cavalierly dismiss.

    As I said, I rank the real-world problems of Palestinians who are being subjugated, tortured, humiliated and murdered by Israel on a daily basis, above the purely hypothetical and speculative case that harsh international sanctions of Israel will inevitably lead to the devastation of Israel’s army and the US/Israel relationship followed by the Syrian army marching unopposed into Jerusalem.

    Any action, if you are willing to stretch credibility far enough, can hypothetically lead to disaster. (There’s an entire branch of competitive debate in which debaters spend years learning to logically “prove” that whatever it is they’re against will inevitably lead to nuclear war.) These kinds of extreme and implausible scenarios aren’t a sound basis for policy (“if we don’t invade Saddam he’ll nuke Kansas!”).

    I certainly support OneVoice, diplomatic overtures, and other such acts. But nothing in Israel’s history convinces me that these measures alone will be successful. I can’t discount the possibility that a boycott campaign would help. I’d be ashamed to say to Palestinian NGOs and activists — who are the people behind the BDS movement — that a peaceful campaign to change Israel’s mind through boycotts is not acceptable behavior.

    I do think it is legitimate, on democratic grounds, to at least raise the issue when the folks making the policy don’t have to deal with the consequences.

    David, you’re willing to gamble that “Diplomatic summits, negotiations, engagement, fostering of civic ties, specific (and proportionate) criticisms of particular policies” is going to be enough to get Israel to stop committing human rights abuses against Palestinians, without using more aggressive tactics (such as sanctions).

    Let me ask you — if you’re wrong about that, will you be the one holding your child’s mangled body? Will you be the one strapped to a chair in an Israeli cell and tortured?

    Because if not, I really, really think you should kindly shut the fuck up about how those nasty pro-Palestinian activists are the ones gambling with other people’s lives.

    The BDSers mostly face any negative consequences aside from guilt if they’re wrong. They should be clear that they know they don’t have a physical stake, but they feel confident enough to gamble with other people’s lives without their consent).

    Point to me a single time you’ve made this demand of any Israel partisan, David. Post the link, please.

    Incidentally, although of course there are participants all over the world, the BDS campaign is run primarily by Palestinian NGOs, both within and outside of Palestine. Some live in Palestine, which is, I’d bet, not as safe as where you live, David. Even for those who live outside of Palestine, many have loved ones who are in danger of being brutalized or killed by Israel every day.

  32. 32
    Ampersand says:

    Reading through my comments on this thread, I’m worried that people may mistakenly conclude that I think the Palestinians are saints, and the Israelis, brutes.

    Let me clarify, that’s not my view. Obviously, individuals on both sides have acted horribly, and so have the major governing institutions on both sides. (There are also notable Israelis and Palestinians who have acted like saints.)

    For various reasons — as an American taxpayer, a Jew, and as a person who prefers to side with the weaker in any struggle — I tend to concentrate more on criticizing the Israeli side of the conflict. But this is definitely a conflict with guilt on both sides.

  33. 33
    Charles S says:

    David,

    Just as the supporters of BDS are willing to gamble that BDS will lead to a positive outcome for both Israelis and Palestinians rather than a negative one, you are willing to gamble that opposing BDS will lead to a positive outcome, but if we are spinning hypotheticals, it is just as easy to spin the hypothetical that all the measures you support will not be enough to end Israeli persecution of Palestinians, and that this persecution will continue to erode US and European support for Israel, eventually leading to the West tolerating an Iranian attack on Israel. How dare you gamble with Israeli lives like that?

    Of course, neither of those hypotheticals has a chance in hell of coming to pass since, as Amp keeps pointing out, the Israeli military would kick Iran’s ass in a defensive conventional war, and would launch tens of nukes for every Iranian nuke (assuming that our little nightmare scenario includes Iran having any nukes at all) in a nuclear war. While you fear that a BDS campaign would destroy the Israeli economy, and thereby destroy its military might, I find this highly improbably. Consider North Korea, which is so impoverished that only by threatening to continue developing nuclear weapons can it get grain or fuel imports, and its people are so impoverished that they sell their daughters to Chinese peasants for food. Nonetheless, it maintains the 4th largest military in the world, with a million active duty soldiers on high alert, and has enough rockets to level Seoul, has the capacity to drop nuclear weapons on Tokyo and is steadily working towards the capacity to strike the Western US. Admittedly, it is a paranoid dictatorship, but Israelis are aware that their military is their last defense against an existential threat, so I expect they too would be willing to sacrifice almost anything to maintain their military might. North Korea demonstrates that they could do so, even if it meant living in the same sort of dire poverty that Gazans do.

    As Korolev points out (and is certainly the case with North Korea), Israeli military programs would become an even more significant source of income for Israel in your nightmare scenario, so while the rest of the economy might struggle, Israel would still find a rich market for weapons manufacture.

    Lastly, assuming that a successful BDS campaign would require that the US government also turn against Israel bears no relation to the history of the BDS campaign against South Africa. Did Reagan turn against South Africa?

    If the US government turns against Israel sufficiently that it would tolerate an invasion of Israel, the existence or non-existence of a BDS campaign will be the least of Israel’s issues.

  34. 34
    Charles S says:

    Personally, I doubt that a BDS campaign will gain sufficient traction to be effective (mostly out of popular suspicion that it is anti-Semitic, partly out of popular sympathy for collective punishment of Muslims), doubt that it would be effective if it did gain sufficient traction, and suspect that it does play into anti-Semitic themes in ways that will marginally increase anti-Semitism to the extent that it does gain traction. For all those reasons, I don’t particularly support a BDS campaign (I don’t particularly oppose it either, mostly for the first reason I don’t oppose it).

    I could just as easily be wrong, and maybe it will do some good without increasing anti-Semitism. I think the chance that I am wrong in the opposite direction and that a BDS campaign will lead to the annihilation of Israel is Zero.

  35. This is a slight digression, but I think it’s significant. I disagree with a great deal of what David has said on this thread so far–though I don’t particularly support BDS myself; I need to think more about it–but I do think he is right to point out what also feels to me as I read other posts the assumption that the Israeli military is some kind of super force. Not that it is not extremely powerful; but as the recent war in Lebanon showed, it is certainly not infallible, nor is it without weaknesses. Stopping short of a nuclear scenario, assuming that Israel could just kick the shit out of Iran, were it to invade, or easily counter a collective, well-planned and well-executed military onslaught by its neighbors, seems to me naive. It might be that Israel could emerge victorious from such conflicts–whatever “victorious” might mean in such a situation–but the price of that victory might also end up being too high, whatever “too high” might mean.

    I know that is vague, but I am not interested in arguing the specifics of a hypothetical attack on Israel that is catalyzed by BDS. It just seems to me wrong–and very close to buying into (though I know no one on the blog would do so purposefully) the rhetoric of the all-powerful Jews/Zionists who are going to take over the world–to argue against David from the position that Israel’s military is some kind of nearly invulnerable protection against the problems he foresees coming from BDS.

    Also, regarding the question of a boycott movement’s including a boycott of artists, academics, etc. The problem is not just that this targets people not the economy, but that it ultimately targets ideas and the uses of the imagination, no differently–or at least potentially no differently–than a dictatorship does; and any movement that does that, no matter what other good work it might do, is morally suspect (to me, at least,) to the point that I would have a hard time signing on, even if it is the only game in town. While this stance invites Amp’s questions about how to address the reality of Palestinian suffering right now–and that question is important, with its own, unquestionable, moral authority–there are plenty of other ways to oppose Israel’s policies on a personal and collective level. More to the point, a boycott movement–and I am not saying anyone on this thread has taken this position; I am just thinking this through–which took an “either you are for us or against us” position, such that people with principled objections to the boycotting of academics and artists would be labeled as supporters of Israel for not signing on would not be a movement to which I would be willing to grant any kind of moral or ethical authority.

  36. 36
    Myca says:

    Just as the supporters of BDS are willing to gamble that BDS will lead to a positive outcome for both Israelis and Palestinians rather than a negative one, you are willing to gamble that opposing BDS will lead to a positive outcome

    As a related matter, there has been discussion on this thread of how the BDS movement contains extremist anti-semites who are using the movement as a beard for the destruction of Israel, and that the presence of these bad actors within the BDS movement makes support for the movement immoral.

    That’s all well and good, but let’s flip it around, and discuss whether there are those who support, say, the US’s relationship with Israel as a beard for general middle-east invasions and adventurism. Does that make support for US defense of Israel immoral?

    Now, the danger in the first case is entirely hypothetical, and goes something like this: Maybe if the BDS campaign was wildly successful, it would cripple Israel’s economy to the point that they would no longer be able to maintain a military capable of defending themselves from their neighbors. Simultaneously, of course, the BDS campaign would have such an effect on US foreign policy that we would (contra our policies of the last 50 years) stand idly by while Israel was invaded.

    I guess it’s possible, but it does seem unlikely.

    The danger in the second case is entirely concrete. It goes like this: The US uses a hypothetical threat against Israel by a middle eastern nation as a pretext for invasion, and subsequently murders millions.

    How likely is it? Well, it’s happening right now.

    Certainly that wasn’t the only reason for invasion of Iraq, but the possibility of a WMD attack against Israel was a stated reason for invasion.

    Now, my argument isn’t that the US ought to stop supporting and defending Israel. In broad terms, I support that relationship. My point is more that there are plenty of extremists and bad actors on both sides, and slippery slope arguments are considered logical fallacies for a reason. If a policy is good, argue for it. If it might lead to something bad, then argue against the bad thing. That’s how it works.

    Also, in terms of moral culpability, before anyone starts laying “The Destruction of Israel” at the feet of those who support BDS, they ought to consider whether or not they want “Millions of Dead Iraqis” laid at their feet.

    —Myca

  37. 37
    Mandolin says:

    That’s all well and good, but let’s flip it around, and discuss whether there are those who support, say, the US’s relationship with Israel as a beard for general middle-east invasions and adventurism. Does that make support for US defense of Israel immoral?

    Or as a beard for making revelations come true, or as a beard for antisemitism.

    I do think it makes our support of Israel’s defense suspect. Suspect and worrying.

    Also, in terms of moral culpability, before anyone starts laying “The Destruction of Israel” at the feet of those who support BDS, they ought to consider whether or not they want “Millions of Dead Iraqis” laid at their feet.

    Obviously, i don’t really want those deaths at my feet. But I think they are there, and I think the connection between me and them is a lot less tenuous than the idea of boycott supporters having hypothetical Israeli bodies at their feet, at least at this point in proceedings.

  38. 38
    Ampersand says:

    Richard, the position that Israel is under immediate, plausible existential threat from invading armies isn’t a politically neutral position. As we’ve seen in this thread, and in countless discussions elsewhere, the “Iran invades Israel!” argument, and its ilk, is used to argue that even peaceful Palestinian actions against Israel are not acceptable and must not be supported.

    As such, I think it’s fair to ask the people putting forward the absurd “Iran invades Israel!” hypotheticals to do what you (understandably) would rather not do — “[argue] the specifics of a hypothetical attack on Israel that is catalyzed by BDS.”

    Because Palestinian lives have value. Because the moral claim of Palestinians to nonviolent resistance is enormously strong. And that value, and moral claim, is not outweighed because you make up an absurd hypothetical that you don’t care to get drawn into defending with specifics.

    The problem is not just that this targets people not the economy, but that it ultimately targets ideas and the uses of the imagination, no differently–or at least potentially no differently–than a dictatorship does; and any movement that does that, no matter what other good work it might do, is morally suspect (to me, at least,) to the point that I would have a hard time signing on, even if it is the only game in town.

    As far as I can tell (I’ve been reading up on it since this thread began), there’s no compulsion to support every single action the BDS movement undertakes. If you can’t support the academic boycott (and I think you’re right not to, in most cases), then don’t support it. Argue against it. That’s fine.

    But that’s not a reason to oppose, or fail to support, other boycotts that you believe are more justifiable.

    The BDS movement isn’t — from what I can tell so far — a “take it or leave it” dinner plate. It’s a buffet. Support those actions you feel you can support, decline or oppose the ones you feel are bad ideas.

    [P.S. Very briefly, is it unfair and dismissive of me to find the "Iran invades Israel" scenario absurd? I'd argue it's not. To invade Israel with ground forces, Iran has to either march through Iraq, which will have US and UK forces stationed there for many years to come, or through the mountains of Turkey, which has the region's most powerful military other than Israel's, plus some US troops stationed there. And after managing that feat, they'd then have to fight the Israeli army in Israel. Neither situation seems credible, let alone so likely that we can't support Palestinians for fear of it coming about.]

  39. 39
    David Schraub says:

    Point to me a single time you’ve made this demand of any Israel partisan, David. Post the link, please.

    As you wish (and here as well).

    I view democratic values as autonomy values. All else being equal (and it rarely is to be sure), I think we should let Israel and Palestine figure out who to prosecute and resolve their own conflict. There are lots of good reasons for this, but the two most important (aside from the inherent value of respecting autonomy) are that they have a greater stake in the situation than we do, and they are likely to have a more complete grasp over their own circumstances than we are. When I’m not willing to do that (“hey Israel — settlements really aren’t okay” “hey Palestine — no suicide bombings”), I have to justify it. Which is fine — sometimes I have to do that. But it is something that requires justification for why it is appropriate to override autonomy interests, and (where the intervened-upon are claiming the risk of catastrophic harm) why we’re sure that in this circumstance we have sufficient knowledge to be confident they are wrong in their assessment. I don’t think “not boycott” is symmetrical with “boycott” both because boycott is inherently coercive towards its target, whereas “not boycott” isn’t inherently coercive towards anyone, and because I’m not convinced that “boycott” really represents the preferences of any party as compared to say TULIP or OneVoice.

    But to answer your question most directly: Yes. To the extent that I am willing to try and channel the conflict-resolution energies in favor of constructive and diplomatic efforts, rather than antagonistic and hostile ones, and to the extent that these efforts are something external to the democratic preferences of the Israelis and/or Palestinians (and I’m not, to be sure, necessarily convinced that they are), I am willing to accept my share of the blame if something bad happens as a result — knowing full well that it isn’t me who will feel most of the repercussions, and thus knowing that my advocacy for these stances carries correspondingly reduced weight. I’ll take my stand, and I don’t flinch from its implications.

    I also want to point out that the US has never once intervened militarily to protect Israel, including in 1973 when it was genuinely at risk of destruction. So I don’t think my suspicion that we might not intervene in the future is a change in any policy.

  40. Amp,

    Because Palestinian lives have value. Because the moral claim of Palestinians to nonviolent resistance is enormously strong. And that value, and moral claim, is not outweighed because you make up an absurd hypothetical that you don’t care to get drawn into defending with specifics.

    I’m not sure if this was directly specifically at me, but I was not arguing that the Iran-might-invade-Israel scenario is a plausible one; I agree with you that it is not; and I agree with what you say about moral claims of Palestinians; and I agree with you that the existential threat to Israel that David posits is, given the current state of the world, pretty far fetched, even if you grant his position that Israel has few friends in the world community. My point was simply, and maybe I wrote carelessly, that answering that scenario–hypothetical or not–with the assumption that Israel’s military prowess automatically cancels the scenario out (as some on this thread have done; I don’t remember who) is problematic. Anyway, as I said, that was a digression from the main point of this thread and it’s probably not worth spending time on. I just wanted to clarify my own position a little bit.

    Regarding boycotts, and here I confess my ignorance: If what people are talking about here is not a single movement, with a coherent ideology that includes boycotting academics, artists, etc., your point is well taken. If it is a single movement that espouses those kinds of boycotts as part of its ideology, even if I support and engage in, personally, a boycott that makes sense to me and that they also have called for, I would not lend that movement my name’s support.

  41. 41
    Ampersand says:

    Richard, I definitely misunderstood the point you were making. Thanks for clarifying, and I regret my angry tone earlier.

    I’ve only just now reading up on it, so it’s extremely possible I’m misunderstanding. But as far as I can tell the BDS umbrella website is just a gathering spot for a lot of related but separate BDS-related actions, which are organized by different groups. If you look at their FAQ, for example, the questions and answers are individually credited to different Palestinian rights organizations.

    I don’t see anyplace that people are asked to lend their names to the movement as a whole; instead, the purpose seems to be to provide people with access to specific actions going on that they can choose to participate in. (Again, however, perhaps I’m mistaken.)

  42. 42
    Ampersand says:

    As you wish (and here as well).

    Well, I’ve certainly got some crow on my plate. :-)

    David, I agree that we all bear some responsibility for the outcomes of our actions, and this should be particularly in the minds of people at no actual risk.

    Where we part ways is your apparent belief that because I find the scenarios you’re bringing up far-fetched, I am cavalier about harms to Israel or Israelis.

  43. Pingback: The Debate Link

  44. 43
    chingona says:

    I view democratic values as autonomy values. All else being equal (and it rarely is to be sure), I think we should let Israel and Palestine figure out who to prosecute and resolve their own conflict. There are lots of good reasons for this, but the two most important (aside from the inherent value of respecting autonomy) are that they have a greater stake in the situation than we do, and they are likely to have a more complete grasp over their own circumstances than we are.

    This statement treats the conflict as if it occurs in a vacuum in which the U.S. is not a major provider of foreign aid and military equipment to Israel and in which BDS is not something thought up and advocated by Palestinians themselves. But that’s not the case. BDS is something Palestinians came up with as a method of non-violent resistance. I don’t think lending either moral or material support to that cause enters into the realm of imposing some sort of outside solution. And I say that as someone who has some qualms about some of what they’re proposing.

    And I find it a bit bizarre to argue that if BDS might be successful at shifting some Israeli policies, going ahead with it would constitute “bullying.”

    Personally, I think tying U.S. aid to Israel to specific concessions/actions by the Israeli government would be more effective than BDS and something the U.S. would be well within its rights to do as an autonomous and democratic country, but there is a lot of frustration and impatience among people who have been waiting for the U.S. to exert more pressure on Israel in this regard. We went seriously backwards under Bush (beard for fulfilling revelations?) and it’s not clear at all yet how Obama will handle I/P. BDS represents an opportunity for people as individual actors, not governments, to act both in opposition to the Israeli government and in solidarity with Palestinians. I think that’s one reason you’re seeing more traction on the cultural/academic front, which is the front I find most problematic and least likely to actually have any impact – the type of people who would want to do something like this are more likely to be in the cultural/academic fields themselves (I say one reason. Another reason is, I think, antisemitism) so they are pushing this where they feel able to actually have an impact.

    I don’t think Israel’s military might is infinite and I do have doubts about whether we’d actually send in ground troops to defend Israel, but I don’t think BDS, even if moderately successful at having a negative impact on Israel’s economy, would either “cripple” Israel’s economy or leave it unable to engage in defense. The most likely scenario would be that putting more resources into maintaining military readiness would increase the impact of BDS on the rest of the economy, leading to more discontent with the government among ordinary Israelis. Whether that translates into a government more willing to make concessions/negotiate is a bit of an unknown. But I just don’t see BDS leading to the destruction of Israel, not because Israel’s military is now and always will be invincible but because that just doesn’t tend to be how sanctions affect a country’s or a government’s approach to its military.

  45. 44
    David Schraub says:

    I just get really upset when — because I don’t buy into some leftist orthodoxies about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict — automatically my bona fides in terms of wanting a genuine two-state solution and doing my best to secure the rights of Israelis and Palestinians are suspect. I throw my lot in with Engage, TULIP, and OneVoice instead of PACBI and the BDSM (of all the acronyms….). Consequently, its apparently open to question whether my views are “compatible with a serious commitment to the idea that the lives and human rights of Palestinians have value.” In prior threads the fact that I very openly and aggressively talk about anti-Semitism as an issue was apparently warrant enough to ask me whether there was any criticism of Israel I would not “reflexively” label anti-Semitic. It can get very suffocating.

    I do think your energies would be better served (and your politics better represented) drumming up support for the missions of TULIP, Engage, and OneVoice than that of PACBI. I think we need less conflict, not more; I think we need to build bridges, not burn them. Klein is trying to argue that engagement is futile — that there are no other ways to actually spark meaningful change other than her program; that it is the only choice in front of us. This. Is. A. Lie. Don’t give into it.

  46. 45
    Maia says:

    I am generally quite sceptical about boycotts as a tactic – as atomised forms of resistance they’re often quite meaningless. But I think there is an example, with South Africa, of how this strategy can go beyond individual action.

    Earlier in the thread there was a lot of comparing a BDS strategy with the sanctions against Cuba, Iraq etc. There is no call for state-sanctions on the BDS website (just against preferential treatment, and for boycotts on the local level). State run sanctions, and grass-roots movements for BDS are entirely different, both in their purpose and their effect. The campaign against South Africa, which received more state-level international support, than a campaign against Israel is likely to, demonstrates that while these movements don’t have the power to cripple an economy, they can be effective tactics for raising political issues, showing solidarity, and putting pressure on the regime.

    I’m interested in the idea that the inclusions of academics and culture institutions de-legitimises the boycott. Julie you said that you saw academic boycotts as about dogma, not tactics, and I was wondering why you don’t see an academic boycott as a tactic, albeit one you disagree with. Richard made a similar argument. And I wonder where this fits with your position/understanding on the boycotts of South Africa. I know these were a bigger political issue in NZ and the US, and it’s possible for an American leftist not to have a position on them (unlike in New Zealand). But the calls to boycott South Africa included academics from 1965. I see the organisation around, particularly the sporting boycott and divestment as being absolutely essential anti-apartheid work

    I think, as many people have said, one of the important things of a campaign like BDS – is that it is an active showing of solidarity to Palestinian activists. In 1981, one of the Springbok’s rugby matches was stopped when 300 people ran onto the field and would not leave (the story’s longer than that, but that’s the idea). The match was being broadcast live across South Africa, and instead of a match they saw a protest. Nelson Mandela said that when he heard of it, it was like the sun coming out.

  47. Maia,

    It’s not that I don’t see boycotting academics/artists as a tactic. Of course it is a tactic, but it is one that I disagree with because I think, first, that is essentializing, and it smacks of a kind of identity politics that I think is ultimately destructive. Doesn’t matter what your politics are, if you are from the “tainted” nation, if you work for/within the “tainted” nation, you are “tainted.” But also I think a boycott of academics/artists ends up being an attack on the use of imagination; it suggests that is impossible from within the “tainted” nation to imagine something other than the status quo, to work towards whatever that something else is–or, perhaps, more accurately, it suggests that whatever is imagined/thought/created within the status quo in the “tainted” nation, no matter how much it might oppose that status quo, is, cannot be, legitimate. It is not so different, it seems to me, from the kind of thinking that leads dictators and other totalitarian regimes to ban/silence artists and academics. I realize that a boycott of academics/artists in, say, Israel does not silence them in the same way that, say, banning in Iran or Myanmar does, that there are other outlets for the work of Israeli academics/artists. My point is not about the individual work that might not get the hearing/audience it would in the absence of a successful boycott, but rather about the stance towards the work of producing knowledge/art that such a boycott would at the very least imply, and if that stance is part of an ideological platform put forth to justify a boycott then, yes, I would find not the idea of boycotting itself, but that platform, the people who put it forward and the boycott that results–assuming one does result–suspect. I hasten to add that, to the extent I have not researched the groups calling for a boycott of Israel, I am speaking here in the abstract, about a principle, not the stance I would actually have towards these groups were I more informed.

  48. 47
    PG says:

    My recollection of the cultural boycott of South Africa is that it was highly controversial and highly variable — for example, there was a specific exemption in the U.S. trade embargo for materials like books, and then on the other extreme Trinity College in Dublin made scholarly collaboration with South Africans a firing offense.

    I’d also urge U.S. residents who run businesses and are contemplating joining an anti-Israel boycott to read up on the federal Anti-Boycott Laws. Small businesses have gotten slammed with fines just for unknowingly breaching the law by signing what they thought were standard contracts with the government of Dubai, for example. The U.S. government does not look kindly upon individuals’ trying to counter the stated government policy of friendship with Israel.

  49. 48
    Maia says:

    Sorry Richard – I don’t think I was clear in my question to you. I was wondering if those ideas also applied to the movements to boycott and divest South Africa, given that they were also in tandem with a boycott of South African academics. I believe (alhtough only from wikipedia) that the academic boycott was called for by the same organisation that drove many of the other boycotts (at least in the UK) and support by many anti-apartheid activists, including Desmond Tutu. Does that colour your view of the boycott movement against South Africa as a whole?

    It may not be a useful question. In New Zealand, the sports boycott (or more accurately the breaking of the sports boycott) was a formative political moment, and therefore even people with limited knowledge of the time, will have engaged with the ideas of the South African boycott. I know this isn’t true in America.

  50. 49
    chingona says:

    I’m interested in the idea that the inclusions of academics and culture institutions de-legitimises the boycott.

    One of my concerns, reading the description at the web site, is that I was really unclear if they were calling for a boycott of institutions and the people who work for them or if they were calling for a boycott of all Israelis. Boycotting, say, the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, just to use the example above, would be similar to a sports boycott, in that the orchestra goes abroad as a semi-official representative of the state, similar to the way the Olympic team represents the country. That’s one thing. But should an international film festival not screen, say, Waltz with Bashir, because it is Israeli? Certainly, showing Waltz with Bashir, in and of itself, does not end the occupation or radically change the political calculus for anybody. But I think it’s better to hear those voices (and many others) than not to hear them, especially in the United States where the mainstream political discussion is somewhat constrained. Also, I am very hesitant to say to an individual Israeli artist or writer – it doesn’t matter what you do or what you think or what you say with your work; all that matters is what you are. Additionally, to what extent does it undermine the work those people are doing at home if they are shunned abroad? To what extent does it reinforce rather than undermine the “with us or against us” mentality? But at the same time, I recognize that a blanket ban may actually be less problematic than a case-by-case ban because the case-by-case ban subjects artists and writers to a kind of purity test. Are you anti-Zionist enough? Have you condemned the Israeli state enough? That’s bad, too. And I’m really unclear whether I’m being asked to avoid any and all Israeli art and thought or just institutions representing the nation-state.

    Reading the stuff on cultural/academic boycott at the BDS web site, it seems a big part of it is that Israel has targeted Palestinian media and culture and restricted freedom of movement, publication and exchange for Palestinian artists and writers across the political spectrum. Palestinian academics and activists often can’t get visas to attend conferences or accept awards, regardless of their politics. The point of it seems to be that the international community should subject Israeli intellectuals to the same treatment Israel gives to Palestinian intellectuals (this is setting aside the other aspects of Israeli academia that might be tied in with the tech sector of the economy or weapons research). So … I get that. I think I’d be more comfortable with this aspect of a boycott campaign if it was more targeted and specific – like, we won’t show any Israeli films at this festival unless the Palestinian filmmaker we wanted to invite gets travel documents. And if he or she doesn’t, we’ll plaster it all over the program that the Palestinians who we wanted to invite couldn’t get travel documents and try to get media coverage of that issue. Something like that.

    I am certainly influenced on this issue by worries about antisemitism, by the way all Jews get lumped together on this. Maybe it’s inappropriate to extend that concern to all Israelis being lumped together. Maybe that’s missing the point. But I can’t just erase my concerns there.

  51. 50
    Julie says:

    I think we need less conflict, not more; I think we need to build bridges, not burn them. Klein is trying to argue that engagement is futile….

    But Klein specifically addresses building bridges in point 4 of her article. She’s not saying that any engagement is futile; on the contrary, she’s advocating ways of forming coalitions with Israeli activists. (As I said earlier, this runs the risk of turning into loyalty oaths, and we do need to address that problem.) Maybe I’m misunderstanding your point here?

    I’m interested in the idea that the inclusions of academics and culture institutions de-legitimises the boycott. Julie you said that you saw academic boycotts as about dogma, not tactics, and I was wondering why you don’t see an academic boycott as a tactic, albeit one you disagree with.

    I don’t think it de-legitimizes the entire boycott; it’s just one aspect of it that I disagree with. In my experience (and I wish I had sources for this besides the one I quoted above, sorry), calls for academic/artistic boycotts have included prohibiting individual scholars and artists from working or publishing abroad, and I don’t see how that’s effective or fair, especially since there are many Israelis trying to emigrate. (A similar example, I guess, would be prohibiting an individual Israeli worker from looking for work abroad.) But let me stress again that I haven’t done much research on it yet. Am I being hypocritical by getting the jibblies when academics are targeted, but not when divesting from a company runs the risk of costing working-class Israelis their jobs? Maybe.

  52. 51
    Whit says:

    I’m sorry, I may be developing the beginning of glaucoma, and reading very large blocks of text gives me a migraine. So I’ve had to skim over many responses, which I apologize for.

    Some things are sticking out to me. I left a liberal artsy type (which is where I think most of the other commenters are coming from) minor behind to pursue a science education completely. So when I think of boycotting academics, I’m not thinking of boycotting philosophy or literature professors. I’m thinking about refusing to collaborate with scientists. And that seems perfectly reasonable and supportable, since Israeli techn0logical innovations are being weaponized against the Palestinians. I think the BDS website mentions this, specifically about Motorola.

    The other aspect of boycotting artists and academics that the bds website mentions is about highlighting the israeli state’s refusal to allow palestinian artists and academics enjoy similar freedom, and encouraging seeking ties to palestinians instead. Plus, ya know, it’s kind of classist to be willing to boycott factory workers and fruit pickers but not professors and painters.

    David, the subtle difference here:

    ”hey Israel — settlements really aren’t okay” “hey Palestine — no suicide bombings”

    irritates me. You’re speaking in the imperative voice, as an order, to palestine and not to israel. That’s not right on multiple levels.

  53. 52
    Mandolin says:

    Plus, ya know, it’s kind of classist to be willing to boycott factory workers and fruit pickers but not professors and painters.

    I disagree. One can boycott a corporation without boycotting a fruit picker. If at any time, I am in a position to make an economic transaction with an independent Israeli fruit picker, I’ll go ahead and buy that fruit.

    But hey, yeah. This has actually solidified my position. I’m not personally going to be supporting a boycott against Israel. I don’t mind the idea that one would try to prevent large amounts money from flowing directly toward their government/military, but the stick-your-fingers-in-your-ears approach to an entire culture? Nah. I’m sure as fuck not going to participate in silencing Israeli voices. Sorry.

    If, on the other hand, someone wants to offer me an option of specific work I can do to promote Palestinian voices? Sure, I’ll do that.

  54. 53
    Eyal says:

    The most likely scenario would be that putting more resources into maintaining military readiness would increase the impact of BDS on the rest of the economy, leading to more discontent with the government among ordinary Israelis.

    There seems to be an underlying assumption here exemplified by the above quote – why assume the reaction of the Israeli public would be against the Israeli government? Bear in mind that while the occupation has many critics here in Israel, the amount of Israelis who would cheerfully welcome being boycott is less than it seems Klein assumes.

    A lot of the international community is already percieved in Israel as being willing to ignore threats or harm to Israelis in support of the Palesetinians. Given that, I think it would be more likely any mass anger would be aimed at the people doing the boycott – and, more significantly, the Palestinians as well (especially given that it’s PAlestinian organizations initiating the boycott) – long before pressure was brought to bear on the government.

    In short, boycotts at a level sufficient to do significant harm to the Israeli economy may well have an opposite reaction to what its adocates are hoping.

  55. 54
    Julie says:

    Plus, ya know, it’s kind of classist to be willing to boycott factory workers and fruit pickers but not professors and painters.

    But again – as Mandolin said – this comes down to individuals versus institutions. Your example of collaborating with scientists is a good one. Not working on an experiment with an Israeli physics department is different than refusing to hire a physicist because she was born in Israel.

    Which isn’t to say, though, that we should ignore the classism of why the question of academics and artists has taken such a prominent place on this thread. (I’m not demanding that we all flagellate ourselves, of course, but it helps to keep it in mind.)

  56. 55
    chingona says:

    It’s not without class elements, but I think the other reason is that when we talk about academics and culture, we’re talking about ideas and thoughts, not products. I don’t think it’s classist to not want to silence Israeli voices.

  57. 56
    Julie says:

    Oh, and Whit – I’m so sorry to hear about the migraines and (possible) glaucoma.

  58. 57
    Mandolin says:

    I think the other reason is that when we talk about academics and culture, we’re talking about ideas and thoughts, not products.

    This.

    When you block out the ideas and thoughts of any group, it’s bad. When you block out the ideas and thoughts of a historically oppressed group, that’s going to inevitably play into that oppression, regardless of intent.

  59. 58
    Eurosabra says:

    The other thing is that Israeli society as a society is subject to asymmetric threats (suicide bombing and ground-to-ground rockets) that have mimicked BDS, and that BDS may mimic the effect of asymmetric threats. We had a foretaste of pariah status disguised as a practical measure in Intifada Two during the period when only El Al and Continental Airlines were making international flights to Israel, because Air France/Air Canada/British Airways/every other “fair weather friend’s” national airline no longer found the “physical safety of crews guaranteed” in hotels in downtown Tel Aviv. Lufthansa halted flights for *six years*. So BDS is going to be experienced as siege, l’malshinim ein tikvah, and TWA 847 really paid off, just a few decades later.

    It is not invasion by an Iranian army but a general drawing down of Israeli society as in 1973 and 2001-2 by a combination of random aerial threat and economic boycott and stagnation that could undo Israel, the model is South Africa and Goa without the democratic successor government, a whittling-away on the basis of Palestinian demographic superiority between the river and the sea that will finally produce the all-Palestine Parliament of the Mufti’s dreams. Given the danger involved and how completely I saw Tel Aviv and West Jerusalem shut down, I can only hope that Israel would be able to respond clandestinely in an appropriate fashion, undoing embargos of its property and assets in Europe and boycotts as it did in 1947 and 1970. (The loss of Palestinian-Jewish-held assets in the UK by the elimination of the Palestine Pound and the refusal to redeem it with Sterling was unavoidable, however.) You lack the knowledge of Israeli history to understand the extent to which this is an old, old game, and the echos, deeper still, of ransom of Diaspora Jewish communities in Syria, Yemen, or Romania or even the persecution of Eastern European Jews as “Zionists” in the post-war period.

  60. 59
    Whit says:

    If, on the other hand, someone wants to offer me an option of specific work I can do to promote Palestinian voices? Sure, I’ll do that.

    That reads to me as “Teach me. Show me. Make it easier for me to help you.” It’s something you should seek out on your own, sans guide.

    I disagree. One can boycott a corporation without boycotting a fruit picker.

    Living in se michigan, it’s very easy for me to see the effects of a corporation’s products losing its market share and how that affects the workers. Boycotting a product does material damage to workers first, then after the corporation has squeezed every last bit of blood out of them, will they turn on the white collar management structure. My default allegiance is almost always with the workers, because they need it the most.

    Thanks, Julie. Hopefully it’s nothing serious.

  61. 60
    David Schraub says:

    But Klein specifically addresses building bridges in point 4 of her article. She’s not saying that any engagement is futile; on the contrary, she’s advocating ways of forming coalitions with Israeli activists. (As I said earlier, this runs the risk of turning into loyalty oaths, and we do need to address that problem.) Maybe I’m misunderstanding your point here?

    As I put it in my piece, Klein’s “personal story” in part four was another way of saying “I have no real way of responding to this objection.” The story was (a) not consistent with the letter or spirit of a boycott (unless donating profits to an Israeli company can be reconciled with it) and (b) not really replicable in the vast majority of commercial transactions that the boycott would effect. Then she talks for awhile about how the boycotters will still talk to each other (probably even more than before!), and “rants” will continue unabated. And then she goes on a tangent about the relative sway Israel has over the high-tech gadgetry market. It was a spectacular display in the art of the non-sequitor.

    I read Klein talking about engagement at three points. First was right at the top, when she (falsely) dismisses “constructive engagement” as a failure. So from the get-go she’s basically saying “trying to work together with these folks is futile — we need to speak a language they understand: economic pain.” Klein is rather explicit in casting her project as in opposition to constructive engagement. That automatically means you’re going to lose a big swath of players: TULIP, Engage, J Street, probably OneVoice, probably a good 80% of the Israeli population, etc.. There really is an either/or choice here.

    Second is when she tries to argue that because BDS is a movement, the coordination itself is a net boost to dialogue. But of course, movement building (particularly one centered around boycotts) pitted against a particular grouping doesn’t create dialogue with that group, it creates monologue. More talk amongst like-minded people doesn’t accomplish anything on a dialogic front — particularly when it is coupled with a “tactical” refusal to engage with alternative views. Paired with the first point, it’s pretty clear that Klein rather actively disavows any desire to try and productively converse with the Israeli community writ large.

    Third comes in the same paragraph, when she says that the boycott won’t reduce our ability to “rant” at each other. I certainly agree with that — indeed, I suspect that the position of rants in the discursive pantheon will increase rather dramatically if Klein’s view is adopted. Nonetheless, it is a revealingly dismissive word choice as to the place of dialogue in Klein’s worldview. One gets the feeling that Klein supports BDS for precisely this reason: that she thinks that all the talking is essentially a “rant” — that there is virtually nobody (aside from whatever tiny sliver of the population is willing to sanction a self-boycott) on the Israeli side that is saying anything in good faith or worth listening to. I fundamentally disagree with this assessment, and I think Klein is doing a terrible thing in promoting this ideal. It is the sort of fatalistic despair that has kept the conflict alive for so long — the idea there is no alternative save fighting the conflict harder. It is not what we need.

    As Matt talks about (referencing Gershom Gorenberg), the boycott is a reinscription of the mentality and practice of bilateral conflict. Groups like Engage and OneVoice and TULIP and J Street are working desperately to try and breach that paradigm. You can’t be on both sides simultaneously. You either fan the flames (and hope one consumes the other), or you grab a fire hose.

  62. 61
    Mandolin says:

    That reads to me as “Teach me. Show me. Make it easier for me to help you.” It’s something you should seek out on your own, sans guide.

    And yet, here we are in a thread that’s discussing, and making available, the option for joining a movement to boycott Israel.

    This is specifically a situation wherein one group of people (BDS) is soliciting members to join their kind of activism. When I say no to being solicited, but offer an option that I would find tenable, that’s.. giving them an option for how to court segments of their imagined audience.

    This thread is all about guides. So, chastising me for not being my own, in that context, is problematic.

  63. 62
    Maia says:

    I think the conversationc about cultural boycott is getting quite hypothetical. Maybe that’s because other people have a larger field of knowledge than I do. But this focus on individual Israeli’s seems to be talking more about what might happen, than what has (let alone not giving jobs to Israeli academics who are trying to leave Israel). This is the Call for Action:

    . 1. Refrain from participation in any form of academic and cultural cooperation, collaboration or joint projects with Israeli institutions;
    2. Advocate a comprehensive boycott of Israeli institutions at the national and international levels, including suspension of all forms of funding and subsidies to these institutions;
    3. Promote divestment and disinvestment from Israel by international academic institutions;
    4. Work toward the condemnation of Israeli policies by pressing for resolutions to be adopted by academic, professional and cultural associations and organizations;
    5. Support Palestinian academic and cultural institutions directly without requiring them to partner with Israeli counterparts as an explicit or implicit condition for such support.

    I can see that the section on the BDM website under Make it Happen that go further than the call for action. But the call is specifically about institutions.

    I think I read the call-out quoted on your link different from you did Julie. It seemed to be calling for (from the BDS website): “Using Israeli performances, visits, and film screenings as an opportunity to highlight occupation and apartheid amongst the wider public.” Rather than stopping them coming or stopping people perform (particularly the time frame makes either of those aims unlikely). [ETA: I've read to the end of that thread, and the original call was different from the one in the post and asked for places not to host the tour. But I don't think that changes me view. It wouldn't have mattered if the South African lawn bowls team was a hot-bed of anti-apartheid activists, I still would have thought it acceptable, indeed imperative to uphold the sports boycott). And I really think the point of that is about it being an Israeli institution, not boycotting the individuals].

    I don’t necessarily disagree with what Richard, Mandolin and others have been saying about the problems of a cultural/academic boycott. But I think it’s more a continuum than a line, and given that I support everything mentioned in the call for Action, the possibility of different interpretations of that call from other people, seems like a small problem compared to the difficult of showing solidarity with Palestinians from half a world away.

    To give a comparison, earlier this year there was a tennis tournament in Auckland around the same time as the invasion of Gaza, an Israeli player was playing. A Palestinian solidarity group asked for her to withdraw in solidarity with Gazans, and when she didn’t protested outside. This seemed a little ridiculous to me (not least the asking her to withdraw part which was disenguous) and the focusing on individuals rather than teams (and also as I’ll talk about a little bit more below, my general attitude towards the section of New Zealand left which loves sports boycotts). But the fact that I disagreed with this action, wouldn’t stop me from participating in other calls for sports boycotts against Israeli teams.

    Mandolin I think describing the boycott as a stick-your-ears response to an entire culture is an inaccuarate description of what the boycott movement is trying to do and why. In particular, if you were interested in making links with Palestinian voices the boycott groups are the groups that are doing that, and the boycott is called for by those Palestinians.

    I also think that diverting funds from Israel is only part of the point (and I think that it’ll be the least successful part, if what I know of boycotts hold true). A lot of this appears to be about educating, agitating and organising – using BDS as a way of raising the issue in places where Israel are very far away. It may be why I’m having a different reaction to other people. My knowledge of boycotts, and understanding of capitalism, is that the possiblity of doing economic damage is relatively small (how long is it since the call to boycott Nestle on teh grounds of babymilk?).

    Incidentally, I think one of the important points about the tactical element of a boycott is the language used. There are good tactical reasons that a BDS movement will be more effective against Israel than against the US. But if when talking about that you make it sound ilke the reason that you’re calling for the boycott of Israel is because it is exceptionally awful as a state, that you are tacitly endorsing teh other states. You see this a bit in NZ, where there are parts of the left that reflexively call for sports boycotts (Israel, Fiji, Zimbabwe in the last few years) while saying things like “It’s appalling that we play with a nation that does X, Y & Z. We must not support their state.” Implying that all those other states that we are playing sport with are A-OK.

  64. 63
    Whit says:

    Mandolin, that’s not how I saw it. I dislike outreach, because it is so much about being the facilitator and building the bridges to the privileged, who just stand there and don’t do the heavy lifting themselves. I’m assuming that someone is coming from the place of already accepting that Palestinian voices, artists, academics, and lives should be given a platform to raise awareness and bring pressure to bear on the Israeli military & government to stop the genocide. If someone is starting at that place, then it strikes me as pretty privileged to expect that they can help improve the lives of palestinians without doing some work themselves to find out how.

    If the first assumption I’m making is wrong, and someone needs to be convinced, then I refer back to disliking outreach.

  65. 64
    Sailorman says:

    I might actually support a boycott to some degree, though not the platform of BDS.

    By insisting on the full right of return, for example, IMO it pretty much sets itself up to fail. I don’t think that anyone has seriously thought that Israel is likely to allow that to happen. If the goal is “boycott until all goals are reached,” I would prefer that the goals were ones I could get behind, and also ones which seem like they could be reached.

    Otherwise it seems like less of a call to get people to change, and more of a call to start an economic war. It would be a bit like saying “we won’t talk to you unless you agree to ally with us against Syria”, as opposed to “we won’t talk to you unless you agree that we can exist as a country.”

    Ampersand Writes:
    May 3rd, 2009 at 10:06 am
    Because the moral claim of Palestinians to nonviolent resistance is enormously strong. And that value, and moral claim, is not outweighed because you make up an absurd hypothetical that you don’t care to get drawn into defending with specifics.

    Really? I don’t think that the Palestinians have done an especially good job of staking out their position as morally-enormously-strong nonviolent resisters. Without going into the “everyone is morally culpable” realm, it seems fairly obvious that the Palestinians have been using a fairly different strategy than that which was used by, say, the civil rights movement, or in fighting apartheid. In fact, it seems that the Palestinian tactic has generally been one of armed/violent resistance, not the alternative.

    For what it’s worth, I have often wondered why the Palestinians have not done nonviolent resistance more effectively. In terms of moving hearts and minds of the world populace, they’d do a lot if they used more NV tactics, and I suspect that they would be a lot more effective in persuading Israel.

    For example, the plaintive cry “open our borders so that we can travel freely through them” is a lot more compelling when succeeded by “…so that we can trade and prosper as partners in the new world together” and a lot less compelling when succeeded by “…even though our formal stance is that you should not exist.”

    NV resistance is really often more about spin than about facts. And I don’t get why, if there really is a NV goal, the Palestinians have such bad spin. I’m not talking about “we will prevent a single rocket from being fired,” I’m talking about issuing official condemnations when shit happens; of removing the anti-Israel diatribes from the platforms, etc.

    I am not sure I agree with some posters about the effects of a boycott. I think that it would probably not endanger the survival of Israel, and I don’t think the boycott is inherently anti-Semitic. But if you look at the distinguishing characteristics of really successful NVR movements, the group seeking vindication usually stakes a stronger claim to ultimate morality than the Palestinians have done, and as a result I do not think that this boycott will be successful.

  66. 65
    PG says:

    Without going into the “everyone is morally culpable” realm, it seems fairly obvious that the Palestinians have been using a fairly different strategy than that which was used by, say, the civil rights movement, or in fighting apartheid.

    There were certainly violent factions in the anti-apartheid movement; South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission had many witnesses who testified to violence committed by the ANC and other liberation forces. Archbishop Desmond Tutu criticized the ANC for using violence, and the U.S. government classified the ANC as a terrorist organization (which is why we embarrassingly had Nelson Mandela on a terrorist watch list until last year).

    What Palestine does seem to lack is a high-profile leader like Desmond Tutu who has had an unswerving commitment to nonviolence, or even a Mandela who can point to a serious past effort to reach goals through nonviolence and a resort to violence only when nonviolent methods proved ineffective (as was made clear at the Sharpeville Massacre when police shot and killed unarmed protesters).

  67. 66
    Sailorman says:

    There were certainly violent factions within the ANC–militant as heck–but by and large, the public face of the ANC was one which was more of NVR. I think that had a lot to do with the acceptance of the BDS campaign against south africa.

  68. 67
    PG says:

    Sailorman,

    We might be speaking of different time periods. I’m thinking of the ANC of the 1960s and 1970s, not just the ’80s. The ANC could be seen as being made up not only of the Nelson Mandelas but also the Winnie Mandelas. (Winnie Mandela encouraged “necklacing,” filling a rubber tire with gas, forcing it over an opponent’s head and setting it on fire.)