There has recently been a rise in criticism of the way that Israel is acting in the Occupied Territories and the fact that its treatment of Palestinians that has been getting increasingly worse. An Israeli human rights group Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) has published a report “which claimed that children suspected of minor crimes were subjected to “public caging”, threats and acts of sexual violence and military trials without representation” and “accused the government of torturing children after it emerged some were kept in outdoor cages during winter.”
Images such as the one below showing what a checkpoint looks like that Palestinians have to routinely go though on a daily basis are being seen around the world and will seem eerily familiar to those who are old enough to recall the apartheid days of South Africa.
At some of these checkpoints, up to 10,000 Palestinian workers have to pass through them every day, moving extremely slowly in often sweltering heat. It should hardly be surprising that a man who had heart problems died in one of them, leaving behind a wife and seven children.
As accounts of the abuses pile up, Jonathan Cook writes that global public opinion is turning against Israel’s policies at an accelerated pace.
One symptom of this is the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) movement that calls for a global campaign against Israel similar to the one launched against South Africa during its apartheid days. It calls for various forms of actions in order to pressure the government into:
- Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967 and dismantling the Wall;
- Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
- Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.
The BDS movement has gained steam and is forcing many supporters of Israel to realize that unless it changes course rapidly, it risks becoming an international pariah state the way that South Africa was before its transition to a democracy.
This opinion piece by Jay Michaelson that appeared in The Jewish Daily Forward and is titled Is the Israel of Today Becoming 1980s South Africa? spells out what Israel faces.
If you noticed, all of the ways in which Israel of the 2010s is not South Africa of the 1980s are extremely short-lived. Israel may not be a colonialist outpost, but its West Bank settlements are. Within a decade, Israel will indeed be ruling over an indigenous majority. And they will have either no rights (if they live in the West Bank) or increasingly abridged right (if they live within Green Line Israel).
The Divest-from-South-Africa movement predated my arrival at Columbia University by a few years, but it was still very much a force on campus when I arrived in 1989. Indeed, it had won. Not only Columbia and other universities, but many countries and even many in the U.S. government supported boycotting, divesting from, and imposing sanctions upon South Africa. Although many in the Reagan and Bush administrations disagreed — including Dick Cheney, who called Mandela a terrorist (sound familiar?) — no one I knew on campus did. South Africa was racist. Who would defend that?
No amount of Israel advocacy can change mathematics. Unless Israel changes its policies, it will soon be quite similar to South Africa in the 1980s, and it’s hard to see why it won’t follow white South Africa’s road to extinction. True, Israel has much better lobbyists, but South Africa had its supporters too, especially within the Republican party (sound familiar?) and with its mineral wealth, it had plenty of money to spend. It also had wonderful tourist attractions, an entrepreneurial spirit, and a thriving cultural scene. Nothing helped. You can’t whitewash apartheid. Eventually, unless you’re too big to oppose, like China or Russia, the world does turn against you.
Like in the case of South Africa where people and groups within that nation called for a boycott as well, in Israel there is a similar group Boycott! (more popularly known as Boycott From Within) that is composed of Jews and Palestinians within Israel that advocate for the movement. This is not easy since there is apparently a law in Israel that makes it a crime to advocate for the boycott.
Larry Derfner writes that the main impact of the boycott is not economic but psychological.
It’s true that the Israeli economy as a whole is hardly feeling the boycott (though a fast-growing number of companies are), and it’s unimaginable that the economic and political isolation of Israel will ever approach that of apartheid-era South Africa (for lots of reasons, including Israel’s exalted standing in the U.S.). But it doesn’t have to approach what happened in South Africa. The boycott doesn’t have to bring the Israeli economy to its knees, or anything close, for the Israeli body politic – the public, the opinion-makers and the decision-makers – to decide to end the occupation. All the boycott has to do is keep growing, drop by drop – yes, like Chinese water torture – for it to succeed. Because finally, the boycott is not an economic war against Israel, it’s a psychological war, and even the skeptics would agree that it’s already had a deep, damaging effect on this country’s will to continue fighting for the West Bank and Gaza.
So lots of things could happen to Israel the Occupier – all of them bad. That’s the realization coming over people in this country. They’re not worried about the threat of poverty, or war – they’re worried about the threat of the light going out in the distance. They’re worried that Israel is about to enter its decline.
One sign of the psychological impact that Derfner talks about is how touchy the issue of boycotts has become for Israel. US Secretary of State John Kerry’s statement that “People are talking about boycott. That will intensify in the case of failure [of peace talks]” ignited heated condemnation by Israeli leaders for merely using the word boycott
But the BDS movement is here to stay and gaining support all over the world. Trying to suppress the use of the word boycott is not going to change that.