Israel, South Africa, and the Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions movement


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.

palestinian checkpoint

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:

  1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967 and dismantling the Wall;

  2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
  3. 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).

What then?

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.

Comments

  1. says

    What’s the over/under on SLC’s posts within 24 hours? Nine? Thirteen?

    You can’t whitewash apartheid. Eventually, unless you’re too big to oppose, like China or Russia, the world does turn against you.

    Ben-Gurion’s “Drive them out!” mentality (read: ethnically cleanse the Palestinians) has always been and remains the goal of Israeli policy, but it hasn’t worked and won’t work. Some, like Netenyahu, would take the Tasmanian option if they could, but they know the world community would never stand for it.

    No matter how unpleasant, how brutal and ruthless the Israeli government’s actions have been, the Palestinians won’t leave because it is their homeland. The US may have gotten away with total forced removal and reloation of indigenous populations, but that’s not going to happen in Palestine.

    There is enough room for all under the 1967 borders, but most in Israel aren’t willing to agree to that. Israel’s goal is petty revenge, to leave the Palestinians homeless for 2000 years. It’s not about “state security”.

  2. Wylann says

    SLC@1: You know this, of course, in spite of their stated aims? (I don’t. I only tangentially follow the situation in that part of the world.) If their ‘ultimate goal’ was actually as stated, would you support it? Seems to me that if we could get the stupid idea of religion and nationality out of everyone’s head, most of these (and other) problems would go away. There’s no such thing as a ‘promised land’. Share, make the borders open, etc.

    Of course, I realize that’s all a pipe dream. If the actions we are seeing in Israel were taking place anywhere else, I wonder how many people like SLC would be calling for the boycott.

  3. says

    Shorter leftOver1under: give the Jews in Israel the Eichmann treatment,.

    I was wondering how long it’d be before you godwin’d the thread. 3 comments – that’s 2 comments farther than I expected. You’re, um, getting better.

  4. doublereed says

    @4 Wylann

    He did provide a decent article as an explanation. If you’re going to argue with him, concern the points in the article.

    @2 left0ver1under

    There is enough room for all under the 1967 borders, but most in Israel aren’t willing to agree to that. Israel’s goal is petty revenge, to leave the Palestinians homeless for 2000 years. It’s not about “state security”.

    You do realize that returning the borders would displace a bunch of Israelis right? And really there’s very little to suggest that they care so much about those borders anyway.

    The right of return and the refugees seems like a much more solid point. And the treatment of the Palestinians is the most concerning prospect for Israel’s state security.

  5. colnago80 says

    Re doublereed @v #6

    As near as I can figure it, the BDS favors a 1 state solution. Anyone who looks at the current situation in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq, as well as previous incarnations like the former Yugoslavia should be able to figure out that this is a recipe for disaster. Now maybe in the (distant) future after the two sides have had some experience living side by peaceably, possibly at that time they might consider that a single state might be to their benefit. At the present time, it will only lead to another Lebanon.

  6. says

    Wylann writes:
    Seems to me that if we could get the stupid idea of religion and nationality out of everyone’s head, most of these (and other) problems would go away

    It’s not that simple. As you can see from SLC1, tribalism trumps religiousity — what you have is an underlying political and ethnic conflict (a bunch of people took someone else’s land and are being racist) – it’s cast in a religious light, but the problem is not really religion. The territories in question have changed hands many times throughout history and there’s no signed title for them with god’s imprimatur. Ultimately, all the parties involved (even the Israelis) know that the Palestinian territories have been “Palestinian land” for 1000+ years which, for all intents and purposes is title to it – not to a bunch of European colonialists. But rather than confront the geopolitical reality, it’s easier to cast the problem in the simple black and white of a religious/ethnic struggle. Look at SLC1 – he’s comfortable saying absolutely horrible things because he’s “othered” people who are probably his distant relatives based on some tribal identity. It’s certainly not religion.

    You’re right that doing away with nationalism would be a big step in the right direction – probably a bigger step than doing away with religion would. It seems to me that the human tendency to cluster into us-versus-them tribes may be part of human nature (i.e.: herd behavior in the genome, like horses, dogs, etc) and it is a curse upon mankind that we can’t fight it well enough and there are always power-crazed fucks who are willing to play on it.

  7. says

    BTW – anyone who favors the idea that chunks of land belong to Israel after 1,000 years of being occupied by other people (who, by now, can hardly be said to be “at fault” for it!) ought to still be tub-thumping for the return of North America to the people who occupied it a mere 300-400 years ago.

    It’s bullshit, of course. When you start peeling away at it, you encounter the attitude most often displayed by SLC: “if my people do it, it’s OK. fuck everyone else. unless they try to do it to my people, in which case it’s horribly evil.” Sheer bloody-minded immoral tribalism.

  8. doublereed says

    @7 colnago

    I don’t really understand how people think a one state solution would make any sense. I would think that would just massively exacerbate the problem. But then, the treatment of the Palestinians has become so intolerable and inexcusable that it just shows the cynicism to be had.

    IMO, Israel’s survival basically depends on it having the higher moral ground. Which means it’s policies need to change.

  9. doublereed says

    @9 Marcus

    BTW – anyone who favors the idea that chunks of land belong to Israel after 1,000 years of being occupied by other people (who, by now, can hardly be said to be “at fault” for it!) ought to still be tub-thumping for the return of North America to the people who occupied it a mere 300-400 years ago.

    I fail to see how that addresses anything about the current situation, unless you’re just suggesting to kick all the Jews out of Israel. That doesn’t seem to go with the ‘no tribalism’ thing you had in mind.

    What exactly are you suggesting?

  10. says

    What exactly are you suggesting?

    I’m not suggesting anything; I’m simply pointing out that someone who wants to accept Israel’s claim on long-lost lands is being inconsistent if they do not equally accept other claims on long-lost lands.

  11. says

    claims on long-lost lands

    Which brings up the question Re: Palestine – why not give it to the Romans? Or the Iranians, because it belonged to the Umayyads for quite a while? Or Israel, or Egypt? For that matter, the Crusaders? — which of the many powers that have claimed and conquered Palestine are the ones with the true claim?

    Heck, for that matter, the muslims could claim Palestine is part of the muslim world because their dumbass book says it is theirs. And the jews have a dumbass book that says its theirs. Sheesh. Hey the Mormons have a dumbass book that says they own Missouri (or something dumbass like that) do we let them invade Missouri and displace everyone there? Fucking absurd. The whole thing is fucking absurd except where it’s absolutely horrible.

  12. colnago80 says

    Re Marcus Ranum @ #15

    The Pennsylvania pissant has it exactly backwards. Israelis should return the land that they currently occupy to the previous inhabitants when he returns the land on which he dwells to it’s previous owners, Native Americans. Lead by example.

  13. Mano Singham says

    @doublereed #12,

    The reason that the one-state solution is gaining ground is not because people cannot see the problems you cite. It is because Israel’s creation of facts on the ground has made the two-state solution almost impossible. With all the settlements and walls and military checkpoints and other encroachments in the Occupied Territories, it has become increasingly hard to envision creating a viable Palestinian state.

  14. wtfwhateverd00d says

    I would love to see the two state solution implemented tomorrow, and I’ve always considered the majority of the settlements to be an impediment to peace. I admit my bias, in lieu of other information, is such that I defer to the general sentiment of the people of Israel, since I find the Israelis to be pragmatic, desiring of peace, informed, and yet realistic about what their country needs.

    I am curious, the wiki says that Hamas is mostly against the Palestinian Peace Initiative

    “Islamist political party Hamas, the elected government of the Gaza Strip, is deeply divided,[7] with most factions rejecting the plan.[1]”

    Has anything changed about that? If Israel were to announce her support for the Palestinian Peace Initiative or Kerry’s Peace Initiative, how would Hamas react? What would happen in Gaza?

    How do BDS supporters feel about Hamas, and what do they recommend should Hamas not back the Palestinian Peace Initiative? (And that’s a very genuine question that I am truly interested in learning more about.)

    Regarding the campus version of BDS, I almost literally find it a crying shame that US campus academics can find the time and energy to advocate, lobby, participate and blog about Israel Arab relationships but cannot give of themselves any time or energy to create on campus teach ins, and protests against the NSA’s surveillance programs.

    Think globally, Act locally

  15. dysomniak "They are unanimous in their hate for me, and I welcome their hatred!" says

    I find the Israelis to be pragmatic, desiring of peace, informed, and yet realistic about what their country needs.

    And how much time have you spent in Israel? Max Blumenthal spent years researching Goliath and came to the opposite conclusion. The prevailing sentiment in Israel is in unabashedly in favor of ethnic cleansing, even genocide, to maintain their “Jewish state.”

  16. wtfwhateverd00d says

    @dysomniak

    Um, you actually don’t need to spend time in Israel to know Israelis, or to have spent considerable and significant time with Israelis and had considerable conversations along these lines.

    And for many people, just reading and listening to what Israelis (and Palestinians and others) write in articles, on op-ed pages, on reddit, in videos can give you a great sense of what current thought is.

    Communications in the twenty first century — stop denying it.

  17. doublereed says

    @19 Mano

    Oh. I see.

    And how much time have you spent in Israel? Max Blumenthal spent years researching Goliath and came to the opposite conclusion. The prevailing sentiment in Israel is in unabashedly in favor of ethnic cleansing, even genocide, to maintain their “Jewish state.”

    Are you trying to convince someone with first-hand experience using your second-hand experience? That really doesn’t make a lot of sense. Max Blumenthal is not the only opinion of worth on Israeli-Palestinian Affairs.

  18. Wylann says

    cSLC1 at 17 & 18:
    Your two comments seem to contradict each other. Am I missing something, or is one of them just trying to make a ‘gotcha’ point?

  19. wtfwhateverd00d says

    doublereed while you make a good point @23, that wasn’t Professor Singham who said that, but dysomniak

  20. wtfwhateverd00d says

    @19 Professor Singham

    The reason that the one-state solution is gaining ground is not because people cannot see the problems you cite. It is because Israel’s creation of facts on the ground has made the two-state solution almost impossible. With all the settlements and walls and military checkpoints and other encroachments in the Occupied Territories, it has become increasingly hard to envision creating a viable Palestinian state.

    I think that overstates the case.

    Walls can be torn down. (Berlin)
    Settlements can be resettled or be integrated.
    Military Checkpoints removed.

    I agree that things seem dismal for a two state solution at the moment, but the reason for that doesn’t seem to follow from your claims.

    On the other hand, the claim by many that “One Staters” know that the one state solution dooms a Jewish Israel due to the birth rate and demographics problem hardly seems acknowledged or rebutted by many people these days who support the one state solution.

    And so it seems to many people that the “one state solution” is a stealth strategy of eliminating Israel altogether.

    Supporters of a one state solution do need to address that if they wish the one state to be taken seriously as a country where Jews can live and thrive as equal citizens.

  21. wtfwhateverd00d says

    Interesting video describing the many times since before its founding, that Israel has tried to create a two state solution, only to see it rejected in favor of war.

  22. Nick Gotts says

    Shorter leftOver1under: give the Jews in Israel the Eichmann treatment,. – colnago80@3

    What a stinking hypocrite you are. Unlike leftOver1under, you are actually an advocate of genocide.

  23. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    @ ^ wtfwhateverd00d : Excellent informative clip I think.

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