The Quakers in the UK are boycotting settlement goods. Norman Finkelstein has suggested that it’s best to focus on the boycott of settlements at present, as the campaign against the Occupation has to concentrate on getting people to take action on what is already universally agreed to be the case — that the settlements are illegal and unjust, that the land grab is real, that the oppression is real.
I think the case for settlement goods boycott is uncontroversial. But this blog is about boycott of Israel in general. A commentator on Democracy Now! a while back argued against the general boycott because it ‘demonizes a society’. His term ‘demonization’ is tendentious; it sounds like it’s insinuating that a general boycott may be antisemitic; and I don’t think that fears behind this insinuation can be lightly disregarded.
On the other end of the scales are the facts about the moral and institutional properties of the Israeli state and society. Has Israel really fallen so low that it is justifiable to risk ‘demonization’ and call for a general boycott? Watching from afar, it certainly seems possible. In fact, close-up experience of Israel’s supporters at home leads to the same conclusion. If a society cannot find one single sane and intelligent person to stand for it, what does this say about it? (There are sane, intelligent people who argue against the general boycott; but that’s not to defend Israel’s actions overall.)
Nevertheless, it’s problematic to base one’s ethical decisions on mediated observations of a distant society. It’s relevant here to take into account the views of Israelis themselves; in fact I think a general boycott is likely to be justified as a response to the ethics of what informed and engaged Israelis are saying. In this respect, the following text is relevant (thanks to Live from Occupied Palestine for this); an open letter published during the Gaza massacre. The letter remains relevant, not least because Israel is apparently preparing another Gaza massacre.
* The Guardian, Saturday 17 January 2009
The leaders of the western world are wringing their hands in despair at the sight of the horrors inflicted on Gaza (Gaza crisis, 16 January). The UN general secretary, the French president and others are holding intensive discussions with some of the leaders of the Middle East in an attempt to put an end to the carnage in Gaza. Word, words, words.
Meanwhile, hundreds of Palestinian civilians get killed, thousands are bleeding to death, tens of thousands are uprooted and wandering in vain in search of some shelter to protect them. The Israeli army bombs hospitals and Unrwa relief centres, and, defying international convention, it uses white phosphorus bombs against civilians. “What else can we do?” these leaders keep asking. Well, here is what you can do: move from words to deeds. Only immediate, decisive and strict sanctions against the state of Israel and its limitless aggression will make it realise that there’s a limit.
We, as Israeli citizens, raise our voices to call on EU leaders: use sanctions against Israel’s brutal policies and join the active protests of Bolivia and Venezuela. We appeal to the citizens of Europe: please attend to the Palestinian Human Rights Organisation’s call, supported by more than 540 Israeli citizens (www.freegaza.org/en/home/): boycott Israeli goods and Israeli institutions; follow resolutions such as those made by the cities of Athens, Birmingham and Cambridge (US). This is the only road left. Help us all, please!
Signed by 540 Israeli citizens