Frank Barat interviewing Ilan Pappé and Noam Chomsky in CounterPunch magazine, June 6 2008.
Barat: During my recent trip to Israel/Palestine it became obvious (talking to people, reading newspapers, watching the news) that something scared Israel a lot: a Boycott. Are you in favor of this type of actions and do you think that they could bare fruit?
Ilan Pappé: Yes I am and I do think it has a chance of triggering processes of change on the ground.
Noam Chomsky: Boycotts sometimes make sense. For example, such actions against South Africa were effective, even though the Reagan administration evaded congressional sanctions while declaring Mandela’s ANC to be one of the “more notorious terrorist groups” in the world (in 1988). The actions were effective because the groundwork had been laid in many years of education and activism. By the time they were implemented, they received substantial support in the US within the political system, the media, and even the corporate sector. Nothing remotely like that has been achieved in this case. As a result, calls for boycott almost invariably backfire, reinforcing the harshest and most brutal policies towards Palestinians. Selective boycotts, carefully formulated, might have some effect. For example, boycotts of military producers who provide arms to Israel, or to Caterpillar Corporation, which provides the equipment for destroying Palestine. All of their actions are strictly illegal, and boycotts could be made understandable to the general public, so that they could be effective.
Selective boycotts could also be effective against states with a far worse record of violence and terror than Israel, such as the US. And, of course, without its decisive support and participation, Israel could not carry out illegal expansion and other crimes. There are no calls for boycotting the US, not for reasons of principle, but because it is simply too powerful — facts that raise some obvious questions about the moral legitimacy of actions targeting its clients.
Key claims being:
Boycott without necessary groundwork within the political, corporate and media spheres will harm Palestinians and reinforce Israeli policies.
Selective boycotts can be effective (e.g. on Caterpillar).
Boycotts, selective or not, should first be directed at the most violent and terrorizing state, and the fact that they are not suggests hypocrisy on the part of Israel boycotters.