It's my belief that internationalism is the corner stone to progressive politics. People are as important no matter which side of a line on a map they come from, no matter what the colour of their skin or the language that they speak. Whilst often we feel helpless to effect events happening in far flung reaches of the globe there are crucial moments and struggles where we can have an impact on political events many, many miles away.
Nowhere was this clearer than in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa where the international movement put vital pressure upon the regime, and its backers. Nelson Mandela saw international support as a crucial element in the movement for freedom saying that "Sanctions... against Apartheid, had brought South Africa to the point where the transition to democracy had been enshrined in the law of the country."
Desmond Tutu, another Nobel Prize winning leader of the anti-apartheid struggle, said Apartheid would never have been overthrown "without the help of international pressure-- in particular the divestment movement of the 1980s." Tutu compares that, past, struggle to the struggle today against the behaviour of the the Israeli government towards the Palestinians and its neighbours, urging us to act;
"Similar moral and financial pressures on Israel are being mustered one person at a time... If apartheid ended, so can this occupation, but the moral force and international pressure will have to be just as determined. The current divestment effort is the first, though certainly not the only, necessary move in that direction."So, as part of that international movement to provide solidarity with the Palestinian people I am joining the boycott against Israeli goods and, as far as I can, will be trying to ensure none of my money goes to feed the Israeli economy built, as it is, on the theft of land and the repression of a people. There is a list of companies here which seems frighteningly comprehensive, but I think doable. Obviously, in a globalised economy, with no proper information on sourcing it's impossible to ensure that nothing I ever use or buy has had any connection with Israel - but the purpose of the boycott is not to remain pure but to build up pressure.
These economic sanctions from below are an attempt to make a difference to those denied water, denied free movement, denied the right to live in safety from their neighbours. Yes, to provide solidarity, but also to ensure that the Israeli state is aware that the world is watching and raise the issues too.
The Boycott Israeli Goods campaign describes its mission as fighting to ensure that Israel;
- withdraws from the occupied areas,
- respects human rights (including right of refugees to return to their homes and lands),
- and obeys International law.
Just as South African sanctions made a difference in the past today there are sanctions against Zimbabwe, Iran, and Cuba (among others) and all have had some kind of impact which is supported by many in the international community - although I'm certainly not saying the political purpose is the same or that all are supportable, and groups like the Sudan disinvestment campaign argue that grass roots economic pressure can be an effective tool towards furthering social justice.
But whilst I'll do my best not to fund the Israeli economy I'll also try to provide solidarity with those voices in Israel who are against the oppression of the Palestinian people - in particular the anti-wall activists whose courageous actions demonstrate in deeds that it is not the Israeli citizen that is the enemy - but the nature of the Israeli state.
I had the privilege last year of helping one Israeli refusenik on his Cambridge leg of a mini-speaking tour of the UK. It was inspiring to hear this (very young) Israeli talk of what he'd been through refusing military service - and when I heard that months after returning he was shot in the head with a rubber bullet on a peaceful protest it was both shocking and something he knew he was risking. The movement there is small, but those who are brave enough to speak up are determined and should receive our full support.
I'm sure the discussion will be robust so I'm attempting to make this a brief but a rounded picture of my position. Where there is anti-semitism in the Palestinian solidarity movement I will do my best to counter it and where the tactics are, in my view, mistaken or unhelpful I will do my best to argue the case as I see it - as I hope I do in other areas of political activity.
For instance I thought it was very useful to have pointed out that the use of the blood orange symbol (which I used in this 2006 post) has parallels with the anti-semitic blood libel where Jews were accused of baking blood into their bread. Whilst I'm sure the intent behind this powerful symbol was honest I wont be using it again because of the unintentional offence it can cause, and I'd advise others to do the same.
When push comes to shove though I don't feel defensive about this. Where we see injustice we should try to act, even in a modest way. We need to pull down those walls between peoples, and eradicate those boundaries that divide - opposing those who'd build yet higher barriers, using force to immiserate an entire people.
It's all too easy to feel that we can do nothing - that events are too far away or the politics too complicated - but in a global economy we are all bound together, for good and ill. If we choose to we can try to use that fact in the favour of those who are suffering.