Sunday, August 17, 2008

Boycott Israeli Goods

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;
  1. withdraws from the occupied areas,
  2. respects human rights (including right of refugees to return to their homes and lands),
  3. and obeys International law.
These seem good bench marks to me. I'm not expecting Israel to dismantle itself - but I do want a country that claims to be democratic to adhere to basic democratic norms - like not assassinating those whom it regards as political opponents and dishing out a generalised, collective punishment to communities for the crimes of those they have no control over.

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.

32 comments:

ModernityBlog said...

You wrote:

"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 -"

no, don't be defensive and don't expect anyone else to be then? what's good for the goose is good for the gander?

and if some unsavory characters stir things up well, I suppose you'll think that a price worth paying?

how exactly "eradicate those boundaries that divide" by boycotting Israel works I can't see it myself?

if you are going to Boycott Israel, then at least do it properly, make life difficult for yourself, stop using ANY Israeli related technology, medical research, PCs, the Web, tetc

there is more to Israel then avocados and the rather lurid, negative characterizations found in much of the Western media.

anyone Boycotting Russian products? Hmm, maybe not?

Raphael said...

Jim

Your argument rests on two wrong hypotheses and a false analogy.

Hypothesis 1 is that the choice is between "nothing" and "boycott". If you do not support H1, then you ought to discuss the other alternatives and their compatibility with boycott.

Hypothesis 2 relates to the effect of the boycott. You do not give any evidence, that the "boycott" will have the effect you wish it to have. What if, instead, the boycott strengthened the right in Israel, and weakened those who push for peace and dialog? See link at the end of this comment, which argues exactly that.

The false analogy, the (standard) one with apartheid. More articles here:
And more articles on the apartheid analogy, here:
http://www.engageonline.org.uk/archives/index.php?id=37

It is also interesting to remark how little your post relate to the actual situation on the ground. The complexities of both Israeli and Palestinian societies, Hamas and the PA, the peace process, etc, all of this is washed away and replaced by a nationalist perspective and the need to side with the oppressed.

You write that you will "provide solidarity with those voices in Israel who are against the oppression of the Palestinian people"; and what about those Palestinians who support dialog with Israel rather than boycott - and whose effots are wrecked by the rejectionist agenda of the boycotters?
http://www.engageonline.org.uk/blog/article.php?id=1479

Palestine: occupation not apartheid
http://www.engageonline.org.uk/blog/article.php?id=945#

Jim Jay said...

Raphael: thanks for engaging with the content of the post.

H1: My position was always going to be to provide solidarity with the Palestinian people and to oppose invasions such as that of the Lebanon two years ago - I left it up to my readers to decide where they thought the boycott tactic was most effective.

It was interesting to see that although I'm sure most of those who voted would have felt that aviation needs to be reduced they did not think a boycott approach was the best one to take there. With Israel it seems many people thought it was an effective tool.

So its my readers who decided on the *tactic* and like a good democrat I'm going along with it. But the cause was not up for public vote - I was always going to sympathise with that.

H2: I can't guarentee that the right wont get stronger - but we are dealing with a polarised situation and it may well be that a stronger movement for justice could simultaneously produce a stronger movement for injustice - that's not an argument to not take sides in my view.

I have and will continue to engage with progressive voices and arguments from both sides of the Israeli erected wall, and if I can make even a small contribution then it will be some comfort - just as I helped my Israeli friend get his message of peace across I hope I can provide some assistance to others... but I don't expect to agree with everyone - not even everyone who is progressive - after all how can you?

An: A great many anti-apartheid activists draw the analogy, and not just those who fought it from afar - and a great many Palestinians draw the analogy. Whilst, of course, there are differences it is a historical parallel and one that holds good in my view. I think the Tutu piece is interesting on this - if a little too brief.

I've read views against this (not the particular ones you link to though) and I'm not persuaded - I think we may well continue to disagree on this one.

I actually agree about the weakness of the post not talking about the situation on the ground enough. I was conscious of it when writing and had to make a decision about whether to make the post unreadably long and overly complex or try to keep a clear direction.

Hopefully other posts and other discussions will flesh out some of the many missing areas.

Raphael said...

Jim
You write: "H2: I can't guarentee that the right wont get stronger - but we are dealing with a polarised situation and it may well be that a stronger movement for justice could simultaneously produce a stronger movement for injustice - that's not an argument to not take sides in my view."

I don't want to sound antagonistic... but I find this extraordinary.

The first element of the sentence above is, in effect, accepting that there is a fair possibility that the boycott will result in a strenghtened right in Israel.

Now, this is an extremely important point! It is basically saying that your boycott may well result in more sufferings for those that you want to support.

Yet, instead of weighing how serious this possibility is, and how likely, in contrary, the benefits may be, you jump to: "that's not an argument to not take sides in my view."

So here, the moral imperative of "taking side" is seen as more important than the results of the actions engaged in that process of "taking side"

Nobody asks you not to take side in this conflict. Of course we should support the rights of Palestinians to self-determination, condemn the occupation and continued policy of settlements. It is perfectly possible to hold and defend such views, i.e. taking sides, without supporting the boycott campaign.

We should also support the right of Israeli to self-determination and to leave in peace. It is no use ignore the threats from organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah whose political aim is the destruction of Israel. If you ignore these, there is no chance that you will have any impact on the Israeli society for they have good reasons not to ignore them. It is highly unlikely that you will convince Israeli citizens that peace is the best solution by boycotting them.

Jim Jay said...

R: I think you may have misunderstand me here, I'll try to restate more clearly.

This is my *general* position;

- *Sometimes* when you build a movement the opposition wakes up to you and becomes more combative.

- A movement that is no threat is often left to its own devices, until such a day when it is deemed a problem.

- You need to be prepared to stand your ground in case this takes place.

- This does not make it your *fault* that the opposition hates you. Nor does it mean that the opposition are justified in becoming increasingly combative.

- *Sometimes* in order to create meaningful change you need to confront those who oppose you rather than just talk to them. Things may need to get awkward on both sides.

- To create meaningful change you need to be prepared for the opposition to become more determined than they are now, as they feel more threatened.

- Any regime that feels threatened, any political movement that feels under threat, may well become more obstreporous. That is not a reason to hold back but *can be* a sign that you're getting through.

You seem to be taking the fact that some on the right are becoming more bolshy as a failure of the international solidarity movement that could have been avoided - that point is unproven I think.

To say it again in another way. I do not think and have not said that the boycott *will* strengthen the right. But I do think that the nearer we come to a point where the right feel under threat the more likely it is that they will respond in a despicable fashion.

The key force that will determine the fate of the Middle East are the people of the middle east, but just as the reactionaries have those who support them internationally the movement for justice needs international support too.

Sometimes we have to offend people. Racist murderers are often easily offended for example - but until they are tackled they'll remain dangerous.

ModernityBlog said...

"Racist murderers are often easily offended"

are you suggesting that Israel is full of racist murderers?

Raphael said...

Jim

I had to read it a few time, but I think I understand...

"
- *Sometimes* when you build a movement the opposition wakes up to you and becomes more combative.
"

That is however quite different from my argument. Those who are likely to feel threatened by the boycott are the ordinary citizens of Israel, and they are therefore more likely to turn to the right than to the left. This especially given that the progressive in Israel do not support this boycott; in other words it is betrayal of progressive in Israel, as well as of some in Palestine.

You reason as if the gvt of Israel was responding to you rather than to its electorate (a small difference between Israel and South-Africa).

I still cannot quite work out the logic of your strategy (is it supposed to work through economic pressure, essentialist threats, re-enforcing of the peace camp in Israel, etc?), but then, you left the strategy to your readers, so maybe you should ask them...

Anonymous said...

http://azvsas.blogspot.com/

New article on Norman Finkelstein's being denied an academic post for his views on Israel/Palestine.

Nick

Pippa said...

But Raphael, the Nationalist govt in south africa _was_ responding to its electorate. (There were elections in apartheid South Africa, it was just that it was mostly only white people who could vote). The sports boycott was deeply unpopular and as sanctions went on the government became unpopular with business too... The peeling away of elements of support for the regime was one of the factors leading them to negotiate.

I'm not saying that this would necessarily work in Israel - I'm not an expert on that - but it's untrue to say that the Nats were responding not responding to electoral pressures that resulted from sanctions etc.

Raphael said...

By "being denied", you mean that he has not been appointed?

And by his views on "Israel/Palestine" you mean the facts that he makes antisemitic jokes, supports Hezbollah, and publishes the cartoons of the winner of Iranian president holocaust denial competition Latuff on his website?

http://www.engageonline.org.uk/blog/article.php?id=1956

Note that the links to Harry's Place article do not work, but they can be found easily through a search on that site.

Jim, I think it would be great if you could respond to Modernity's question about the "racist murderers". His point that you appear to suggest that Israel is full of racist murderers does stand. This is probably not what you wanted to suggest so a clarification would be good.

weggis said...

For the record, Jim, I voted "Don't boycott anything".

But this debate is interesting.

Richard said...

Hi Nick.

I'm glad you're concerned about Finkelstein. I'm also concerned about Finkelstien - I'm concerned when he mocks and takes the mickey out of holocaust survivors. I'm concerned when he posts cartoons from the winner of the recent holocaust denial contest held in Iran. I'm concerned when he writes the kind of things mentioned below:

http://www.engageonline.org.uk/blog/article.php?id=1956

http://www.engageonline.org.uk/blog/article.php?id=1645

Surely Nick there are more valid causes to fight for than a nasty guy whose writings on the holocaust are plain nasty.

Richard said...

Hi Nick

You post a link to http://azvsas.blogspot.com/

on why Finkelstein was denied tenure. It's rather ironic that you link to a blog which is run by Tony Greenstein , see the following

"Tony Greenstein, in an "open" email sent to every academic at Goldsmiths, where David Hirsh teaches."

http://www.engageonline.org.uk/blog/article.php?id=934

How ironic.

Anonymous said...

OK read it. Tony G is having a moan about being misrepresented, where is the Irony?
Nick

Anonymous said...

OK read it. Tony G is having a moan about being misrepresented, where is the Irony?
Nick

neil craig said...

How about boycotting Croatian goods. Their genocide in Krajina was undeniably enormously worse than any current Israeli actions. Indeed since it was supported by the NATO countries that means a prety widespread boycott.

While kicking the Jews is fashionable in "leftist" circles there can be no dispute thatby any objective standards they have gone to far greater lengths to be civilised to their enemies than most of the world.

After all they have not been involved in kidnapping their enemies & dissecting them while still alive, to get their organs. One cannot say the same about our own Cabinet. It is regretable that, despite alleged "ethics", "leftists" in Britain have barely a word to say against such behaiour

Anonymous said...

Neil,

Who is "kicking the Jews?"
conflating Jewish people with the state of Israel isn't accurate or helpful.
Actions by Croatian, Serbian and Bosnian war criminals have been punished whilst, the attack on Lebanon by Israel wasn't.
I do agree that there is significant whitewashing of the crimes of the Croatian regime in the 1990's, whilst Serbian extremists were rightly punished.

Hi Richard,

I followed the link to those cartoons, not particularly funny, but anti semitic? I didn't see them as anti semitic, certainly anti Israel.

Nick

A said...

I'm trying to find the anti-semitic cartoons but can't. Can someone post a direct link to one and point them out so we can make an informed judgement?

Anonymous said...

http://www.normanfinkelstein.com/article.php?pg=11&ar=176

Here are the cartoons in question

Nick

Richard said...

I didn't post a link to any cartoons.

The email from Tony G. It was sent to all academics at Goldsmith's. Bit like Dershwoitz sending an email to everybody at St Pauls.

Richard said...

I didn't post a link to any cartoons.

The email from Tony G. It was sent to all academics at Goldsmith's. Bit like Dershwoitz sending an email to everybody at St Pauls.

Anonymous said...

boycott Israel?

Is this a sixth-form debating society I've wandered into?

you smug self-righteous prick

and WTF were you doing eating MaccyD's anyway? I think the intelligent half of the population began 'boycotting' them eons ago. And as for 'announcing' your boycot to the world - let me add self-important.

eeeesh!

Aaron Heath said...

you smug self-righteous prick ~ a-nonny-moose

Fair comment, but surely boycotting is the most democratic and personal way to make a peaceful statement of opposition?

Politicians are obsessed with turning us all into perfect little consumers, so let's all progress our political goals with petty little boycotts. Hurrah!

I bought a Kata bag for my camera recently. Kata are an Israeli manufacturer, who also make body-armour for the Israeli special forces. That's my little contribution to the peace process.

neil craig said...

M Anon I don't see how you can honestly say that Israel osn't Jewish.

The Craotianv & Bosnian Moslems hace overwhelingly not been punished for their crimes. Nasir Oric the prepetarter of the primary & possibly onlt Srebernica masacre has certainly not been punished.

Certainly the perpetraters of of the specific crimes I mentioned have not been punished & indeed many of them are still in cabinet.

If you have any evidence that those Serbs "punished" were in fact guilty of anything I would be interested to see it. I do not consider being Serbian of itself to be criminal.

The correlation of the racial hatreds of Adolf Hitler & those on the extreme left, aganist Slavs & Jews, is unfortunate but obvious.

ModernityBlog said...

Jim,

did you miss my previous question?

you wrote "Racist murderers are often easily offended"

are you suggesting that Israel is full of racist murderers?

Jim Jay said...

Did I say it was? No.

Faux outrage and not being able to read doesn't particuarly impress me - no matter how much you think every stupid thing that comes out of your mouth needs an answer.

Ransome said...

So who else are you boycotting? China? Russia? Or just Israel so you can chummy up with your PSC chums? Let us know how fighting the antisemitism in the movement goes why don't you, it will be an interesting read if only for the fact that I've never seen anyone involved with the PSC acknowledge it or state their aim to combat it.

Let's take your 3 points.

Which occupied territories are you so upset about? The ones that Israel withdrew from leaving greenhouses as a good-will gesture that were instantly wrecked by rampaging thugs and is now run by a bunch of antisemitic goons? If you were running Israel, would you not be a teensy bit alarmed at handing power to people who fire rockets at you despite supposed ceasefires?

Perhaps you can tell us what you mean by "respects human rights (including right of refugees to return to their homes and lands)" and how the latter impacts on Israel as a state? I'm all for a two-state solution but this seems a bit ambiguous to me and as it's apparently a "good benchmark" perhaps you could explain why so?

Finally, getting irate about Israel obeying international law. Again. No other countries disobeying it? Russia? China? Why is international law so important? Countries like Burma and North Korea may well be obeying it but are an absolute menace to their own people. By this supposedly good benchmark they get off scot-free. Please elaborate as to why this is so important.

Otherwise this post (and to be frank your whole blog) comes across as yet another pious piece of bourgeois feelgood fauxcialist bullshit, so common amongst the remnants of the Left these days. I myself am of the Left and it disheartens me that you are supposedly a comrade. Damn. Times have changed.

Ransome said...

Incidentally, you write: I do want a country that claims to be democratic to adhere to basic democratic norms - like not assassinating those whom it regards as political opponents and dishing out a generalised, collective punishment to communities for the crimes of those they have no control over

Pretty ironic, as you're calling for a boycott of Israel, which, um, is pretty much collective punishment from where I'm sat, especially as most Israelis would agree with the sentiments you outline above.

Your move.

Or perhaps we'll wait for the next recycled pamphlet from GreenHQ to fall through your door so you can chat about that instead?

Anonymous said...

Neil,

I didn't say that Israel wasn't Jewish did I? I and others here are arguing if a boycott is a good idea or not, there are plenty of Jewish supporters of the boycott (myself Included).
I wasn't disagreeing that the west and NATO (which I don't support) has been Partial in the problems in ex-Yugoslavia. Certainly what we have had is winners justice. As for anti - slav racism that's quite a bizzare accusation as Croatians and Bosnians are also Slavs.
I think you can boycott a state without actually being racist against a people!

Nick

Green Gordon said...

The british cabinet are vivisecting people?

Raphael said...

Jim
I have supported Modernity's request for you to clarify your point about "racist murderers" so I take your response personally and I am quite disappointed.

It combines several features which you had seemed keen to avoid:

1. you accuse me and Modernity of dishonesty "Faux outrage", this makes any further dialog impossible: what is the point me responding if in any case you think that I'm only pretending to think what I'm saying?

2. you make a personal attack "not being able to read", etc

I am not too sure what to say next. Modernity's point was valid because such language is a common feature of many of the boycotters. It was also valid because of the context of the sentence and because there is no obvious other hypothesis about who are these "racist murderers" who are easily offended.

Instead of explaining simply what you meant you resort to ad hominem and accusations of dishonesty.

I hope we can continue to have a meaningful debate.

neil craig said...

Nick

"I think you can boycott a state without actually being racist against a people!"

Certainly but only if you are doing so without showing racial partiality. If you are boycotting Israel for doing far less than what our own government are doing (including assisting in kidnapping & dissecting people people to sell their organs, an obscenity Israel has never been accused of) then that is racist.

I understand your doubts about our government dissections Gordon. I have been assured elsewhere that if this happened it would be front page news in every British paper. Unfortunately that would only apply if some of the journalists were something other than wholly corrupt filth. See http://www.slobodan-milosevic.org/news/ips040108.htm