The Context of Boycotts

‘Liberal Delusion’ wrote this comment ‘below the line’ in an earlier thread. We thought it worth reproducing.

The BDS movement places the boycott in the context of SA (and so have to inflate Israeli human rights contraventions as ‘apartheid’). However, the vast majority of Jews place the idea of a boycott against Jews in a very different history; a history in which Jews have been singled out for allegedly unique crimes and unique wrongs despite the fact that they were no worse than many, if not all others and/or were total fabrications, and, as a consequence of these claims suffered ‘boycott’ – see e.g. the 1904 Limerick boycott where Jews were accused of price manipulation.

The problem is that when Jews raise these concerns, especially through the question – why Israel? – no sensible answer is given – the ASA’s comment, that ‘we have to start somewhere’ begs the question. (Despite the above response, the BDS movement is not supported by the PA or Hamas, and was, far from emanating from Palestine, devised by two members of the SWP here in London – and even if it did emanate from Palestinian civil society, that does not involve an immediate and unmediated response – what is right in Palestine, may not appear so right in a different context, and for very good reasons).
Rather than recognising this history and this sensitivity in its critical dealings with Israel, many BDSers simply claim that Jews are abusing this history of antisemitism (and anti-Jewish boycotts), of using ‘real’ antisemitism (and the Shoah) as a magic talisman to ward off ‘criticism’ (which is conflated by the BDS movement with exclusion) and of acting in bad faith.

In so doing, the BDS movement show that along with their support for Palestinians is an attempt to antagonise and confront non-Israeli Jews who, for those who disagree with their boycotting (what Claire Potter confused with scrutiny) are transformed into ‘supporters of Israel’ and for whom no quarter must be given.

If those in the US and Europe were serious about antisemitism and its history as well as being serious about Palestinian solidarity, they would actually realise what boycotts mean to Jews (and progressive forces in general). They would need to think of a new strategy, one that is not hostile to Jews, but which at the same time allows them (and many Jews) to move forward to achieving a just and equitable peace in the Middle East; a move forward that does not rely, replicate and bring into the present the antisemtism of the (not so distant) past.

6 Responses to “The Context of Boycotts”

  1. Barbara Mazor Says:

    Can someone tell me why when Israel is accused of racism against Arabs, there is no discussion of Arab racism against Jews? And can someone explain to me why when Israel is accused of “violating human rights” there is no discussion of the ongoing terrorism against Israelis and the violation of human rights of Palestinians by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas? And can someone tell me if any other “colonist-settler enterprise” involved purchase of land from private owners?

    I am not asking these questions rhetorically. I really want to know why I only read demands upon Israel in these discussions.

  2. Leuw Says:

    Because for many anti-zionists, everything begins and ends with Israel. Like all good imperialists, they deny Palestinians and Arabs more or less any agency. The only ‘authentic’ agency they are credited with is when they echo the European and American imperialists themselves – for example, the boycott call or the ‘romantic’ frisson of excitement that some anti-zionists experience when violence is carried out in the name of the Palestinians and which they themselves never experience first hand.

  3. attarj Says:

    Made some new friends this month in a temporary job, had coffee with one today who insisted – when the conversation unfortunately moved to politics – that Israel is a shitty country and nothing I say etc etc she is entitled to her opinion. I seem to remember somebody a bit famous (?) said this and it may have become a meme. Anyway, I found it terrifically hurtful, as a former citizen of that country, but I can’t put my finger on why. In the end I think it is designed to hurt without being at all specific. Are boycotters aware of the hurt they cause – is it deliberate? I mean emotionally, not economically.

    • Leuw Says:

      I don’t think it’s deliberate. It’s an unreflective response by those who know little about it. It has become a cliche. It sounds radical. It is a replay of the Jewish Question. As with all variants in the past it does nothing but divides progressive movements. It excludes the vast majority of Jews from those movements. It casts Jews as enemies of progress. It casts them on the ‘wrong side of history’. For ‘progress’, Jews and their interests are set centre stage. The mark of ‘progress’ becomes reduced to the overcoming of those interests and radicalism becomes the ‘struggle’ against imaginary Jewish power.

      (See the ASA’s recent comment – the implication that opposition to boycott is part of co-ordinated ‘larger pattern’ and the presentation of excluding Jews is nothing more than ‘criticism’ – ‘Expressions of hate and intimidation, even if they come from isolated individuals, constitute part of a larger pattern of attack on anyone who criticizes the boycott Israel or Zionism’. The idea that many, many people – Jews and non-Jews – simply disagree with the boycott, think it is racist, think it is an attack on ‘academic freedom’, this it will serve no useful purpose, think it brings with its antisemitism, is simply not considered. Indeed, from the ASA’s perspective, the fact that the opposition to boycott Israel and only Israel draws legitimate and spontaneous responses to its position is not, indeed, cannot, even be considered – it is translated into part of clever and cunning plan by well-organised ‘Zionists’ and the circle of myth and anti-semitic ways of perceiving the world (and antisemitism presenting itself as nothing more than a or the vitctim) continues.)

      • Lynne T Says:

        An awful lot of the supposed sympathy for Palestinians has to do with the successful promotion of their situation as the worst abuse of human rights in the world, courtesy of those shining beacons of human rights — the former Eastern / Communist block, the 50+ member Organization of the Islamic Cooperation and “non-aligned” bloc at the UN, which is a magnet for people who want to burnish their own reputations as great humanitarians and victims of “the powers that be”.

  4. Jonathan Lowenstein Says:

    The whole “Israel is racist” issue is problematic. It originates from the post-67 Arab/Soviet political position that Israel is a colonial state which is at best only partially true. Either way, discrimination in Israel – and in the Middle East in general – is based on religious affiliation, in fact much of Israeli discrimination is typical of middle eastern states. Skin color is not part of our (I am an Anglo-Israeli) public debate, except as a separate issue regarding Ethiopian immigrants and African asylum seekers.
    Europeans tend to view the world in terms of “races” and assume that Jews are a race and view themselves in those terms too. Regarding the “colonial state” issue, half of Israelis originate in the Arab world,including many from Africa and there are other aspects such as anti-Jewish persecution and Jewish origins in Israel. It is, as we know, a poor model for explaining Israel.
    The term “Racism” gets used in very inappropriate ways. Perhaps the left accuses “Zionists” of misusing anti-Semitism because they know they are misusing racism and so they transfer it to the Jews.

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