In an article published in the Guardian Harriet Sherwood quotes Netanyahu’s attack on Europe in which he invoked Nazi boycotts of Jewish businesses in order to highlight what he sees as the sinister implications of BDS. People support BDS for different reasons, and implying that they are all motivated by antisemitism is probably not the best way to get them to engage with concerns about the strategy. But Sherwood doesn’t acknowledge any problems in the BDS movement.
This is a serious charge, and one that causes deep discomfort to many who want to bring pressure to bear on the Israeli government over its policies towards the Palestinians, but who also vigorously oppose antisemitism in any form. Opposing the occupation does not equate to antisemitism or a rejection of Jews’ right to, and need for, a homeland. The repeated accusation of antisemitism does not make it true, however frequently it is levelled by those who defend Israel unconditionally.
Of course opposing the occupation does not equate to antisemitism or a rejection of Zionism, of Israel’s right to exist. But very many supporters of BDS see the whole of Israel as occupied territory – and certainly do not acknowledge either the right to, or need for, a Jewish homeland. Just because accusations of antisemitism sometimes seem misplaced doesn’t mean they are never justified. And it is really misleading to imply that all those expressing concerns ‘defend Israel unconditionally’.
Sherwood goes on to distinguish between those who only boycott settlement goods and those who think all cultural, academic and sporting ties with Israel should be off limits. She acknowledges that some feel this is a step too far, but her own rhetoric implies approval for a maximalist approach:
But others – increasingly frustrated by Israel’s intransigence, the dismal prospects for the peace process, and the failure of the international community to back up critical words with meaningful actions – say that only when Israeli citizens and institutions feel the consequences of their government’s policies will they force change from within.
Many Israelis are shielded from the occupation. To those soaking up the sun on a Tel Aviv beach or working in a hi-tech hub in Haifa, Gaza and the West Bank feel like another planet. The daily grind experienced by more than 4 million Palestinians living under military occupation just a few dozen miles away barely registers. A boycott – whether it’s the ending of academic links; the refusal of artists to perform; the divestment of international companies for reputational reasons; or a consumer rejecting Israeli produce in the supermarket – has the potential to jolt Israelis from this somnolence.
I don’t think you have to ‘defend Israel unconditionally’ to feel (like the writers of the New York Times piece quoted below) that there may be fault on both sides in the peace talks.
Mr. Kerry is not about to give up on the process. But like Mr. Baker, he is dealing with two parties that are paralyzed by intransigence and fall back on provocations: Israel announcing new Jewish settlements and refusing to release Palestinian prisoners; the Palestinians, in response, applying to join international organizations and issuing a list of new demands.
The picture of Israelis soaking up the sun as proof of their ‘somnolence’ is meaningless moralising – presumably even supporters of B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence occasionally go to the beach. It’s a little like using a picture of a shopping mall or fancy hotel to ‘prove’ that there are no problems in Gaza.