Netanyahu tries to stop boycott

Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu told his government ministers at the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday that in his recent visit to the UK, he discussed the calls for boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel because of its military occupation of Palestinian land and Palestinian lives.

Netanyahu said:  “Regarding Great Britain, what bothers me is the spreading boycott policy, both academic and economic.  I received a commitment from him [Prime Minister Brown] that he would act vigorously against this.  I also spoke – by telephone – with Leader of the Opposition David Cameron, who was on vacation, and he underscored this”.

In an interview by Cecilie Surasky conducted probably in July but just posted on 1 September, Canadian author Naomi Klein (Shock Doctrine) and Israeli publisher Yael Lerer explain that they think boycotting Israel will pressure the country to live up to international law:

Question (Surasky): You must have grappled with this idea of a cultural boycott. Many critics would say that it shuts down communication rather than opening it up. What brought you to take this step?

Klein: Well, it has to do with the fact that the Israeli government openly uses culture as a military tool. Though Israeli officials believe they are winning the actual war for land, they also feel that the country suffers because most of what the world hears about the region on the news is about the conflict: militarization, lawlessness, the occupation and Gaza. So the foreign ministry launched a campaign called ‘Israel Beyond the Conflict’, which involves using culture, film, books, the arts, tourism and academia to create all kinds of alliances between Western countries and the state of Israel, and to promote the image of a normal, happy country, rather than an aggressive occupying power. That’s why we are always hearing about film festivals and book fairs with a special ‘Israel spotlight’. And so, even though in general I would totally agree that culture is positive — books are positive and film is positive and communication is wonderful — we have to understand that we are dealing with a state strategy to co-opt all of that to make a brutal occupation more palatable.

Klein: One of the things we are trying to draw out with this tour is that for foreigners like me, however you choose to come to Israel, you are making choices, and you are taking a side. It’s possible to pretend that you are not, but that’s only because of Israel’s success in making the conflict invisible inside a carefully constructed bubble.  In my book there is a long chapter about Israel and the construction of the homeland security state. It looks closely at the companies that build the high-tech walls and fences and checkpoints and that keep Palestinians in the Occupied Territories in a state of constant surveillance.  It is because of the effectiveness of the homeland security sector that it’s possible to come to cities like Tel Aviv and be almost completely oblivious to what is happening in Ramallah, in Gaza. This state is like a giant gated community. It has perfected the art of constructing a security bubble, and that is, in a sense, its brand.  It’s a brand that is sold to Diaspora Jews like me. It says: “We can keep you safe, we can create, in a sea of enemies, a bubble of safety for you to enjoy, to have a wonderful beach holiday, to go to film festivals and book festivals — even as we bomb Gaza, even as we turn the West Bank into a chain of mini-Bantustans, surrounded by walls and expanding settlements, and roads Palestinians don’t have access to.”  These are two sides of the same coin: the bubble of normalcy, the brutality of enclosure. So it is not a politically neutral act to partake of that bubble.

Surasky: And how has the Israeli media responded to the first pro-boycott book tour?

Klein: Not well. One of the contradictions we’re facing is that we really wanted to spark a debate in Israel, because while BDS is being debated in Europe and Canada, it’s almost invisible inside Israel; there’s real censorship around this issue.  Virtually the only perspective you hear is, ‘Oh, they’re just a bunch of anti-Semites, they hate Israelis, they hate Jews’ — very, very distorted.  So our idea was to make it harder to distort by putting some facts on the ground and saying: ‘Look, we’ve translated this book, I’m here in Israel. Let’s have some of that dialogue and communication Israel is supposedly so intent on defending’.  What we’re finding is a lot of interest from Israelis but a huge amount of resistance from the Israeli media to just having the debate — both about the role of the security sector in lobbying against peace and the possible role of a boycott movement in creating new lobbies for peace.  Once I made my boycott position clear in Ha’aretz, a lot of media canceled on us, which doesn’t say much for the spectrum of debate, but it’s not all that surprising either!

Surasky: What is the objective of this campaign? What would you like to see coming out of this?

Klein: It’s modeled on the South Africa strategy that the anti-apartheid struggle used against South Africa very successfully in the 1980s. It had academic boycotts, cultural boycotts, consumer boycotts … you had a white minority in South Africa that very much saw itself as being part of Europe, of being part of the West. And suddenly they weren’t getting the American and European concerts they wanted, they weren’t getting the book fairs they wanted, and they didn’t like that. So they put pressure on their government to make it stop, even though white South Africans felt self-righteous and enormously enraged by the boycotts and sanctions. The hope is that these sorts of dynamics can work in Israel, because it is so important to the Israeli self-image that the country be seen as an honorary member of the E.U. or an adjunct to the United States. When writers and artists stop participating in the Israeli government’s strategy to use culture to hide what’s on the other side of the concrete walls, Israelis may eventually decide that those walls are a liability and decide to take them down.

Lehrer: …it is so important to the Israeli self-image that the country be seen as an honorary member of the E.U. or an adjunct to the United States.  When writers and artists stop participating in the Israeli government’s strategy to use culture to hide what’s on the other side of the concrete walls, Israelis may eventually decide that those walls are a liability and decide to take them down … As an Israeli citizen, I need boycotts for two reasons.  First, I want Israelis to feel more strongly that everything is not normal. It means nothing for many self-identified left-wing Israelis to say, ‘It’s awful, what’s going on in Gaza and in Hebron’, while continuing their daily lives like everything is fine.  They go to the shows and they go to the concerts. These people are the elites in this country. These are the journalists that work at the newspapers. I want to move them. I want to shake these people up and make them understand they cannot continue their normal life when Palestinians in Qalqiliya [a West Bank city completely surrounded by the separation barrier] — only 15 minutes away from Tel Aviv — are in prison.  The second reason I need the boycott is because I lost the hope of creating change from within, which was what I tried to do as an activist for many years.  Twenty years ago, I could never have imagined this semi-apartheid situation

Klein: I also think we need to be very clear: This is an extraordinarily asymmetrical conflict where the Israeli state is the biggest boycotter of all. The economy in Gaza and the West Bank has been utterly destroyed by closures.  Beyond shutting down the borders so producers in Gaza couldn’t get fruits and vegetables out, you had [over 200] factories in Gaza hit during the attack in late December and January. It was a systematic destruction of that economy to try to ‘teach Gaza a lesson’ for having voted for Hamas. So, boycotts are happening.  The way I see BDS [boycott, divestment, sanctions] is that this is a tactic that we are resorting to because of Israeli impunity. There is an absolute unwillingness to apply international law to the Israeli state. Hamas has committed war crimes, but there is absolutely an international response to those crimes. [There is no response to Israeli war crimes, which are on an exponentially larger scale.]  We were just in Gaza. The thing that really struck me was the sense of shock among so many people that, even after the December/January attacks, even after hundreds of children were killed, there have been no actions taken by the international community to hold Israel accountable.  I mean, this was a display of utter impunity and disdain for international law, for the laws of war — which, by the way, were created in direct response to the Nazi atrocities of the second World War. And yet, not only are there no consequences for those crimes, but the illegal siege of Gaza is still on.  What BDS is saying is our governments have failed. The United Nations has failed. The so-called international community is a joke. We have to fill the vacuum”.

Klein: It’s inevitable that, at least in the short term, it’s going to feed this Israeli feeling of being under siege. It’s not rational, because in fact, what we’re dealing with is a context where Israel has been rewarded. If we look at these key years since the election of Hamas, when the siege on Gaza became utterly brutal and just undeniably illegal, trade with Israel has actually increased dramatically. There have been new special agreements launched with the European Union and Israel, with Latin America. Last year, Israeli exports to Canada went up 45 percent.
Even though Israel is being rewarded for this criminality and is getting away with just extraordinary violence, the feeling among many Israelis of being under siege is increasing. The question is, do we just cater to this irrationality? Because if we just cater to it, that means we do nothing, we voluntarily surrender the most effective tools in the nonviolent arsenal. Israel, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, believes that the whole world is against it and that all the criticism it faces flows from anti-Semitism. This is simply untrue, and as activists, we can no longer allow one nation’s victim complex to trump the very real victimization of the Palestinian people.

This interview can be read in full here

There has been a big stir in Israel created by the publication of an OpEd piece published in the Los Angeles Times on 20 August, that was written by Neve Gordon, author of “Israel’s Occupation” and teaches politics at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba, Israel.

Gordon has tenure in his job, but top officials at Ben-Gurion University have called upon him to resign.

In his OpEd, Gordon wrote: “It is indeed not a simple matter for me as an Israeli citizen to call on foreign governments, regional authorities, international social movements, faith-based organizations, unions and citizens to suspend cooperation with Israel. But today, as I watch my two boys playing in the yard, I am convinced that it is the only way that Israel can be saved from itself. I say this because Israel has reached a historic crossroads, and times of crisis call for dramatic measures. I say this as a Jew who has chosen to raise his children in Israel, who has been a member of the Israeli peace camp for almost 30 years and who is deeply anxious about the country’s future. The most accurate way to describe Israel today is as an apartheid state. For more than 42 years, Israel has controlled the land between the Jordan Valley and the Mediterranean Sea. Within this region about 6 million Jews and close to 5 million Palestinians reside. Out of this population, 3.5 million Palestinians and almost half a million Jews live in the areas Israel occupied in 1967, and yet while these two groups live in the same area, they are subjected to totally different legal systems. The Palestinians are stateless and lack many of the most basic human rights. By sharp contrast, all Jews — whether they live in the occupied territories or in Israel — are citizens of the state of Israel. The question that keeps me up at night, both as a parent and as a citizen, is how to ensure that my two children as well as the children of my Palestinian neighbors do not grow up in an apartheid regime … I am convinced that outside pressure is the only answer. Over the last three decades, Jewish settlers in the occupied territories have dramatically increased their numbers. The myth of the united Jerusalem has led to the creation of an apartheid city where Palestinians aren’t citizens and lack basic services. The Israeli peace camp has gradually dwindled so that today it is almost nonexistent, and Israeli politics are moving more and more to the extreme right. It is therefore clear to me that the only way to counter the apartheid trend in Israel is through massive international pressure. The words and condemnations from the Obama administration and the European Union have yielded no results, not even a settlement freeze, let alone a decision to withdraw from the occupied territories. I consequently have decided to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement that was launched by Palestinian activists in July 2005 and has since garnered widespread support around the globe. The objective is to ensure that Israel respects its obligations under international law and that Palestinians are granted the right to self-determination. In Bilbao, Spain, in 2008, a coalition of organizations from all over the world formulated the 10-point Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign meant to pressure Israel in a “gradual, sustainable manner that is sensitive to context and capacity.” For example, the effort begins with sanctions on and divestment from Israeli firms operating in the occupied territories, followed by actions against those that help sustain and reinforce the occupation in a visible manner. Along similar lines, artists who come to Israel in order to draw attention to the occupation are welcome, while those who just want to perform are not. Nothing else has worked. Putting massive international pressure on Israel is the only way to guarantee that the next generation of Israelis and Palestinians — my two boys included — does not grow up in an apartheid regime”. Neve Gordon’s OpEd can be read in full here .

Here are excerpts of the text of the Bilbao Declaration on BDS:

Assembled in Bilbao on October 31, 2008, we hereby call upon civil society organizations, political parties, networks and conscientious individuals:

(1) To raise awareness about and implement the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Campaign against Israel, based on the 2005 Palestinian civil society BDS Call [2], in a gradual, sustainable manner that is sensitive to context and capacity. In particular, we call upon international solidarity movements, social movements, faith-based organizations, unions, NGOs, cultural and academic figures and associations, human rights organizations, and independent legal experts to undertake practical and effective measures to counter Israel’s occupation, apartheid and systematic violation of Palestinian human rights.

(2) To develop and sustain public awareness-raising campaigns to expose the facts about Israel’s regime of apartheid, colonialism and occupation; promote and support the struggle of the entire Palestinian people – in the OPT, Israel, and exile – to attain their right to self-determination, justice, return, and equality as individuals and as a people. To this effect, media organizations are called upon to allow the authentic voices representing Palestinian civil society and supporters of a just peace to be expressed freely, without censorship, distortion or omission.

(3) To demand the compliance with the 2004 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice – condemning Israel’s Wall and colonies built on occupied territory – by refraining from providing aid or assistance to Israel or to any of the institutions complicit in its crimes and violations of international law during the implementation of humanitarian and development operations; and hold Israel accountable for damages incurred to infrastructure and services financed and supported by the international community in the OPT.

(4) To act to end Israel’s gradual ethnic cleansing in occupied Jerusalem and its criminal siege of the occupied Gaza Strip, where its illegal and immoral policy of collective punishment against 1.5 million Palestinians may amount to acts of genocide, according to leading international law experts. The collusion of the international community in maintaining the siege must also be exposed and brought to an end.

(5) To build pressure on the United Nations, governments, local authorities, multilateral bodies, such as the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and the private sector to suspend cooperation with Israel, with all its complicit institutions and with all institutions that support its occupation and human rights violations, and to investigate their respective compliance with international law and UN resolutions.

(6) To build pressure on the European Union to uphold and respect its obligations under international law and its own human rights standards in its relationship with Israel, in particular by demanding a suspension of the EU-Israel Association Agreement, based on Israel’s grave and persistent violations of its articles 2 and 83 …

The Bilbao Declaration on BDS can be read in full here.

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