To Boycott Israel…or Not?

Naomi, won’t your BDS proposal strategy simply strengthen the position of Israeli nationalists, who will then be able to turn to moderates and say, “We are under attack!”

Naomi Klein: The hard right seems to be strengthening all on its own, if we judge by the results of the recent Israeli elections.

But I’ve noticed a change within Israel. I got quite a few e-mails from Israelis saying, “I’ve always opposed this, but I feel that it is the only option left.” I think that’s a reflection of the feeling of desperation among progressive Israelis who are watching their country move hard right and seeing the level of violence increase exponentially.

Arthur, you were an anti-apartheid activist who supported a BDS approach to South Africa. Are there similarities between the Bantustans, the small areas of South Africa that were under “independent” black rule, and the Occupied Territories?

Rabbi Arthur Waskow: There are similarities, but the BDS approach is not the way to bring about the change that is absolutely necessary.

The most important, and probably the only effective, change that can be brought about is a serious change in the behavior of the U.S. government. That means we need to engage in serious organizing within the United States.

Naomi has written about the failure of carrots in changing the way Israel has behaved so far, and I agree. One carrot the Israeli government has essentially ignored, with the help of the Bush administration, is the offer of the Arab League, led by a surprisingly creative King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. It outlines a general peace treaty between Israel and all the Arab states, on the condition of a peace treaty being negotiated between Israel and a viable, sensible Palestinian state with perhaps some variations on the 1967 boundaries.

But the Israeli government of the last 10 years has been totally uninterested because it thought it could get away with de facto annexing more and more land of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

If the U.S. government had said, “Here’s the deal: the Arab League proposal is what we are after, and we will offer carrots and we will offer sticks, whatever is necessary to bring this about.” Then there would be very serious change, both within the Palestinian territories and Israel.

Real political change within the United States could come through an Abrahamic Alliance, an alliance between big chunks—though, of course, not all—of the Jewish community, the Muslim community, and the Christians.

Boycotts and divestment are not going to do it. I understand that they express a kind of personal purity—”not with my money you don’t”—but they won’t change U.S. policy, which is exactly what needs to be changed.

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