To Boycott Israel…or Not?

NK: It is not a question of personal purity. It’s a question of basic solidarity. A call for this tactic has come from coalitions of Palestinian groups representing a very wide spectrum of political parties, labor unions and community groups.

Interestingly, the country which has responded the most seriously to the BDS movement is South Africa, precisely because the parallels are seen most clearly in South Africa.

A lot of this criticism of the BDS movement has been: Why Israel? Why not Sri Lanka? And the point is that, according to basic left principles of solidarity, the tactics should be chosen by the oppressed communities themselves.

In terms of the ultimate solution and what that should be, BDS and Arthur’s calls for an Abrahamic Alliance are not incompatible goals. I think that really what we’re talking about is how you build pressure toward a resolution.

AW: But Naomi, something different is going on inside Israeli Jewish and Israeli Palestinian society than what was going on within white South Africa. Leaving aside the fact that in Israel, about a fifth of the population with some voting power is Israeli Palestinians, within Jewish Israel there is a real internal split.

Even though during the last election Israelis moved to the hard right, a serious body of people is still working for a two-state solution. And the only force in the world that can deliver that is the United States government.

You’re right that many Palestinians have called for divestment, etc., but I disagree that the oppressed automatically get to decide their own tactics. For example, Hamas made a terrible ethical and practical political mistake by responding to the embargo and blockade on Gaza with rocket attacks on civilians in Israel.

I recognize that there had to be resistance, but there were nonviolent alternatives. There were beginning to be “ship-ins,” in the model of sit-ins. Small boats that had been certified as not carrying any weapons, began to cross the Mediterranean carrying medicine and food, especially baby food, to civilians in Gaza. The first couple got through, but then beginning with the massive attack on Gaza, the Israeli navy forced others back.

NK: They rammed one and may have fired shots at another.

AW: Yes. Now, the question is, what would have happened if the Palestinian leadership, including Hamas, had said to Europeans and to Americans, “We welcome this vigorous, assertive, nonviolent resistance to the blockade. We beg for doctors and peaceniks and academics and everybody under the sun to start joining in and bringing these boats, and we appeal for pastors and priests and rabbis and imams to start coming in these boats.” In fact, there was a mass public welcome of the first boats that got through.

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