To Boycott Israel…or Not?

But Hamas did not choose that response. Rather they shot rockets into civilian neighborhoods, which is both ineffective and unethical.

NK: Let me clarify. I don’t believe any oppressed community deserves blind support for its tactics. But it’s precisely because there has been so much blanket criticism of any Palestinian armed resistance that I think there is an added responsibility to respect calls for nonviolent solidarity actions like BDS, which are the most effective tactics in the nonviolent arsenal.

AW: But the question is, “What will work?” And when you say what the tactics could be, I agree that sanctions are a thousand times better than shooting rockets at civilian neighborhoods, but they don’t work. The nonviolent tactic of the ship-ins was direct, visible, and could’ve become a massive event. It would’ve been as direct a challenge to the blockade as the sit-ins in the restaurants were to American segregation.

The sit-ins in the American South were extraordinary because people didn’t say, “Pass a new law to end segregation.” They said, “We ourselves are going to end segregation. We imagine the future without segregation, we’re going to do it, and then you all are going to have to decide what to do with us. Kill us or change the law.” So that was extraordinarily effective. For me, the question is, “How do you create that kind of change?”

The Presbyterians and a few other Protestant groups broached the question of divestment from Caterpillar, which was producing the bulldozers that were knocking down Palestinian houses. I told the Presbyterians, “This is a waste of time. What would work would be if you all decided that every Presbyterian Church in America was going to bring an Israeli and a Palestinian at the same time to lay out the Geneva Initiative for a two-state peace treaty and the Presbyterian Church was going to commit itself to lobbying for that with the Congress and the president.” That would’ve been incredibly effective, and still would be, if the churches and some Jews and some Muslims got together on this.

NK: I think those are wonderfully complementary strategies. This problem is going to take everything we’ve got. And that’s why I’m so resistant to taking such powerful tactics as BDS off the table at such a crucial moment. The U.S. government was hardly a world leader when it came to sanctions against South Africa. But when universities and municipalities joined the sanctions movement, it eventually forced the federal government to get with the program.

I support the BDS strategy for Israel because it will work again, and it will work because it cuts to the heart of something that is so important to so many Israelis. And that is the idea of normalcy, the idea that Israel is really an honorary adjunct to North America and Europe—even though it happens to be located in the Middle East.

At the moment, it is possible to lead a very comfortable, very secure, very cosmopolitan life in most parts of Israel—despite the fact that Israel is at war with neighbors. I don’t think Israel has a right to simultaneously rain bombs and missiles on Gaza, to attack Lebanon in 2006, to massively expand the settlements, and also have this state of normalcy within its borders. For justice to come, the status quo will have to first become uncomfortable.

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