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Boycott Calls Against Israel
Yehudit Har'el from the Hebrew University, Ilan Pappe from Haifa University and Yoav Peled from Tel Aviv University

Boycott - yes or no

By Adi Dagan

On July 19, 2005 took place at the Left Bank Club (Hagada Hasmalit) in Tel Aviv an open discussion on the issue of boycotts and sanctions against the Israeli occupation policy. The idea was to have an initial discussion of Israeli peace activists and peace groups on this issue, which is already the subject of sanctions campaigns held by various organizations around the world (e.g. it came up in the UN-sponsored Civil Society Conference at Paris and the World Social Forum in Brazil, and there was the attempted academic boycott in Britain etc).

Four speakers opened the discussion which was moderated by Oren Medicks:

Yehudit Har'el expressed support for sanctions and for the cooperation of Israeli academics with such sanctions. Her main argument was that the various protest activities of the Israeli peace camp have failed in bringing about a concrete change - on the contrary, the situation in the Territories is constantly deteriorating - and therefore, something else must be tried. Most Israelis have not become convinced that the occupation is not worthwhile, and evidently think that is is (for them). Until they are made to pay a prohibitive price, they would not come to the conclusion of giving it up. Israelis are very sensitive to their international image and the attitude of the world towards them. and therefore international pressure would affect them.

Abir Kobty enumerated her own reasons for supporting boycott. She pointed several questions which need to be asked: Why did earlier boycotts not succeed? Should we in Israel declare openly our support for a boycott or act behind the scenes to help those who work abroad? A boycott on whom and by whom? She pointed out that there are many plausible reasons to boycott Israel, including also the treatment the Palestinian citizens inside Israel, and said that boycott must be built up slowly so as to make it steady, carefully planned - and effective. In her view, one should start with addressing civil society rather then governments. There should be a comprehensive umbrella organization coordinating activities both inside the country and abroad.

Dr. Ilan Pappe talked about the ineffectiveness of the peace camp in bringing about a change inside Israel, which "with a heavy heart" leads to the need to appeal for outside pressure. He talked of academics and workers in Apartheid South Africa calling upon the International Community to boycott them - simultaneously with confronting the Apartheid policies of their own government. He said that the call for a boycott against the Israeli policies came from the Palestinian civil society rather than from the Palestinian Authority. He expressed his certainty that initiatives for boycott action will continue to spread, in spite of failures such as in Britain, and spoke of the need to be ready to pay the personal price of speaking out in favour of a boycott.

Dr. Yoav Peled expressed opposition to a comprehensive boycott on Israel, being against the kinds of boycott which hurts Israelis who are opposed to the occupation. He is apprehensive that outside pressure will cause Israelis to feel that "the whole world is against us" and will push the mainstream public closer to the settlers with the feeling that "we are all together in the same boat". It would be better to forge alliances between Israeli groups and equivalent groups abroad, and isolate the supporters of the occupation. He spoke at length about the preferential treatment which Israel enjoys in America and also in Europe, and which there is no chance to change. He supports selective boycotts - e.g. against the Ariel College, the Caterpilllar Company etc.

There were many reactions from the audience. Here are some:

  • The boycott should hurt the Israeli elites rather than the lower classes.
  • Boycott should be combined with non-violent action against the occupation.
  • Many people throughout the world are outraged at Israel and the US being effectively above International Law.
  • In order to effective, boycott action should be pin-pointed.
  • Even if it joins the boycott, the Israeli Peace Camp will do it very belatedly. The issue is already on the agenda, world-wide, and the only remaining question is whether Israelis want to influence it. As Israelis we must react, take a position: in favour or against, but it would be difficult to remain uncommitted.
  • It is very important for Israelis and Jews to join, so as to ensure that it would be a boycott against the occupation policy and not become an anti-Israeli and/or antisemitic boycott (there are some groups which would like it to be such).
  • Boycott mobilization has started among trade unions. In the case of South Africa it has taken some ten years for it to come to fruitition.
  • Our job as Israelis would be to establish a data base about institutions which can be boycotted on different levels - for example, companies involved in building the Wall. There should be a centre of information and coordination.
The above is far from a comprehensive report of all that was said in the discussion.
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