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[Bar Ilan U, Math] Kobi Snitz / Israeli Citizens for a Boycott of Israel

 Issue No. 38 (Summer 2008)

 (c) 1998-2008 badil.org

 Main Features: The BDS Movement Today

 Israeli Citizens for a Boycott of Israel
 by Roee Harush and Kobi Snitz

 Over the past few months, a working group has been meeting and
discussing how to build the BDS campaign by citizens of Israel. The
group itself is composed of a small group of Israeli citizens who
object to the daily apartheid policies towards Palestinians
everywhere, many of whom are already active in challenging Israeli
oppression in different political, intellectual and cultural arenas.
Much of the group's work so far has focused on discussing amongst
itself, and with the Palestinian initiators of the campaign, on the
ways in which this campaign can be built within Israeli society. This
article describes some of the results of these discussions.

Haifa, the city in which the campaign is based, is a 'mixed' city.
Palestinians and Israeli-Jews reside in it, and there are some
advanced political projects in the city that helped in choosing it as
the group's center of action. Many of Haifa's Palestinians and some
Jews participate in anti-Zionist activity on different occasions, such
as Nakba day (May 14-15) and Land day (March 30), and there are
regular vigils against Israeli war crimes, as well as various forms of
direct action against the occupation and the Zionist regime.

 Through the various discussions, it was found that there is broad
agreement that support by Israeli citizens, particularly
Jewish-Israelis could be very useful to the international BDS
campaign. In addition to helping counter the crude characterization of
Israel's critics as anti-Semites, the usefulness of organized
Jewish-Israeli endorsement for the campaign helps respond to the
charge that progressive Israelis, or the Israeli left, do not support
BDS. Less clear are the prospects or opportunities for such a movement
to exist in a meaningful way.

 An important unresolved issue is the legitimate reluctance of many
anti-Zionists in Palestine to identify as Israelis. In a movement
dedicated to the principle of full equality, the wishes of those who
oppose such a label should not be taken lightly. As such, an internal
debate has arisen over the simple, but fundamental, question of what
to name the group. Does the usefulness of externally projecting
ourselves as Jewish-Israeli settlers in Palestine who oppose the
settler colonial project outweigh the principled objection to
internally and externally identifying one-self as being part of the
Zionist enterprise through the use of the 'Israeli' label? Even on the
domestic front, while the Jewish society in Palestine will undoubtedly
see BDS demands as extreme, identifying as Israelis may help in
getting others to listen to our arguments as members of the same
society, rather than further alienating BDS campaigners as a foreign
body within that society. This is a long-standing question for the
Jewish anti-Zionist movement in Palestine, and while it is an
unresolved issue, it should not be allowed to become an obstacle to
mounting an effective struggle against the apartheid regime.

 The first obstacle to the campaign is the fact that support for BDS
is very marginalized within Jewish-Israeli society and some of the
prominent advocates of the campaign, such as Ilan Pappe and the late
Tanya Reinhart, had to endure a great deal of pressure in response to
their position. This official and societal pressure is successful in
intimidating many potential supporters of the campaign. Secondly, even
amongst potential supporters of BDS the discussion is at a pretty
early stage. One indication is that people commonly respond to the
proposed campaign with the idea that Israeli citizens (including
Palestinian citizens of Israel) can not call for a boycott since they
can not avoid participating in the Israeli economy.

 In addition to potential usefulness for the global campaign, the
main reason for wanting to launch the campaign within Jewish-Israeli
society is a principled one that stems from a deep opposition to the
colonial Zionist project. While some parts of the Israeli left may
have called for selective boycotts, notably of settlement products,
there currently exists no agent within this society that operates
within the framework of the 9 July 2005 Palestinian civil society call
for BDS. Thus, it is felt that it is important to join the
Palestinians in their call for boycott, accepting their role as the
original initiators, accepting the Palestinian call for boycott as it
is, focusing on all three demands of ending occupation, equal rights
for Palestinian citizens of Israel, and implementation of the
Palestinian refugees' right to return. Participants see BDS as an
essential campaign, potentially the most powerful nonviolent campaign
possible to stop the ongoing war crimes committed in the name of
Jewish people.

 The group is now at a stage of planning activities in Israel and
abroad. At first, efforts will be focused on educating potential
supporters. In the mean time, the group has already been involved in
several initiatives. The first action was simply to translate and
endorse the Palestinian civil society call for BDS as Israelis. The
direct support of Israeli citizens in the BDS call is an important
declaration, and one that will hopefully inspire other Israelis to
join the campaign. Recently, the group also took part in a march
commemorating 41 years of Israeli occupation of the West Bank and
Gaza. During the march, BDS activists carried signs that read
“Boycott Israel” in Hebrew and English, chanting this
slogan loudly. After the march, about 30 Israelis held a meeting that
lasted about an hour-and-a-half and discussed the idea of boycotting
Israel among themselves. The responses were encouraging and it will be
important to have such discussions again at other political events.
The group also participated in the panel dealing specifically with the
boycott campaign at the 21 June 2008 Haifa Conference on the Secular
Democratic State. Since then it issued open letters to high profile
artists planning to perform in Israel, such as Snoop Doggy Dog and
Cypress Hill, calling on them to cancel their visits and to take
public positions against the Israeli apartheid regime.

 While discussions have produced the preliminary steps already
mentioned, there are larger issues that have emerged as requiring more
discussion and need to be thought through with the Palestinian
initiators of the campaign. For instance, one way in which Hebrew
speakers can clearly be of use to the campaign is research into the
corporations and institutions supporting and legitimizing Israel's
apartheid system. Such research should not be done in an arbitrary
fashion, but would be much more useful if done in coordination with
the needs of the global campaign and the Palestinian BDS National
Committee (BNC), the main reference point of the global campaign.
Translation of BDS resources and news from other languages to Hebrew
will also be an important part of our work, in order to facilitate
outreach in the Hebrew-speaking community.

 Another question that has come up in discussions is that of how to
relate to groups operating within the framework of a selective
boycott. Gush Shalom, for example, calls solely for a boycott of
settlement products, but not of Zionist-Israeli institutions in
general. The practical aspect of how to relate to such groups creates
a dilemma: are supporters of BDS based on the Palestinian civil
society call to join forces with those who only support part of the
call, and after some gains are made on that front, to go on to
advocate a wide boycott and further demands; or should they not
cooperate with boycott initiatives which do not follow the call issued
by Palestinians. The reason for considering the first option is the
potential of reaching a much larger audience and increasing the
legitimacy of the idea of the boycott campaign within Israeli society.
The reason for considering the second option is that given the
disproportionate weight that actors within the international community
give to Jewish and Israeli voices, Israeli boycott calls might end up
setting the agenda for international initiatives. For example,
European groups who might want Israeli support for their boycott
policies might follow Gush Shalom's policy of only boycotting
settlement products while Palestinian organizations have clearly
called for support for a wider boycott. By joining forces, even
temporarily with those who offer only partial support for the
Palestinian call, one may inadvertently give credibility to Israeli
decision-making power in what is and should continue to be a
Palestinian-led campaign.

 A pivotal issue is that of the role and relationship
vis-a-vis Palestinian citizens of Israel who are central to the
campaign. For instance, does the usefulness of having a Jewish-Israeli
group calling for boycott, outweigh the potential perpetuation of
'apartness' and 'separation' characteristic of Israeli apartheid by
having an exclusively Jewish group? These questions cannot be answered
without a longer process of discussion with Palestinian BDS activists
on both sides of the green line.

 Overall, the feeling in the group is quite positive. Many feel
certain that partners in the struggle against the apartheid regime
will be found, and that together they can make a strong and effective
contribution to the global BDS movement and the Palestinian struggle
for freedom.


 *Kobi Snitz is an Israeli peace activist living in Haifa; Roee
Harush is an activist of Moroccan origin who resides in occupied
Haifa. He studies feminist critical pedagogy and literature at Seminar
Hakibutzim in Tel Aviv and has been an anti-Zionist activist for the
past 5 years in various NGOs and civil resistance groups.
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