On boycotts, divestiture and sanctions
Morris Malakoff • JTNews Correspondent
Posted: February 23, 2010
A debate on the question of how to solve the issue of Jewish settlements in the land occupied after the 1967 Six-Day War is like listening to a pair of technical mountain climbers discuss which route is the best.
Both have the same objective — the summit — and as to their opinions, that is a matter of philosophy. As to which route is better, only time and trial and error may tell. But that error could be a costly one.
That, in an allegorical way, is what three dozen interested listeners heard on Thurs., Feb. 18 at a debate between Gad Barzilai and Neve Gordon, arguing the best way to deal with the occupied lands — economic boycott, divestment and sanctions or a more laissez faire approach, with perhaps a dash of cutting back on foreign aid to Israel.
Both were raised in Israel and say they love Israel and want a peaceful outcome and believe in a two-state solution. They differ, however, on how that will best be accomplished.
Gordon is a senior lecturer on politics and government at Ben Gurion University and is a supporter of the boycott, divestment, and sanction method, referred to in shorthand as BDS.
Barzilai is the chair of Jewish Studies at the University of Washington and a professor at the Jackson School of International Studies, and is opposed to BDS.
Gordon, 45, who has been active in peace initiatives in Israel since adolescence, believes that the Israeli government is an apartheid regime, where two peoples live in the same space under different legal systems.
He sees BDS as a strategy for bringing a two-state solution to fruition.
“The average Israeli is not affected by the current system, so nothing will change until they feel economic hardship in their daily lives,” he told the audience.
Gordon says the root of the problem is political demographics and an obsessive preoccupation with security.
“There is no Zionist left anymore, Labor is gone,” he said. “The right has taken over.”
For Barzilai, he thinks that while the topic of the evening is a good debate topic, the political realities speak against the BDS strategy.
“The Israeli economy is strong,” he said. “It likely can withstand most BDS impacts. But if it should manage to cause the economy to collapse, it will bring on a situation much like Italy and Germany before the Second World War and with it, Fascism. BDS will make the right stronger and kill off the NGOs (non-governmental organizations), bringing an end to democracy.”
He did acknowledge that the United States is in a unique position to wield power over the Israeli government to bring about change through assertive diplomacy by cutting back on the $3 billion a year in foreign aid that flows from Washington, D.C. to Tel Aviv.
That brought a counter argument from Gordon, who latched on to that statement as saying that Barzilai was supporting a de facto form of BDS, only at a higher level.
Gordon said currently more than 115 BDS programs in Europe are aimed at Israel, but that it is still early in the game. The BDS strategy against South Africa took two decades to force change — the current programs targeted at Israel have only been at it for four years.
Barzilai pointed out that no matter the society involved, BDS hurts the poorest first and in the case of Israel, that would likely be the Palestinian populations, the very people Gordon claims are suffering under an Israeli apartheid regime.
Gordon came to Seattle as a part of a conference hosted by St. Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle titled “The United States, Israel and Palestine: What Does Justice Require of Us?” The Barzilai/Gordon debate was sponsored by the Kadima Reconstructionist Community.