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Inoculating Israel? Some Uncomfortable Doubts about BDS

israel barcodeWhen I shop at my local Sainsbury’s I check the usual suspects to see if they are produced in Israel, and if so I don’t buy them. I refuse to treat Israel as if it were a normal state, and this is my little gesture to say so.

But if I’m given a Marks and Spencer’s gift voucher for Christmas, or if I urgently need some coleslaw and can only find it at our local after-hours M&S, I don’t tear up the voucher or forego coleslaw with my baked potato. And when I arrived at Sainsbury’s the other day to find the air resounding with amplified cries of ‘West Bank’, ‘Gaza’, ‘Jordan valley’, ‘Palestinians’, ‘Israeli settlers’ I scurried into an out-of-sight aisle.

Why this lack of moral fibre? Is it that I no longer have the undoubted courage it takes to engage in such actions? Do I feel guilty at abandoning my one-time comrades (which I had done some time before my expulsion)? Perhaps a bit of both. But I’m afraid it’s more that I no longer feel confident, at a gut level, about BDS.

I ask myself: What is BDS, at best, likely to achieve? Without the support of the international community, I can’t see it bringing Israel to its knees. The US is committed to Israel’s survival. But what, then, of the moral effect of significant pressure? Won’t this bring about a touchier-feelier Israel, or Israel-Palestine, one which respects universal rights?

Those who argue for such an effect seem to fall into three camps; two-staters, one-staters and vague humanitarians. The two-state solution is dead, and would in any case almost certainly have required the Palestinians to accept a severe curtailing of their rights vis-à-vis Israel. On the other hand, the one-state solution, if it granted Palestinians equal rights, would involve the end of Zionism. Let’s think about that a little

Without the end of Zionism the oppression of the Palestinians will continue. Those who favour BDS argue that there is a parallel between Apartheid South Africa and Israel. They say the equivalent of BDS in the anti-Apartheid movement played an important part in overthrowing that regime.

I have two reservations about this theory. The first is that there was very little ideological support for Apartheid beyond South Africa, while there is massive ideological support for Zionism. The second is that the demise of Apartheid came immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. It is not difficult to see how the two were connected. In other words, Apartheid was more vulnerable than Zionism, and even then it was a global shift in power which really brought about the change.

But to return to the vague humanitarians, they don’t think, they just feel that if we believe firmly enough in BDS there will somehow be a just outcome, even if we can’t conceive at present what that might be. They are inclined to say: ‘Israel is there. You can’t change facts.’ Well, the British Empire, Apartheid South Africa and the Soviet Union were there, and now they are no more. The question is how such a change might be achieved in Israel-Palestine? I’m doubtful that BDS is the answer.

The main attraction of BDS, it seems to me, is that it offers the possibility of almost unlimited activity in a campaigning situation which is otherwise almost totally stalemated. It feels good to be doing something, and the less we think about it the better. I have already stated how I believe that stalemate could be broken, so I won’t restate my position here.

If I am right in doubting the effectiveness of BDS, is it possible that it could actually be counter-productive? For example, while it’s reasonable for an oppressed people to say that they are prepared to suffer further for the sake of a campaign which will eventually liberate them, if that campaign is a forlorn hope, will they simply suffer further (e.g. from lack of employment) in vain?

And then there is the question of targeting companies which in some way support Israel. Our entire political, economic and cultural system is complicit in Israeli crimes. Is it then wise to target particular firms like Marks and Spencer’s, thereby implying that complicity is limited?

And lastly there is a really uncomfortable thought. Could it be that the pin-pricks of BDS inoculate Israel against further effective action, by strengthening its resolve and resources, rather than delivering a lethal injection?

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12 Responses to Inoculating Israel? Some Uncomfortable Doubts about BDS

  1. Ed February 1, 2012 at 5:43 pm #

    I agree with all your comments but I hate TLAs,* they are always the sure sign of a political ghetto.

    Don’t assume that more than 0,001% of the population knows what BDS stands for.

    Boycotts are primarily designed to make the boycotter feel morally superior to the rest of humanity, which is precisely what Greenstein & co. are about, their aim is to demonstrate that Anti-Zionist Jews are more right-on, politically correct souls than us mere mortals.

    Otherwise they are a self-deluding waste of time. We live in a globally integrated capitalist economy. If I refrain from buying Tschibo coffee it is not going to bring the Palestinians one nanosecond closer to their right of return.

    *Three Letter Acronyms

    • Francis Clark-Lowes February 2, 2012 at 6:16 pm #

      Good point about acronyms, Ed. Normally I’m careful in this respect. I’m glad you agree on my main message, though.

  2. david holden (@etominusipi) February 2, 2012 at 3:15 pm #

    like Ed i aalso dislike TLA’s. also, a notorious ignoramus, i hadn’t heard of BDS until about a week ago, which is one tiny piece of evidence for the 0.001% figure quoted. the other points Francis makes are equally arguable, particularly the comment about the liberal’s sisyphean fascination with an unattainable ‘moral high ground’ – yet….. the piece has a feeling of ‘appeasement’ about it, and it is that, rather than the pros and cons mentioned that makes me uncomfortable. rather than waste peoples’ time here attempting to articulate my unease, let me condense it into a single question:

    what is “an urgent need for coleslaw”?

  3. david holden (@etominusipi) February 2, 2012 at 3:19 pm #

    what is an urgent need for coleslaw?

    • Jonathon Blakeley February 2, 2012 at 4:35 pm #

      LOL, David Glad to see you found your way to deLiberation, home for misfits, outcasts and heretics a plenty. More laughs and controversy than Mel Brook’s masterwork “The Produers”.

      But as you ask:

      what is an urgent need for coleslaw?

      I am not sure I am qualified to answer, Coleslaw not being a mission critical thing for me. BDS though seems to me a complete waste of time. A token gesture against the Zionist Empire. i think more concerted action has to be taken. The Zionist regime must be shamed into stopping its attrocities.

      But if you want to Boycott Israel, then shop at Morrisons or Lidl. Morrison has very few Israeli products and Lidl – none. Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencers are defintely Israeli friendly.

      Morrison’s Israeli Products in PDF form

      • Roy Bard February 2, 2012 at 5:59 pm #

        “BDS though seems to me a complete waste of time. A token gesture against the Zionist Empire. i think more concerted action has to be taken. The Zionist regime must be shamed into stopping its attrocities.”

        On the other hand, the call for BDS has come from Palestinian groups, and it does offer an opportunity to make more peope aware of the issues, which seems important bearing in mind that the main stream media continues to report from a very pro-Israel bias.

        Right now, outside of BDS it is difficult to see what actions are being taken to shame the Zionist regime into stopping anything, and putting the spotlight on Israeli companies such as Ahava and Agrexco, along with multinationals such as Veolia and EDO MBM who prop up the occupation seem like worthwhile activities as well.

        Of course more is needed, but I don’t think one should be too eager to dismiss the Palestinian call-out, even if we doubt that it is will be sufficient to end the oppression that Zionism inflicts on the Palestinians.

        BDS is a display of solidarity.

        • Jonathon Blakeley February 2, 2012 at 6:36 pm #

          Good point Roy, It all helps I suppose, and I certainly do pay attention to what I buy and where it comes from. I just wonder how effective it is/ Answer me this.. How long has it been going, the BDS campaign?

          It just seems to me like we would do better taking on the BBC, and exposing their cosy Zionist partners at BICOM. At least then it would get noticed. If we can unmask their propaganda machine then the truth will come out. Not just to us but to the general population. It’s because the BBC & co reinforces these Islamophobic stereotypes that ‘Joe public’ does not care much about Palestine, & Muslims in general. Hence they believe they are all potential terrorists.

          Solidarity is good, and I do agree with the BDS in principle, I just wonder how effective it is. I just want more done Roy, BDS is not enough, time is running out for the Palestinians. The Israelis are Mad as Hell & they make the Nazis look nice.

          All this faction fighting about who is qualifed to be in the PSC or not is just madness. It has not helped the Palestinian cause one bit, as your article ‘Glad not to be in the PSC’ pointed out. IMO I think the PSC has done a great dis-service to the Palestinian cause, by wasting time with all this ‘anti-semite’/’holocaust denier’ finding.

          In fact it really makes me furious. Does anybody think that Paelstinians really care whether someone in the UK is an anti-semite/holocaust denier or not. They are just trying to survive in the face of un-rellenting oppression.

          Sure let’s have BDS, but it is not enough, not enough by a long way. Boycott the BBC and the rest too.

          Truth Justice and Peace.

          • Roy Bard February 3, 2012 at 7:05 pm #

            Hi Jonathon

            “Answer me this.. How long has it been going, the BDS campaign?”

            The call-out was in 2005.

            “Solidarity is good, and I do agree with the BDS in principle, I just wonder how effective it is. I just want more done Roy, BDS is not enough, time is running out for the Palestinians. ”

            Sure, I share your concerns and while there have been some BDS successes, I don’t believe that it has yet, or maybe ever will, achieve the same prominence of the camapaign for sanctions against Apartheid South Africa did.

            “All this faction fighting about who is qualifed to be in the PSC or not is just madness.”

            Seems from reading this article, that the approach may be directly linked to PACBI.

            BDS is categorically opposed to all forms of racism, including Islamophobia, anti-black racism and anti-Semitism. Anchored in international law and universal principles of human rights, BDS calls for equal rights for all humans, without discrimination. This universalist commitment has enabled BDS to spread in recent years at a spectacular rate within the mainstream of western societies, achieving one success after another, in the economic, academic and cultural boycott spheres.

            Sadly, when Omar Barghouti declares:

            Our South Africa moment has arrived.

            I thik he may be rather over-egging the pudding.

            Perhaps he hasn’t thought the full implications of his earlier statement:

            As to the venomous and patently false anti-Semitism smear thrown recklessly and maliciously at BDS activists in an explicit attempt to bully them into silence, it is increasingly seen today as a weapon of intellectual terror that is employed to stifle debate and free speech when the subject is Israel’s occupation and apartheid or the generous U.S. support for both.

            Intellectual terror indeed….. but he approves of the PSC employing it….

          • Jonathon Blakeley February 3, 2012 at 7:24 pm #

            Sadly, when Omar Barghouti declares:

            Our South Africa moment has arrived.

            I think he may be rather over-egging the pudding.

            Quite so Roy more like ‘Sadly deluded’.

  4. spiff February 3, 2012 at 1:00 am #

    ‘All this faction fighting about who is qualifed to be in the PSC or not is just madness.’

    Demonstrates that you’ve missed the point. Would you like some sour grapes with your sour grapes?

    ‘How long has it been going, the BDS campaign?’

    It’s been going on for about a decade and a half, but in a very ineffective way, one that tends to elicit more sympathy and zionist ‘spoil the boycott, buy here’ days than it has actual negative impact on the Israeli economy. And of course even if you add up whatever the negative impact has been of BDS over the last twenty years, well, it doesn’t come to even a fraction of a fraction of the money, say, Apple has just put into their Israel research park – next to the ones from Microsoft and Intel. How many oranges do you have to not eat to get up to $500,000,000, which is what Apple just paid for an Israeli flash memory maker only last month?

    ‘Does anybody think that Paelstinians really care whether someone in the UK is an anti-semite/holocaust denier or not.’

    Holocaust denial within the Palestinian Solidarity movement is a valentine, a shining wonderful gift, to those who oppose it. The PSC has the intelligence to understand this and were quite clear and thorough in their rejection of it. Good on them!

  5. Artemis February 4, 2012 at 1:59 pm #

    The BDS campaign is about delegitimizing the state of Israel. Encouraging the public to boycott Israeli produce is but a small part of that.

    If the campaign is so ineffective, how come the Israelis view it as a major threat? How come they are making such huge efforts to, as they put it, “delegitimize the delegitimizers” ?

    One part of the campaign that truly enrages the Israelis is the cultural boycott, whereby so many world-famous artists have either stated their refusal to perform in Israel or cancelled their performances in Israel after receiving appeals from PACBI and “Boycott from Within”. Are you suggesting that those artists should have gone to entertain Israeli apartheid?

  6. Jay Knott February 4, 2012 at 6:22 pm #

    The advantage of BDS is it tars Israel with the apartheid brush. See the BDS conference currently in Philadelphia: http://mondoweiss.net/2012/02/penn-bds-news-rundown.html

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