The last refuge. A new defence of the BDS campaign

August 28, 2009

Gideon Levy


The timing of the mini-maelstromover an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times by Neve Gordon, who teachespolitics and government at Be'er Sheva's Ben-Gurion University, calling for aboycott of Israel, was somewhat grotesque. Hardly have the throats dried ofthose calling for his dismissal, for his citizenship to be revoked, for hisexpulsion and, if all else fails, his stoning, when another petition hassurfaced on the Internet, this one calling for a boycott of Ikea. A bad articleon the back page of a Swedish tabloid is enough to produce a call here for aconsumer boycott to which thousands sign their names. Turkey has barelyrecovered from the boycott that our package tourers imposed on it because itsprime minister had the gall to attack our president, and already we arecruising toward our next boycott target. It's our right.


It's a safe bet that most of theboycotters of Antalya and Ikea are the same people who want to tar-and-featherthe Israeli professor who dared promulgate the use of the very same civicweapon. According to the Israelis who railed against Gordon, the imposition ofa boycott is a legitimate, perhaps even effective, means of punishment that canbe invoked against our enemies, real or imagined. Gordon, an Israeli patriotwho served in the Paratroops and is raising his two children here, thinks thata 42-year-long criminal occupation should generate at least as muchinternational protest as an article in a Swedish newspaper, and that thisprotest can and should be translated into concrete measures. The Israelis thinkthat one scurrilous article is enough to warrant punishing everything Swedish,and that one comment by a prime minister is enough to do the same to everythingTurkish. Gordon thinks the occupation is a sufficiently important motive toboycott everything Israeli.


Since the time of the ban imposedin the Jewish community by Rabbeinu Gershom at the turn of the firstmillennium, which applies to offenses of considerably less severity thanmistreating 3.5 million people - namely, marrying more than one woman,divorcing a woman without her consent and reading private correspondencewithout the owner's consent - the boycott has been a just and appropriate civilweapon. And since the boycott of the apartheid regime in South Africa, theboycott has also been an effective weapon. Israel is demanding its invocationagainst Iran, America wants it imposed against North Korea and both of them aredemanding it against the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip, and worse, againstall the residents of Gaza. Israel, and with it most of the internationalcommunity, imposed a boycott on 1.5 million Gazans only because they did notvote for the right party in the democratic elections that the internationalcommunity demanded.


A country that constantly demandsboycott from the world and also imposes boycotts itself, cannot play the victimwhen the same weapon is turned against it. If the election of Hamas is causefor boycott, then occupation is a far more potent cause. The fact that Israelis living a lie - pretending that the occupation does not exist, that it isjust, temporary and unavoidable - does not make the struggle against it anyless legitimate. So let us admit the truth: The occupier deserves to beboycotted. As long as the Israelis pay no price for the occupation, theoccupation will not end, and therefore the only way open to the opponents ofthe occupation is to take concrete means that will make the Israelis understandthat the injustice they are perpetrating comes with a price tag.


Anyone who champions the struggleagainst the occupation is no less of a patriot than a soldier who shoots abound Palestinian or a settler who plunders land and builds his house on it, indefiance of every law. They are giving Israel a far worse name than a lecturerwho calls for a struggle against the occupation - just ask Israel's critics. Itis precisely the Gordons, those who fight from within, who are repairingslightly the horrific damage that has been done to Israel's image in the pastfew years. They are proving to the world that despite everything Israel is notmonolithic, that not all Israelis speak with the same voice, that not allIsraelis are Liebermans or Kahanists, and that maybe Israel is, after all, atype of democracy with freedom of expression, at least for its Jewish citizens.


Gordon went one step further.Boycott is the next logical step, he believes, because all else has failed.Forty-two years of fruitless fighting from within and an occupation that isonly growing stronger, dictate stepping up the struggle. We trieddemonstrations but the masses did not come; we tried conferences but they lednowhere. All that's left is to give in, to go on with the routine of our lives,like all the Israelis, to shut our eyes and hope for the best - or to intensifythe struggle, in conjunction with the intensification of the occupation. TheIsraeli soldiers who shoot at civilian demonstrators in Bil'in or Na'alin,almost like in Iran, are perpetrating a far more illegitimate act against thestate's rule of law than those calling for an international boycott. But no onewill urge the revocation of their citizenship.


Gordon chose not to follow theherd, unlike most of his cowardly colleagues or the nationalists. It is one'sright to think that an Israeli who does not boycott Israel does not have theright to call on others to take that step, or that the call for an externalboycott is the last option of Israeli patriots who do not want to abandon thecountry or throw up their hands. There is, however, no place for the viciousattacks on Gordon. The height of ludicrousness was achieved by the President ofBen-Gurion University, Prof. Rivka Carmi. She was appalled by the articlepublished by a member of her faculty, fearing it could affect the university'sdonations from American Jews. Here, then, is a new criterion for goodcitizenship and morality: the harm it wreaks to our schnorring. It's also a newgauge for academic and civic freedom of expression: If something miffs thedonors from Beverly Hills or Miami Beach, then we must not speak it aloud.Quiet - people donating.


The reactions from officialIsrael, and from the street, have lately become more irritable and moreaggressive. An article in a Swedish paper or in an American paper, a report byBreaking the Silence or Human Rights Watch, whatever does not conform to theofficial right-wing, militaristic, nationalist line, is reviled, delegitimizedand subjected to an outpouring of hate. This is an encouraging sign. Only whenIsrael, at both the official and the popular level, begins to understand thatsomething went awry here, that something is morally rotten, that maybe protest,documentation and exposure are justified, then what remains is the last weaponin the hands of the defenders, the weapon of unrestrained attack on theprotesters and the documenters.


If Israel were sure it is right,it would not be so frightened and be so aggressive against everyone who objectsto its official line. If
we were convinced that the soldiers of Breaking theSilence are making up stories and that Gordon's call for a boycott and hisdescription of Israel as an apartheid state are unjust, we would not be soabusive toward them. Not only Religious Services Minister Yaakov Margi, fromShas, but also Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar, who expressed"disgust," and Science and Technology Minister Daniel Hershkowitz,who called for Gordon's dismissal - two ministers who are supposed to be incharge of imparting education and values - were in the forefront of the assaultagainst Gordon. It is not just a question of basic intolerance for differentand even subversive opinions, whose expression is a fundamental value in everydemocracy. It is also a manifestation of edginess and aggressiveness that provewhat Gordon and others like him want so much to show in Israel and abroad: thatsomething very basic and very deep is flawed in the third kingdom of Israel. 

August 28, 2009


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