How BDS Gets Israel Wrong, and Vice-Versa

Jan. 30 2018

The recent decision by the Israeli government to deny entry to the country to representatives of organizations dedicated to boycotting it has sparked a fair amount of controversy. To Haviv Rettig Gur, these measures are a product more of grandstanding by some Israeli politicians than of any real strategy to combat the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement (BDS). Moreover, he writes, BDS is bound to fail because its premise is based on a misunderstanding of what motivates Israelis:

Some of the [BDS] movement is rather openly and bluntly bigoted against Jews and Israel. Some of it is made up of well-meaning liberals at a loss for how else to aid the Palestinians in their plight. And some, as with all political movements, is a mix of well-meaning empathy and unexamined prejudice. . . . [Its supporters] seek to affect Israelis’ behavior through boycotts and sanctions, but have no clear sense of why Israelis behave as they do in the first place—and thus of what sorts of pressure might be required to change that behavior.

They do not know that most Israelis back, in principle, withdrawal and separation from the Palestinians, or that since the second intifada that began in 2000, most Israelis no longer believe that Palestinian politics can reciprocate such an Israeli withdrawal with peace. That is, they don’t know that Israelis oppose withdrawal because they believe the vacuum they leave behind will be filled by the likes of Hamas, Hizballah, or Islamic State. . . .

Most Israelis believe their children’s lives are literally and directly endangered by the Palestinians’ liberation—far more endangered by that liberation than by the continued low-level conflict required to maintain the occupation. No amount of diplomatic shuttling . . . is likely to make a dent in that mainstream Israeli fear, which is constantly bolstered and validated by the rhetoric and actions of Hamas and other mainstream Palestinian groups, as well as the experience of the 2005 Gaza withdrawal. . . .

If . . . Israelis believe their children’s safety is on the line, what possible effect can an economic boycott have? Would any BDS activist risk his own children’s safety to escape someone else’s boycott? This, for Israelis, is the damning truth behind BDS. . . . Average Israelis, [for their part], mostly hear about BDS from their own politicians, since these boycotters do not engage Israelis and so have no control over how their efforts are being presented to the targets of their ire.

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More about: BDS, Israel & Zionism, Israeli politics, Israeli Security

 

No, Israelis and Palestinians Can’t Simply Sit Down and Solve the “Israel-Palestinian Conflict”

Jan. 17 2019

By “zooming out” from the blinkered perspective with which most Westerners see the affairs of the Jewish state, argues Matti Friedman, one can begin to see things the way Israelis do:

Many [in Israel] believe that an agreement signed by a Western-backed Palestinian leader in the West Bank won’t end the conflict, because it will wind up creating not a state but a power vacuum destined to be filled by intra-Muslim chaos, or Iranian proxies, or some combination of both. That’s exactly what has happened . . . in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. One of Israel’s nightmares is that the fragile monarchy in Jordan could follow its neighbors . . . into dissolution and into Iran’s orbit, which would mean that if Israel doesn’t hold the West Bank, an Iranian tank will be able to drive directly from Tehran to the outskirts of Tel Aviv. . . .

In the “Israeli-Palestinian” framing, with all other regional components obscured, an Israeli withdrawal in the West Bank seems like a good idea—“like a real-estate deal,” in President Trump’s formulation—if not a moral imperative. And if the regional context were peace, as it was in Northern Ireland, for example, a power vacuum could indeed be filled by calm.

But anyone using a wider lens sees that the actual context here is a complex, multifaceted war, or a set of linked wars, devastating this part of the world. The scope of this conflict is hard to grasp in fragmented news reports but easy to see if you pull out a map and look at Israel’s surroundings, from Libya through Syria and Iraq to Yemen.

The fault lines have little to do with Israel. They run between dictators and the people they’ve been oppressing for generations; between progressives and medievalists; between Sunnis and Shiites; between majority populations and minorities. If [Israel’s] small sub-war were somehow resolved, or even if Israel vanished tonight, the Middle East would remain the same volatile place it is now.

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More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Middle East