Posted by Bob Lord
An interesting pair of opinion pieces in today's NY Times, Losing the Propaganda War, and Why Israel Fears the Boycott. It's not clear if they were intended as point and counter-point. They're juxtaposed in a manner suggesting they are and one is written by an Israeli while the other is written by a Palestinian. But in important ways they're somewhat aligned. Both are sharply critical of Israel. Both acknowledge the increasing effectiveness of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, movement.
Decades ago, the economic boycott of South Africa was crucial in bringing an end to apartheid. So it is with apartheid in Israel.
Omar Barghouti, the Palestinian writer, reaches a logical conclusion about the survival of Israel if the BDS movement succeeds in brining an end to apartheid in Israel:
Would justice and equal rights for all really destroy Israel? Did equality destroy the American South? Or South Africa? Certainly, it destroyed the discriminatory racial order that had prevailed in both places, but it did not destroy the people or the country.
Likewise, only Israel’s unjust order is threatened by boycotts, divestment and sanctions.
Hirsh Goodman, the Israeli writer, ultimately arrives in a similar place:
Unfortunately, Israel is doing almost everything it can to help its opponents achieve their goal. Instead of focusing on peace talks, Israel continuously signals its intention to build more settlement housing, most recently on Jan. 10, when plans for 1,400 new homes in East Jerusalem and the West Bank were announced.
And it didn’t help when, on Dec. 15, a ministerial committee approved a bill that would impose heavy, punitive taxes on groups like B’Tselem, which tracks alleged human rights violations in the occupied territories, and Adalah, the legal center for minority rights in Israel.
As anyone who has bought a “Gucci” bag in a Bangkok market can tell you, it’s all in the label. And the apartheid label is beginning to stick — fair or not. It carries with it huge consequences for Israel, which the country’s inward-looking leaders seem impervious to. They have yet to understand that on this new battlefield, tanks don’t count and the use of force, sure to be televised, plays into the hands of the enemy. It’s a war Israel cannot win unless it makes peace.
Goodman, however, takes an odd route in getting there. He starts out claiming that Israel is not an apartheid state. His reasoning. Well, Israel's actions are not as extreme as South Africa's.
In apartheid South Africa, people disappeared in the night without the protection of any legal process and were never heard from again. There was no freedom of speech or expression and more “judicial” hangings were reportedly carried out there than in any other place on earth. There was no free press and, until January 1976, no public television.
Get that? We're not as bad as the South Africans were, so Israel can't be an apartheid state. It's sort of like saying you're not a racist because you don't belong to the KKK. Israel's error, according to Goodman. lies not in having apartheid policies, but in having policies that allow it to be "branded" as apartheid:
None of this even remotely exists in Israel or the occupied territories. But, increasingly, in the mind of the world it does. This is because of Israel’s own actions and a vigorous campaign by those who oppose its occupation of Palestinians’ land and, in some cases, Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. They understand that delegitimization is Israel’s soft belly and apartheid the buzzword to make it happen.
You see, it's not the maintenance of a "Jewish state" that's the problem, but the "vigorous campaign" against a society where Jews are elevated above all others that's the problem. And the discriminatory policies that flow naturally from the state being "Jewish" are a problem not because they're discriminatory but because they allow Israel to be labeled as discriminatory.
When it comes to the impact of the BDS, there's no vapor between Goodman and Barghouti. Goodman:
A Dutch pension giant’s decision last month to divest from Israel’s five largest banks because of their ties to occupation rang warning bells in Israel’s business community and the Treasury. According to the finance minister, even a partial European boycott would cost Israel 20 billion shekels (about $5.7 billion) in exports annually and almost 10,000 jobs.
The landslide vote by the American Studies Association in December to endorse an academic boycott of Israel, coming on the heels of a similar decision by the Association for Asian-American Studies, among others, as well as divestment votes by several university student councils, proves that B.D.S. is no longer a taboo in the United States.
The movement’s economic impact is also becoming evident. The recent decision by the $200 billion Dutch pension fund PGGM to divest from the five largest Israeli banks because of their involvement in occupied Palestinian territory has sent shock waves through the Israeli establishment.
So, Barghouti, a Palestinian, and Goodman, a rational Israeli, don't really disagree. They both recognize that the BDS movement's increasing momentum means that Isreal has no choice other than to find a way to end its discriminatory policies. They just have a different way of saying it.