Editor’s Note: this piece does not reflect my view and I have agonised at great length over whether to publish it or not. However, the purpose of Labour Vision is to encourage debate about policy and strategy – not to dictate the terms of that debate. Therefore, I am actively looking for someone to respond to this article and to put the alternative case. If the ideas in the piece below are wrong, they will be proven to be so by those who read and respond to the text. Sam.
I am an Israeli who supports boycott of some of the goods and services coming out of my own country. I will try to explain to you why.
I grew up on the Israeli international left, thinking about the country’s place in the world and within its neighboring framework to be more specific. Especially, at 14, we met and discussed and argued about the Occupation. We all wanted to end it, but the question we asked ourselves was how?! what will be the next moves that will help us- Israelis and Palestinians alike- live without the threat of war? I spent most of my youth in protests and demonstrations around these themes.
If anything, though, fear and intimidation has grown, and desperation looms at all sides. The Netanyahu government is the most right wing the country has ever known. But moreover, it is an increasingly authoritarian government. From passing a very controversial law that singles out visibly left wing NGO activists to recent law (this week) that allows to revoke tax exemptions for ‘groups that act against the state’ and this along the way of changing curriculums, text books and processes within the education system that seek to allow any dream of cohabitation from within (see, for instance, the controversy around Miri Regev and Dorit Rabinyian in which the Israeli parliament expressed concern about “intimate relations between Jews and Arabs”.
it is getting increasingly hard to fight our government from within. Many processes which I encountered as a teenager, whether initiatives bringing Israeli and Palestinian youth together, to discussions of the rights and wrongs in Israel’s positions, are becoming increasingly hard to maintain.
Which is why, as an Israeli, I support some elements of BDS (boycott, divestments and sanctions) movement. I will go on to debunk two issues within the movement.
Not all support of BDS is antisemitic. Yes, there are elements in discussion of the movement that reek of old-school conspiracy theory style discourse. Those must be opposed head on. But most BDS actions are not that; they seek to put in place a policy to counter Israeli government actions which are getting more and more unhinged; inside and out.
Not all support of BDS is anti-Zionist. If you think the Jewish people do not deserve to live in peace, with freedom from oppression from others, you are an antisemite. But if you think the Jewish people have the right to live in peace without oppression from others AND without oppression of others, you are not. Simple as that. It is also very crass to think all Zionism is of one kind and style; the right of Jewish people to live in a territory of their own without intervention of other people does not entail one sort of Zionism, and indeed there were many self- claimed Zionist thinkers from Martin Buber to Hannah Arendt who advocated that Palestinian sovereignty must be ensured side by side as Jewish sovereignty around the 1940s, to give just two examples. So helping the Israeli left argue for a cause it had held for more than 70 years is hardly anti Zionist.
These are tough times in the International left. The May Government in Britain as well as Trump Administration in the USA are anything but likely to support any kind of left wing resistance within the country, and indeed both leaders extended a helping hand to Netanyahu in recent months, that, as I note above, were particularly hard on the Israeli left. There are other ways forward. Organizations that have factories in illegal settlements, who exploit Palestinian manpower, who re-instate the Occupation as “facts in the land” as the Israeli right says, should be boycotted. Many of us in the Israeli left have been doing that for years, Peace Now circulates a list of all products using manpower in the settlements.  Many Israeli manufacturers and artists choose not to comply with the government’s actions by refusing its funding or refusing to work in illegal settlements; they are penalized by having less support than those who don’t refuse. By boycotting the latter you are supporting the former.
These are rough times to be Jewish, as it is rough times to be Muslim, or member of many other persecuted groups in the world. It was particularly touching seeing Jews in the USA stand in solidarity with Muslims after Trump’s anti Muslim ban, as it was seeing a pro-BDS activist raise money for rehabilitation of a vandalized Jewish cemetery. As a Jewess in the diaspora it is getting increasingly scary and hard living as such; and it is hard to explain to my gentile friends how I felt when not so long ago I encountered swastikas around me. I haven’t felt more alone in my life, ever. But it was solidarity from comrades around the world, including non- Jews, including Palestinian and Muslim comrades from my homeland, that keeps me going. The Israeli left needs that; help us to help ourselves, and reconsider your position of the Boycott as per all the above.