Boycott Movement Targets Israel

When does a citizen-led boycott of a state become morally justified?

That question is raised by an expanding academic, cultural and economic boycott of Israel. The movement joins churches, unions, professional societies and other groups based in the United States, Canada, Europe and South Africa. It has elicited dramatic reactions from Israel’s supporters. U.S. labor leaders have condemned British unions, representing millions of workers, for supporting the Israel boycott. American academics have been frantically gathering signatures against the boycott, and have mounted a prominent advertising campaign in American newspapers – unwittingly elevating the controversy further in the public eye.

Israel’s defenders have protested that Israel is not the worst human-rights offender in the world, and singling it out is hypocrisy, or even anti-Semitism. Rhetorically, this shifts focus from Israel’s human rights record to the imagined motives of its critics.

But “the worst first” has never been the rule for whom to boycott. Had it been, the Pol Pot regime, not apartheid South Africa, would have been targeted in the past. It was not — Cambodia’s ties to the West were insufficient to make any embargo effective. Boycotting North Korea today would be similarly futile. Should every other quest for justice be put on hold as a result?

In contrast, the boycott of South Africa had grip. The opprobrium suffered by white South Africans unquestionably helped persuade them to yield to the just demands of the black majority. Israel, too, assiduously guards its public image. A dense web of economic and cultural relations also ties it to the West. That — and its irrefutably documented human-rights violations — render it ripe for boycott.

What state actions should trigger a boycott? Expelling or intimidating into flight a country’s majority population, then denying them internationally recognized rights to return to their homes? Israel has done that.

Seizing, without compensation, the properties of hundreds of thousands of refugees? Israel has done that.

Systematically torturing detainees, many held without trial? Israel has done that.

Assassinating its opponents, including those living in territories it occupies? Israel has done that.

Demolishing thousands of homes belonging to one national group, and settling its own people in another nation’s land? Israel has done that. No country with such a record, whether first or 50th worst in the world, can credibly protest a boycott.

Apartheid South Africa provides another useful standard. How does Israel’s behavior toward Palestinians compare to former South Africa’s treatment of blacks? It is similar or worse, say a number of South Africans, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, U.N. special rapporteur in the occupied territories John Dugard, and African National Congress member and government minister Ronnie Kasrils. The latter observed recently that apartheid South Africa never used fighter jets to attack ANC activists, and judged Israel’s violent control of Palestinians as “10 times worse.” Dual laws for Jewish settlers and Palestinians, segregated roads and housing, and restrictions on Palestinians’ freedom of movement strongly recall apartheid South Africa. If boycotting apartheid South Africa was appropriate, it is equally fair to boycott Israel on a similar record.

Israel has been singled out, but not as its defenders complain. Instead, Israel has been enveloped in a cocoon of impunity. Our government has vetoed 41 U.N. Security Council resolutions condemning Israeli actions — half of the total U.S. vetoes since the birth of the United Nations — thus enabling Israel’s continuing abuses. The Bush administration has announced an increase in military aid to Israel to $30 billion for the coming decade.

Other military occupations and human-rights abusers have faced considerably rougher treatment. Just recall Iraq’s 1990 takeover of Kuwait. Perhaps the United Nations should have long ago issued Israel the ultimatum it gave Iraq — and enforced it. Israel’s occupation of Arab lands has now exceeded 40 years.

Iran, Sudan and Syria have all been targeted for federal and state-level sanctions. Even the City of Beverly Hills is contemplating Iran divestment actions, following the lead of Los Angeles, which approved Iran divestment legislation in June. Yet the Islamic Republic of Iran has never attacked its neighbors nor occupied their territories. It is merely suspected of aspiring to the same nuclear weapons Israel already possesses.

Politicians worldwide, and American ones especially, have failed us. Our leaders, from the executive branch to Congress, have dithered, or cheered Israel on, as it devoured the land base for a Palestinian state. Their collective irresponsibility dooms both Palestinians and Israelis to a future of strife and insecurity, and undermines our global stature. If politicians cannot lead the way, then citizens must. That is why boycotting Israel has become both necessary and justified.

This article appeared on page B9 of the San Francisco Chronicle.

George Bisharat is a professor of law at Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, and writes frequently on law and politics in the Middle East. Read other articles by George, or visit George's website.

22 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Pierre Mhanna said on August 16th, 2007 at 8:06am #

    For any change or revision of attitudes to take place in the dominant West, public pressure in the countries that for long time have been shaping the world is needed. Left to the governments and “democratic” change, the world shall succumb to misery as have never been seen, divding the rift between rich and poor, this is exacly what is wanted wanted, so far globalization in its current form is doing just fine.
    Long time imperialist states have longed for the creation of Israel, direct control over the “orient” and its riches was needed. There are no double standards, Israel must survive and rule for us to stay in power. No price is high enough for hegemony and power, no human rights or dignity can prevail.
    Israel is a symbol, I hope that boycotting Israel suggest that people are becoming aware what that symbol means for us in the “orient”, and for their leaders back at home, and how by not striving for a change, they are making us suffer, inhibiting social change and radicalizing our societies.

  2. Hatuxka said on August 16th, 2007 at 9:30am #

    I remember seeing on the cover of my wife’s copy L’Express a few years ago a headline about Arafat and Sharon saying essentially that the issues between the sides they represented could “burn the world”. That was not quite right. Arafat truly had not much say in whether a conflagration could occur or not. It is the existence of Israel itself which is the ticking time-bomb, a danger made worse by the atrocities detailed above.

  3. hp said on August 16th, 2007 at 11:29am #

    One wonders if the answer to Israel’s psychopathic desire for murder, mayhem and coveting, as evidenced and promoted by its mad dog God Yahoo, of OT fame, may be a first strike on Israel. .
    Targeting Dimona (sounds like demon), their submarines and their airfields would make it improbable that these cretins could initiate their sick and sadistic “Samson option,” which they often brag about.
    I’d wager if a vote were taken in private, 95% of the nations of this earth would agree.

  4. Neal said on August 16th, 2007 at 12:47pm #

    The assumption of this article is that boycotting Israel serves some manner of universal justice. But, that is difficult to imagine. One need only read what Palestinian Arabs say they would do, if given the chance, to know that the “cure” is worse – far worse – than the disease.

    Hamas representative Osama Hamdan stated on August 6, 2007: “We are making the preparations for a confrontation. This is not because we need to be prepared for an Israeli act of aggression – after all, aggression is intrinsic to this entity – but because the final goal of the resistance is to wipe this entity off the face of the Earth. This goal necessitates the development of the capabilities of the resistance, until this entity is wiped out.”

    And, what would wiping Israel off the face of the Earth mean? Well, that might be good for Palestinian Arabs – perhaps. How would that be good for Israelis? They also have rights. And, where would they fit in?

    According to Hamdan, they do not fit in at all. As he says: “First of all, let me clarify something very important. What is the ruling regarding those who live in Palestine, in the so-called Israel, and who are aggressors and plunderers of the land? The way we see it, they all came to Palestine from abroad, whether before the declaration of the Zionist entity or after it. If you were to conduct statistics within the Zionist entity, you would find that all these people have their origins in other countries – they came from Europe, Eastern Europe, from America, South America, or other places.”

    (Source: MEMRI August 16, 2007). His remarks are representative of views held by the Hamas and are tame compared to the organization’s founding covenant.

    The best case scenario if Israel is eliminated – which is the goal of Hamas which those who support a boycott typically espouse – would be Lebanon. Which is to say, there would be different groups in close proximity but with no willingness to accept each other’s legitimacy. In Lebanon, that led to the death of more than 100,000 people.

    The vision espoused by Hamas would lead inevitably to a horrible civil war. According to The New York Times: “‘Besides,’ Dr. Rantisi said, ‘we in Hamas believe peace talks will do no good. We do not believe we can live with the enemy.'” And, from the same article, according to Ismail Abu Shanab: “Mr. Shenab insisted that he was not joking when he said, ‘There are a lot of open areas in the United States that could absorb the Jews.'” (Source: New York Times, April 4, 2002, “Bombers Gloating in Gaza as They See Goal Within Reach: No More Israel, ” By Joel Brinkley).

    So, let us be clear here. The Hamas proposes – on the kindest reading – ethnic cleansing. It is not looking for peace. The organization’s reason for existing is to destroy Israel, to extend the region of the world under Islamic law but not – if the organization’s covenant is to be believed – to create a Palestinian state. Rather, the organization favors the creation of a waqf (i.e. a trust on behalf Muslims) to rule historic Palestine pending its unification with a larger theocratic entity.

    Let us look at this somewhat differently. The right to settle where one finds refuge is a right recognized from the time of the dawn of man. Palestinian Arabs and their supporters claim that Jews are not entitled to that right – notwithstanding the fact that most of Israel’s Jews are refugees (or the children of refugees) from Arab countries and notwithstanding the fact that the remainder of Israel’s population are either refugees permitted in the country by its then ruler or the children of such refugees (i.e. people born in the country). The dispute will not end so long as any side refuses the legitimacy of the other side. Palestinian Arabs are not exempt from accepting the legitimacy of the rights of Israelis.

  5. Max Shields said on August 16th, 2007 at 7:28pm #

    Neal, I think you make far too much of rhetoric; and one sided rhetoric at that.

    The boycott is not about the hatred between Hamas and Isreal, it is about apartheid and the continued colonization and dehumanization caused by Israel to Palestinians. This colonization is fully support, condoned, and in part propagred by the world’s number one agressor and violater of human rights – the United States of America.

    These acts of state agression (by Israel) are well documented and the UN resolutions and clear crimes as codified in the UN charter and International Law are what the boycott is attempting to address.

    Jews in Israel are primarily decentants of peoples outside of the Middle East. Jews live else where in the Middle East (including Iran) in relative peace. It is the zionist state of Israel that is the primary problem.

    Btw, quoting the NYT really doesn’t help your case.

  6. Neal said on August 16th, 2007 at 8:20pm #


    You write: “Jews in Israel are primarily decentants of peoples outside of the Middle East.” This is not correct. Most Jews in Israel are from Arab countries. Jews were expelled from Arab countries beginning in the 1930’s up until the 1970’s. Most, however, were expelled by the 1950’s.
    All told, about 856,00 Jews were displaced from lands ruled by Arabs. The vast, vast majority of such people settled in Israel and had children who are Israelis. They are the single largest block of Israelis and amount to about 1/2 of the country’s population.

    You claim this is about apartheid. I claim that such is a nonsense claim that shows a lack of understanding about what occurred in South Africa, much less Israel. Moreover, since Jews lived in the area now called the West Bank and in Jerusalem since ancient times – only to be ethnically cleansed in the late 1930’s and between 1947 – 1948 -.

    The correct story in this dispute is that Jews, not just Arabs, have rights. Jews had the moral right to migrate to what is now Israel. Why? Because the ruler of the land offered Jews refuge. That is the basis for legitimate migration anywhere on this earth.

    Now, it is also true that Arabs have rights. But, that requires them to accept that Jews also have legitimate rights. Hamas does not accept that. Read the group’s covenant. It speaks of killing Jews wherever they are. It is a racist document that espouses ethnic cleansing and genocide. Must I quote it in detail?

  7. Daniel said on August 17th, 2007 at 4:25am #

    In a post on my blog I have suggested that Israel be moved to America or Britain given that those two countries were responsible for its unfortunate creation. I nominated Wales or California as possible sites.

    Israel’s actions since its creation has clearly demonstrated that it is a rogue State, one that has no concern for morality, other people or International Law. Driven by fanatical religious beliefs, it has armed itself with nuclear weapons to supplement its America-gifted armaments and now relies upon its military strength to get it way.

    A boycott may show a slight turning of world opinion but it will require far greater force to dislodge the Israeli scourge!

  8. Neal said on August 17th, 2007 at 9:41am #


    There are few countries that, during or after creation, have not be a source of problems. Israel, by the standards of the Middle East, is comparatively law abiding.

    Note, for example, Syria which murdered between 10,000 and 25,000 is its citizens by leveling Hama.

    Note Egypt which used poison gas in its war in Yemen.

    Note Turkey under Attaturk which massacred – and this was after the Armenian genocide – another 100,000 Armenians.

    Note Saudi Arabia and Iran which stone people to death.

    Note Sudan, where, prior to the Darfur incident, more than a million Christians and animists were massacred or intentionally starved to death and where, at that time, slavery (more than 100,000 people turned into slaves) was reinstituted, with the slaves being sold not only within Sudan but to people in the various Gulf States. Note also the same Sudan from that period where children were taken from their parents and forcibly converted to Islam and where food was used as a weapon to force villages to convert to Islam. These countries, not Israel – where the rights of Jews are denied legitimacy by Arabs – are the rogue states of the area.

  9. hp said on August 17th, 2007 at 1:24pm #

    Neal, neither you nor Dershowitz, Abe Foxman, Golda Meir, Ben-Gurion, Netanyahu, Larry King or 95 % of the so-called Jews in this world have one drop of semitic blood in their bodies. Thus you have no “right of return” to a land where none of you ever had an ancestor step foot.
    And no, I’m not an anti-semite. You and all your fellow pseudo Jews above are though.
    I like Arabs just fine.

  10. Daniel said on August 18th, 2007 at 12:00am #

    Israel is law abiding! What rubbish. It is in contravention of more than 100 U.N. Resolutions. It is illegally occupying another country, taking its land, building settlements, carrying out genocide, collective punishment, denying human rights, starving the Palestinians, denying them access to their farms, building concrete walls, stopping sick and pregnant women from passing through checkpoint, imprisoning without charge thousands of Palestinians, carrying out assassinations with missiles, etc, etc.

    Israeli is about as law abiding as Hitler’s Germany was!

  11. Neal said on August 18th, 2007 at 10:55am #


    Since you know not a thing about me – including my ethnic background, religion, interests, etc., etc. – saying that my ancestry comes from this or that place is a bit much.

    I do note that most Jews and Arabs have more, genetically speaking, in common than either group does with other ethnic groups and, further, that the similarities are greatest between Jews and a certain group among those who now call themselves Palestinian Arabs – in this case, more in common with those Muslims who were not moved by the Ottoman authorities to, for example, Acre in the 19th Century – than with any other group on Earth.


    Genocide is quite a wild charge. Genocide is not occurring and it is dishonest to allege something with no basis in fact. Compare: in Aremenia, there was a genocide; in Europe there was a genocide; in Armenia, there was a genocide; in Sudan there was a genocide in the 1990’s. The populations of these people were substantially reduced. Palestinian Arabs – and one can favor them or disfavor them – having a growing population. They is no genocide and nothing of the sort is or has been afoot. And, nothing of the sort is likely to occur.

    Moreover, I do not claim that Israel is perfectly law abiding. What I said that by the standards of the region where it exists, it is, by far, the most law abiding. But, that is different from saying that the country always or even ever follows laws. But, only a blind person would compare Israel’s behavior as being worse than any of the countries in the region it resides.

    It is always interesting to see the dishonest arguments people assert when they they either do not know anything about a topic or they think that throwing out nasty words helps an argument.

  12. hp said on August 19th, 2007 at 3:23pm #

    Neal, no it is not a bit much. Odds are, and I’d bet my life savings, that you do not have one drop of semitic blood in your body. That’s not an outrageous statement at all. It is a statement which has a 95% probability of being correct. Same as with Dershowitz, Golda Meir (Meyerson), Ben-Gurion (Green) and on and on and on.
    As far as the Jews and their genetic closeness with Palestinians, dream on.

  13. Leyla said on August 19th, 2007 at 9:51pm #


    As a Turk I find your claims offensive! The so-called genocide claim made by Armenians have never been proven in international courts. So you are making a wild charge yourself… Hell, there were barely 1.5 million Armenians in the Ottoman Empire as it was. You cannot make wild claims just to suit your arguments. Please stop using other countries as examples. I don’t think any of them would come anywhere near what Israel is doing at the moment. By the way I am not anti-semitic, nor do I hate Jews.

  14. Andrew J Silvera said on August 20th, 2007 at 6:40am #

    “The more the siege continues, the greater the harm to the residents and their ability to meet their basic needs. Therefore, B’Tselem calls on all the parties in charge of managing the crossing points to take immediate action to open the crossings and prevent a humanitarian tragedy.”

    URGENT PETITION: End the siege on Palestinians and support Palestinian democracy
    We the undersigned call on the new prime minister, Gordon Brown, to immediately:
    • Call for international support for the Palestinian power-sharing framework of the Mecca Agreement and a return to a unity government, based on the results of the January 2006 elections
    • Demand that the blockade on all Occupied Palestinian Territories be lifted and freedom of movement guaranteed
    • Reinstate funds and aid to Gaza and ensure there is no separation of the Gaza Strip from the West Bank and East Jerusalem
    • Press Israel to release all elected Palestinian parliamentarians, and all other Palestinian political prisoners
    • Work towards a just solution based on international law and an end to Israeli occupation

    To: Israeli Government and World Leaders
    The situation in Gaza has reached emergency levels — inadequate water, electricity, and medicine; widespread hunger, poverty, and unemployment; schools and other services rendered inoperative; constant bombardments and attacks by the Israeli military.

    This humanitarian catastrophe is man-made: It was brought on by the ongoing siege of the Gaza Strip by Israel and the sanctions imposed by the international community on Palestine, made worse by repeated IDF attacks. If this situation continues, we will see spreading disease, malnutrition, and more violence. Under these conditions, negotiations — the only way to reach peace between both peoples — also become an impossibility.

    OUR MISSION is to publicise the case of two young people whose lives are being wasted in prison for offences they did not, could not and would not have commited.
    On 11 December 1996, Samar Alami, a Lebanese Palestinian woman, and Jawad Botmeh, a Palestinian man, were wrongfully convicted of conspiracy in relation to the bombings of the Israeli Embassy and Balfour House in London in 1994. Both have been sentenced to an extraordinary twenty years in prison, after which they face deportation.

    Kick Israeli Apartheid Out of Football

    London: Palestine Vigil at Wembley Stadium for the England–Israel Euro 2008 Qualifier

    If you’re really unfortunate – you might just bump into me!!

  15. Neal said on August 20th, 2007 at 8:45am #


    “Blood” – as in your postulated “Semitic blood” – is a concept that much interests racists – not me. Are you sure your argument is heading the direction you intend?

    Further, you know not a thing about me. And, whether or not I have “Semitic blood” – again, your terminology – I am entitled to an opinion about the Arab Israeli conflict or any other conflict. And, again, I do not claim to have or not have “Semitic blood.” That is in your head and speaks to your ignorance.

    The issue of genetic similarities in the Jewish population has been studied, most particularly in light of the book The Thirteenth Tribe, by Arthur Koestler, in which it is postulated that it is possible – and, I repeat, possible (not certain) – that a substantial percentage (and not all) of Ashkenazi Jews may have some amount of ancestry that is related to the Khazarian Jews. His theory was that when Khazaria was destroyed, its Jewish population migrated to Europe and remained – intermixing with Jews from ancient Israel and Judea, etc. -.

    Since the time of Koestler’s book, there has been considerable research on the matter, both genetic and historical. What can probably be said is that it is still unknown what portion of the Khazarian population was Jewish, what portion migrated to Europe, what portion remained Jewish, etc., etc. Such ignorance leads to myths – especially by people with political agendas – but there is insufficient historical research to support his contention. Further, the genetic testing does not seem to bear out the thesis.

    Lastly, it is rather difficult to imagine what, if any, difference it makes to you – even if his thesis were true. Which is to say, if all Jews could trace their personal history back to ancient Israel, Judea, etc., etc., the vast majority of Palestinian Arabs – and, whatever your background may be, likely you – would still oppose Israel. And, most Jews would still support Israel even if most could trace their heritage only back to Khazaria.

    In any event, the existence of a country does not tie to the roots of a population. Otherwise, the US and all other countries in America would be illegitimate. The same would be said for Arabs other than in Arabia itself.


    Regarding the events surrounding what occurred to Armenians, the Turkish government acknowledges that more than a million Armenian civilians were killed during WWI. The contention is that the deaths were not due to genocide but, instead, to causes surrounding, for example, their forced resettlement during that period. However, the research most particularly – but not only – of Vahakn Dadrian and the then contemporary reports prepared for governments including for the US government by its ambassador show that the massacres were intentional and designed to wipe out the Armenian population.

    Note, however, that my prior contention was not about that genocide but about those killed after the genocide had ended. I am not aware of anyone, including the Turkish government, denying the killing of Armenians after WWI in connection with Attaturk’s actions.

  16. Leyla said on August 22nd, 2007 at 12:52am #

    HP, until the so-called “Armenian Genocide” has been brought to an international court like the Nazi Genocide was, it would be wise of you all to refrain from calling it that. It is not possible for so many Armenians to be killed or to die at that time even with the forced resettlements. There would hardly be any Armenians left if that were the case and judging by the noise they make that is definitely not the case. It is extremely insulting, considering we never bring up the issue of all the Turks, Kurds and Armenians killed by the Armenian Rebels supported by Russia and France.
    The current Turkish government is not an expert at anything much less about making decisions about this matter. Please do not use them, we have no respect for them whatsoever.
    If you were to read the very first speach that their first prime minister makes, you will see that even he admits to the fact that they stabbed us in the back. I would check up on your resources carefully if I were you.
    Another fact that you have wrong, Ataturk had nothing to do with the Armenians, not even the murderous ones. It was prior to his control or leadership. You really need to get your facts straight and stop insulting other nationalities.

  17. Leyla said on August 22nd, 2007 at 12:54am #

    That last comment was for Neal, not HP. My apologies. I must be getting Neal’s disease.

  18. Neal said on August 22nd, 2007 at 10:44am #


    You might read Dadrain’s book, The History of the Armenian Genocide: Ethnic Conflict from the Balkans to Anatolia to the Caucasus, in which he details Attaturk’s role in attacks after WWI.

    For what it is worth, I think Attaturk is among the greatest leaders of the 20th Century. He was a giant. His skills as a military leader, as a political leader and as a statesman have rarely, if ever, been matched. He was a nation builder under the most difficult of circumstances – building a country out of defeat and occupation (and driving the occupiers out) and setting his new country on a modernizing path that, among other things, placed religion outside of politics and created the possibility of democracy.

    Please note that I do not accuse him of being part of the genocide perpetrated by the Ittihadist regime. I merely noted that he played a role later events.

    On the other hand, facts are facts. A genocide occurred in the Ottoman Empire during WWI – but that was not part of my original comment (where my point was that issues occur during the early years of a country’s existence – so Israel should not be singled out). And, it does not take an International tribunal – which will not sit to preside over events more than 4 full generations ago – to say so.

    Consider that it is disingenuous to insist on a tribunal to judge events under laws which, at the time, did not exist and which concerns people who, at this point, are all dead – both killers and victims.

  19. Leyla said on August 22nd, 2007 at 11:08pm #

    Neal, if the Armenians are out for our blood because they “feel” that a genocide has occurred and want compensation that makes this concern a very real one. People from that time are not all dead and they have families that are still suffering from it. By the way I am not talking about the Armenians, I am talking about those families in Turkey that were so brutally affected by the Armenian henchmen.
    It is unfair that a country is charged with genocide with no official research, investigations or discussions done but only on the word of people who will benefit from it.

    As a change to the one-sided information of the Armenian cause, please check the following link for some information on the Armenian issue from a Turkish perspective:

    I don’t want to drag this on and on but would appreciate it if you limit your examples to proven cases of genocide.

  20. Neal said on August 23rd, 2007 at 7:36am #


    I also do not wish to drag on a discussion that was not part of my original discussion. Again, my point is that violence and dislocation are typically associated with newly founded countries.

    The attempt by a fairly large number of people, who appear to have no intellectual scruples, to turn Israel into a bête noire while, at the very same time, there are disputes in which hundreds of thousands of people – far more than have died in all of the Arab Israeli wars and disputes combined – are dying is dishonest beyond all imagination.

  21. hp said on August 24th, 2007 at 11:47am #

    Lets don’t “forget’ now, the Jews also claimed six million killed in WWI.

  22. Armenian Genocide said on June 4th, 2008 at 9:41pm #

    It is interesting to note that what is called the Armenian Genocide is widely debated in the Academic world. Currently most Western Ottoman historians reject the Armenian Genocide political blanket-label.