The Boycott Revisited

The people of Sodom, the Bible tells us, were very wicked indeed.

They had a nasty habit of putting every passing stranger into one particular bed. If the stranger was too tall, his legs were shortened. If he was too short, his body was stretched to the required length.

In a way, each of us has such a bed, into which we put everything new. Confronted with a novel situation, we tend to equate it with a situation we have known in the past.

In politics, this method is especially pervasive. It relieves us of the irksome necessity of studying an unfamiliar situation and drawing new conclusions.

Once, the pattern of Vietnam was applied to every struggle around the world – from Argentina to North Korea. Nowadays, the fashion points to South Africa. Everything resembles the struggle against apartheid, unless proven otherwise.

Since sending out last week’s article, “Tutu’s Prayer”, I have been flooded with responses, some laudatory, some abusive, some thoughtful, some merely angry.

Generally, I don’t argue with my esteemed readers. I don’t want to impose my views, I just want to provide food for thought and leave it to the reader to form his or her own opinion.

This time I feel that I owe it to my readers to clear up some of the points I was trying to make and answer some of the objections. So here we go.

I have no argument with people who hate Israel. That’s entirely their right. I just don’t think that we have any common ground for discussion.

I would only like to point out that hatred is a very bad advisor. Hatred leads nowhere, but to more hatred. That, by the way, is a positive lesson we can draw from the South African experience. There they overcame hatred to a remarkable extent, largely thanks to the “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” headed by Archbishop Tutu, where people admitted their past offenses.

One thing is certain: hatred does not lead towards peace. Let me be quite explicit about this, because I sense that some people, in their righteous indignation over Israel’s occupation, have lost sight of this.

Peace is made between enemies, after war, in which awful things invariably happen. Peace can be made and maintained between peoples who are prepared to live with each other, respect each other, recognize the humanity of each other. They don’t have to love each other.

Describing the other side as monsters may be useful in waging war, but singularly unhelpful in waging peace.

When I receive a missive that is dripping with hatred of Israel, that portrays all Israelis (including myself, of course) as monsters, I fail to envision how the writer imagines peace. Peace with monsters? Angels and monsters living side by side in peace and harmony in one state, hating each other’s guts?

The view of Israel as a monolithic entity composed of racists and brutal oppressors is a caricature. Israel is a complex society, struggling with itself. The forces of good and evil, and many in between, are locked in a daily battle on many different fronts. The settlers and their supporters are strong, perhaps getting stronger (though I doubt it), but are far – even in their own view – from a decisive victory. Neve Gordon, for example, has been left unmolested in his post at Ben-Gurion University, because any attempt to remove him would have caused a public outcry.

I also have no argument with those who want to abolish the State of Israel. It is as much their right to aspire to that as it is my right to want to dismantle, let’s say, the USA or France, neither of which has an unblemished past.

Reading some of the messages sent to me and trying to analyze their contents, I get the feeling they are not so much about a boycott on Israel as about the very existence of Israel. Some of the writers obviously believe that the creation of the State of Israel was a terrible mistake to start with, and therefore should be reversed. Turn the wheel of history back some 62 years and start anew.

What really disturbs me about this is that almost nobody in the West comes out and says clearly: Israel must be abolished. Some of the proposals, like those for a “One State” solution, sound like euphemisms. If one believes that the State of Israel should be abolished and replaced by a State of Palestine or a State of Happiness – why not say so openly?

Of course, that does not mean peace. Peace between Israel and Palestine presupposes that Israel is there. Peace between the Israeli people and the Palestinian people presupposes that both peoples have a right to self-determination and agree to the peace. Does anyone really believe that racist monsters like us would agree to give up our state because of a boycott?

The French and the Germans did not agree to live in one joint state, though the differences between them are incomparably smaller than those between Jewish Israelis and Arab Palestinians. Instead, they set up a European Union, composed of nation-states. Some 50 years ago I called for a similar Semitic Union, including Israel and Palestine. I still do.

Anyway, there is no sense in arguing with those who pray for the disappearance of the sovereign State of Israel, rather than for the appearance of the sovereign State of Palestine at its side.

The real argument is among those who want to see peace between the two states, Israel and Palestine. The question is: how can it be achieved? This is an honest debate and is generally conducted in a civil manner. My debate with Neve Gordon is in this framework.

The advocates of boycott believe that the main, indeed the only way to induce Israel to give up the occupied territories and agree to peace is to exert pressure from the outside.

I have no quarrel with the idea of outside pressure. The question is: pressure on whom? On the government, the settlers and their supporters? Or on the entire Israeli people?

The first answer is, I believe, the right one. That’s why I hope that President Barack Obama will publish a detailed peace plan with a fixed timetable and apply the immense powers of persuasion of the USA to get both sides to agree. I don’t think that this is politically possible without the support of a large part of Israeli society (and, by the way, of the US Jewish community).

Some readers have lost all hope in Obama. That is, without doubt, premature. Obama has not surrendered to Binyamin Netanyahu – indeed, it is quite conceivable that the opposite is happening. The struggle is on, it is a hard struggle against determined opposition, and we should do all we can to help Obama’s peace policy to prevail. We must do this as Israelis, from inside Israel, and thereby show that this is not a struggle of the US against Israel, but a joint struggle against the Israeli government and the settlers.

It follows that any boycott must serve this purpose: to isolate the settlers and the individuals and institutions which openly support them, but not declare war on Israel and the Israeli people as such. In the 11 years since Gush Shalom declared a boycott of the products of the settlements, this process has been gaining momentum. We must laud the Norwegian decision, this week, to divest from the Israeli Elbit company because of their involvement with the “Separation Fence” that is being built on Palestinian land and whose main purposeis to annex occupied territories to Israel. This is a splendid example: a focused action against a specific target, based on a ruling of the International Court.

I think that far more can be done by a concentrated national and international campaign. A central office should be set up to direct this effort throughout the world against clear and specific targets. Such an effort could be helped by world public opinion, which recoils from the idea of boycotting the State of Israel, and not only because of the memory of the Holocaust, but will identify itself with action against the occupation and the oppression.

I have been asked about the Palestinian reaction to the boycott idea. At present, Palestinians do not boycott even the settlements, indeed it is Palestinian workers who are building almost all the houses there, out of economic necessity. Their feelings can only be guessed. All self-respecting Palestinians would, of course, support any effective measure directed against the occupation. But it would not be honest to dangle before their eyes the false hope that a world-wide boycott would bring Israel to its knees. The truth is that only the close cooperation of Palestinian, Israeli and international peace forces could generate the necessary momentum to end the occupation and achieve peace.

This is especially important because our task in Israel today is not so much to convince the majority of Israelis that peace is good and the price acceptable, but first that peace is possible at all. Most Israelis have lost that hope, and its revival is absolutely vital on the way to peace.

To remove any misconceptions about myself, let me state as clearly as possible where I stand:

I am an Israeli.

I am an Israeli patriot.

I want my state to be democratic, secular, and liberal, ending the occupation and living at peace both with the free and sovereign State of Palestine that will come into being next to it, and with the entire Arab world.

I want Israel to be a state belonging to all its citizens, without distinction of ethnic origin, gender, religion or language; with completely equal rights for all; a state in which the Hebrew-speaking majority will retain its close ties with the Jewish communities around the world, and the Arab-speaking citizens will be free to cherish their close ties with their Palestinian brothers and sisters and the Arab world at large.

If this is racism, Zionism or worse – so be it.

Uri Avnery is a peace activist, journalist, and writer. Read other articles by Uri, or visit Uri's website.

8 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozhidar balkas vancouver said on September 5th, 2009 at 10:47am #

    Avneri does not espy or chooses not see the obvious: the fact that physiologically one can’t hate israel; one can only hate what the christo-talmudic people do to pal’ns.

    The label “israel” appears as an overgeneralization which cannot be hated. One can hate or rage against people who do abominable crimes against humanities.
    And it is not solely one ethnicity which had been commiting crimes against indigenes; it is hundreds of nationalites and ethnicities who are doing these crimes.

    And folks, solely in name the mosheic, talmudic, and mishnahic cults or in name of a cult called “jewishness” by ‘jews’ selves; meaning that such cultists deserve a country of their own in a place they have no connection with whatever, save the cult and hatred of all of us noncultists.

    It is the cultists like avneri who hates with a passion and for no reason and not us!
    Folks, a caveat! It is one of the oldest tricks to relabel the events “hate israel” and use new label as proof that we are wrong in ‘hating’ Israel.
    Word “israel” appears as a phantom but the word “israelis” or “cultists” depicts reality.
    Hate may be wrong or right but the rage against criminals is not!
    Perhaps, avneri is not aware of anything i have said. But if he is and still tries to deceive, he shldn’n be allowed to defend criminals. tnx

  2. Jack Fertig said on September 5th, 2009 at 11:52am #

    How odd, first of all, for Uri Avnery to confuse the Biblical story of Sodom with the Greek myth of Procrustes. But then he confuses and conflates a great deal here with a rich portrait of people who hate Israel, want it brought down, and can’t be talked with. . What of people who simply believe that Palestinians are entitled to basic human rights and dignity, and have been struggling for decades to talk with an Israeli government that “listens” only on its own terms? It’s not about hating Israel, but about acknowledging Palestinians as fully human beings and taking them more seriously than emptily wondering how they feel about being a captive people living in such conditions that the only employment available for them to feed their children is to build Pharoah’s pyramids. – oops, now I’m conflating – Germany’s weapons systems – oops, there I go again – Israeli settlements.

    He argues that specific targeted boycotts are good, a general movement of “Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions” against all of Israel is bad. I agree collective punishment is not a good thing. But Israeli policies are decided by – yes, a complex, diverse society – in which a republic elects the leaders who decide the policies. That means that all Israeli citizens are participating in the establishment of those policies. It would be nice if the folks who were working for peace could be exempted from a broader BDS movement. Like it would have been nice if Americans who actively opposed Bush weren’t subject to the consequences of his horrors. Oh, well, we’re still much better off here than the Palestinians are – as the Israelis will certainly be in any foreseeable scenario.

    Avnery starts off saying that the opposition can’t be talked with and then preaches at us as if we haven’t tried working with, building, supporting an Israeli peace movement. We have and we still do, and many elements of that peace movement also endorse BDS.

    There’s another story about a farmer and his mule. It’s a good, obedient mule, the farmer says, but it has to be whacked across the head with a board to get its attention. It’s not unusual, even with progressive democracies that people need a whack to get their attention.

    Avnery invokes principles of love in the face of hate. I ask him to look seriously at the conditions in Gaza, to talk with the Gazans who’ve lost children and homes in Operation Cast Lead, and to talk with the Palestinian laborers who have no way to support their families except by building the means of their own extinction – rather than to sit comfortably speculating about their feelings while he preaches love and speaks broadly about how Israel is hated. Admittedly, some people do hate Jews and Israel automatically without reason. We do our best to dismiss and isolate those haters. Many more have struggled with Israel and found it unyielding in its oppression of the Palestinians. So many Israelis like to talk about how Israel is hated. So few are willing to talk honestly about why. It is absurd to drop flechette bombs and white phosphorus into school yards, to build a wall between farmers and their crops, to keep obstructive checkpoints between sick people and their doctors; and then to complain about people hating you as if they have no reason. One has to be angry about the death and injustice, and it is a profound challenge to the soul to be so angry for so long without hating.

    The BDS movement is an attempt to get Israelis to face the consequences of their actions. It’s not a matter of “Oh, it’s that company, that political party, those people; it’s not us.” It’s a matter for all Israeli citizens who have a vote in the polls, and a position in an army – and its reserves – that depend on nearly universal conscription. We are running out of options. If Avnery really wants peace and justice for Palestine, he is welcome to make other suggestions, but first I recommend that he talk with the Palestinians, not about them, and that he get his stories straight.

  3. Jack Fertig said on September 5th, 2009 at 12:18pm #

    Avnery states:
    “I want my state to be democratic, secular, and liberal, ending the occupation and living at peace both with the free and sovereign State of Palestine that will come into being next to it, and with the entire Arab world.
    “I want Israel to be a state belonging to all its citizens, without distinction of ethnic origin, gender, religion or language; with completely equal rights for all; a state in which the Hebrew-speaking majority will retain its close ties with the Jewish communities around the world, and the Arab-speaking citizens will be free to cherish their close ties with their Palestinian brothers and sisters and the Arab world at large. “
    I think most reasonable people on all sides want that. It’s only a question of how we get there. The juggernaut of Israeli expansion into the West Bank, and the siege on Gaza both continuing with a few western powers shielding it from consequences is much seen as the biggest obstacle to peace. Watching these horrors much of the world sees it as ethnic cleansing. What is there to stop the settlers and the IDF? “I want peace and love and butterflies and happiness” without sacrifice, without work, with only going so far is not bringing peace. It is only spouting happy platitudes while the destruction continues, inciting more anger, and sadly, but inevitably, more hatred.

  4. kalidas said on September 5th, 2009 at 2:48pm #

    Meet the new “Israelis,” same as the old “Israelis.”

  5. Mulga Mumblebrain said on September 6th, 2009 at 8:10pm #

    Drawing on the odious Tutu as an example won’t wash. ‘The so-called ‘Truth and Reconciliation’ process in South Africa was a vile business, equating the violence of the African resistance with that of the Afrikaaner racists. A bit like blaming the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto equally for their violence, as the Nazis for theirs. Tutu once made a few noises in aid of the Palestinians, but he has clearly been got at by the Zionazis in recent years and appears to have learned how to keep his trap shut. Otherwise his friendly welcome in the West might turn to vilification as an ‘anti-Semite’. What is most plainly missing from Avery’s account, is a calculus of good and evil in the Palestinian/Israeli struggle. By any rational estimate Israeli crimes, of the vastly stronger party, against an imprisoned, impotent foe, clearly urged on by delusions of racial asupremacy, outweigh those of the Palestinians by orders of magnitude. But in the moral sewer of the West, where morality is exactly what the rich man says it is, we are instead endlessly hectored to see the victims as the aggressors and the violent ones, while their brutal and sadistic oppressors, we must agree, are the highest expression of superhuman morality. This discourse, that would have Orwell blushing, is enforced throughout the West without any hesitation, and those who disagree are vilified, threatened and silenced. That is the real truth about Israel-it is a cancer, moral and spiritual, that is poisoning the West with its brutish racist and fascist ethos.

  6. Mulga Mumblebrain said on September 8th, 2009 at 7:46pm #

    I’d better apologise to Tutu. I came across some recent criticism by him of Israel’s sadism, so the problem is plainly that the Judaic money-power controlled Western media sewer is simply suppressing his comments detrimental to the Holy State and its Herrenvolk, as it does with all others. Sorry Des, but you were still utterly wrong in the Truth and Reconciliation business. The best form of ‘reconciliation’ with apartheid would have been the sight of the top 100 or so political, military, intelligence and business scoundrels responsible hanging from light-poles.

  7. Benjamin said on September 9th, 2009 at 5:50am #

    In South Africa, many major white institutions took a strong stand against apartheid. By my understanding, the major English universities, for instance, had regular affirmations of their opposition to the racist system around them.

    How about that as a minimum? We hear this talk of ‘liberal Israel,’ or ‘the liberal Hebrew University,’ but would such an institution separate itself from the settlements and the military? Would it even condemn the occupation, much less Zionism?

  8. mary said on September 13th, 2009 at 2:38pm #

    The boycott is growing!

    Norway withdrwing from Elbit, US pensions fund divesting from Leviev’s Africa Asia Investments, Veolia, and now Brazil and Mercosur (see

    The BDS movement is picking up steam and really making an impact. Here is the Brazil story.