More on the New York Review of Books Exchange on Boycott of Israel

Note: This blog entry is a follow up on our earlier posting on this topic on October 23, 2016.

Source: UN Map of West Bank Access and Restrictions

The New York Review of Books is not known as a venue for the venting of debates on Israel-Palestine, but that is exactly what happened last October.  Two statements were issued that outline a dramatic liberal Zionist break with Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories and the inability of these same liberal Zionists to address the actual roots of the occupation.

In the October 13, 2016 issue of NYRB, a group of prominent intellectuals including Todd Gitlin, Peter Beinart, Michael Walzer and others issued a statement entitled, “For an Economic Boycott and Political Nonrecognition of the Israeli Settlements in the Occupied Territories

After first rejecting an academic boycott of Israel, the authors then make a case for a very targeted boycott of Israel: “we call for a targeted boycott of all goods and services from all Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories, and any investments that promote the Occupation, until such time as a peace settlement is negotiated between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority.”  They end by asserting that this is the only way toward a two-state solution: “It is our hope that targeted boycotts and changes in American policy, limited to the Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories, will encourage all parties to negotiate a two-state solution to this long-standing conflict.”

It is risible that they continue to believe that anything like a “two-state solution” could even be a possibility, given Netanyahu’s clear statement during the Israeli elections that a Palestinian state will never happen under his watch.  And he may now be considered a moderate even. Consider that now even Roger Cohen, writing in the New York Times believes that “A two-state resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is more distant than ever, so unimaginable that it appears little more than an illusion sustained by lazy thinking, interest in the status quo or plain exhaustion…Greater Israel is what Israelis know; the smaller Israel west of the Green Line that emerged from the 1947-49 war of independence is a fading memory. The right-wing government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with its contempt for Palestinians and dissenting voices in general, prefers things that way, as the steady expansion of settlements demonstrates.”

Thus there is no chance that Gitlin et al’s call for a limited boycott of the settlements—issued via a statement in the NYRB, but without any actual political mechanism in place to facilitate the call—could be anything more than a symbolic and conscience-saving gesture.

In a response to this call for a boycott, a group including Angela Davis, Richard Falk, Rashid Khalidi, Joan Scott, Roger Waters, and 117 others issued their own statement, “On the Boycott of Israeli Settlements,” which points out how the settlements are inseparable from Israel’s larger colonial project.

After first acknowledging the move forward by Gitlin et al, the authors of the second statement explain why this is not enough:

 We welcome the statement’s shattering of the taboo against boycotting Israeli entities that are complicit in—at least selective—violations of Palestinian human rights.  Defying common sense, however, the statement calls for boycotting settlements while letting Israel, the state that has illegally built and maintained those settlements for decades, off the hook….

By omitting Israel’s other serious violations of international law, the statement fails the moral consistency test. Aren’t Palestinian refugees, the majority of Palestinians, entitled to their UN-stipulated rights? Shouldn’t Palestinian citizens of Israel enjoy equal rights by repealing Israel’s dozens of laws that racially discriminate against them?

Palestinian civil society has called for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against all entities, Israeli or international, that are complicit in denying Palestinians everywhere their rights.

The idea of a limited and targeted boycott of only the settlements such as that suggested by Gitlin et al may be attractive to some who wish to distance themselves from the increasingly blatant violations of human rights perpetrated by Israel against the Palestinians.  But to be morally and ethically consistent, one cannot leave unaddressed all three of the areas in which rights are denied—in the OPT, in Israel-Palestine itself, and the denial of rights to Palestinians in diaspora.  To target only the settlements is to leave intact the very machinery that supports the ongoing colonial project of the state of Israel. Boycotting the settlements without boycotting Israel let’s Israel off the hook and aims at undermining the more comprehensive BDS movement.