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Why boycott can’t be limited only to Israeli occupation and settlements

Israeli columnist Gideon Levy has been writing for Haaretz for at least two decades. His writings have brilliantly illuminated the reality of Israeli apartheid, as it affects Palestinian citizens of Israel, Palestinians living in the Gaza Stip, as well as in Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied West Bank.

Levy describes himself as writing to “(re)humanize the Palestinians,” and focus on how they are treated by Israel.

Yet when it comes to the campaign of boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel called for by more than 170 Palestinian civil society organizations, he has on numerous occasions explained why he does not support the movement. He even – at one point – went so far as to accuse civil society organizations elsewhere in the world of having a “moral double standard” for supporting the boycott.

But he has written supportively of selective boycott actions, limited to what are referred to as settlement or occupation-only boycotts. On 14 July, after seven years of dancing around it, Gideon Levy wrote a column declaring outright support for an economic boycott of Israel:

Anyone who really fears for the future of the country needs to be in favor at this point of boycotting it economically.

He concludes:

It’s difficult and painful, almost impossibly so, for an Israeli who has lived his whole life here, who has not boycotted it, who has never considered emigrating and feels connected to this country with all his being, to call for such a boycott. I have never done so. I have understood what motivated the boycott and was able to provide justification for such motives. But I never preached for others to take such a step. However, with Israel getting itself into another round of deep stalemate, both diplomatic and ideological, the call for a boycott is required as the last refuge of a patriot.

“Artificial” distinction

But to me, these were not the most significant declarations he made. Rather, it is the one that explains his shift from supporting the idea of “occupation-only” boycott to supporting the boycott of the state.

Levy summarizes the argument as he references Tzipi Livni’s complaint that a proposed European policy of boycotting Israeli settlement products would not stop there but would morph into a full boycott of the state:

Justice Minister Livni said that the discourse in Europe has become ideological. She knows what she’s talking about. She also said that a European boycott would not stop at products made in West Bank settlements. There’s no reason it should. The distinction between products from the occupation and Israeli products is an artificial creation. It’s not the settlers who are the primary culprits but rather those who cultivate their existence. All of Israel is immersed in the settlement enterprise, so all of Israel must take responsibility for it and pay the price for it.

This is a particularly significant point in the context of growing calls over the past few years to limit a boycott of Israel to the occupation and settlements, despite the breadth of the 2005 call from Palestinians which is aimed at the state itself.

Occupation economy

Writers like Noam Sheizaf and Shir Hever, as well as organizations like Who Profits, have documented the underlying facts behind Levy’s logic regarding the artificiality of distinguishing “occupation” and “Israeli” products.

The data highlighting the level of co-mingling between the state and the occupation and settlements strikes at the heart of the argument that many in the US make when urging selective boycotts of only settlement or occupation-profiteering products and companies.

It’s simply dishonest to perpetuate the myth that the settlements or the occupation are somehow disconnected from the Israeli state, the very government that funds, equips and protects settlements, deploys its army to maintain its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and that systematically discriminates against Palestinians who constitute 20 percent of its citizens.

Cultural and academic boycott

It is important to note that Levy declares support for economic boycott, but does not mention the other elements of the boycott: cultural and academic. I would be remiss not to point out the complicity of Israel’s academic institutions [PDF] in its systems of oppression, or the clearly-defined role of culture in whitewashing Israel’s crimes, as articulated in 2009 by deputy director general for cultural affairs of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Arye Mekel.

“We will send well-known novelists and writers overseas, theater companies, exhibits,” Mekel explained. “This way you show Israel’s prettier face, so we are not thought of purely in the context of war.”

One can only hope that Gideon Levy will not stray from the very same logic he used to conclude an economic boycott was necessary, in thinking about academic and cultural boycott.

Comments

Let's not forget that the more than 50% of what was to be Palestine that lay between the 1947 Partition and the Green Line is just as "occupied" as the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Golan Heights. That land was never given to Israel (Israel simply refused to budge and filled it with human "facts on the ground" as quickly as possible). By Mr. Levy's own logic, shouldn't he boycott that land as well?

Levy's support economic boycott is really strategic, as it ought to be with any tactic. Hence poking holes in his 'logic' is beyond the point since he isn't take a position here on principle or principled 'logic'. He makes the argument to Israelis for a boycott of the occupation because he knows that is the limit of Israelis are willing to accept at the moment. There are many who won't but there is perhaps a growing number of people in Israel who would support the motion and it is enough to get the ball rolling.

He isn't writing for an international audience and so to argue that it his shortcoming for now doing so is odd. I agree that the boycott should go beyond the occupation and into academic and cultural organisations as well. However, Levy is pursuing a different issue here.

Liam, it seems you did not read the blog post in its entirety - as your comment does not correspond to what Levy said.

Levy said that an attempted occupation-only or settlement-only boycott doesn’t work.

To be exact, Levy wrote:

The distinction between products from the occupation and Israeli products is an artificial creation. It’s not the settlers who are the primary culprits but rather those who cultivate their existence. All of Israel is immersed in the settlement enterprise, so all of Israel must take responsibility for it and pay the price for it.