Following the decision of major UK supermaket chain the Co-op to boycott four Israeli suppliers, Israel’s apologists have responded with an ‘argument’ of unintentional hilarity: that BDS harms the Palestinians it claims to help.
One would be forgiven for viewing this newly discovered concern for Palestinian farmers living under Israel’s colonial occupation with scepticism, given that the same folks downplay, deny, or whitewash the routine apartheid policies enforced by Israel’s military.
Unsurprisingly, those trying this line of attack chose not to quote from the Palestinian Union of Agricultural Work Committees, whose spokesperson praised the Co-Op boycott, saying:
Israeli agricultural export companies like Mehadrin profit from and are directly involved in the ongoing colonisation of occupied Palestinian land and theft of our water. Trade with such companies constitutes a major form of support for Israel’s apartheid regime over the Palestinian people, so we warmly welcome this principled decision by the Co-operative. The movement for boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law is proving to be a truly effective form of action in support of Palestinian rights.
This echoes the position of other Palestinian activists who, like Stop the Wall coordinator Jamal Juma’, believe that:
Companies like Mehadrin profit from and are often directly involved in the ongoing colonisation of Palestinian land and theft of our resources. Trade with such companies constitutes a major form of support for Israel’s apartheid regime over the Palestinian people and must be brought to an end.
The rationale behind the boycott, like the BDS campaign in general, is to enable an end to impunity for systematic gross abuses of human rights and international law (in the context of the Palestinian struggle for self-determination and decolonisation). In other words, it is grounded in the facts of occupation, colonialism, and the discriminatory exploitation of natural resources.
The claim that boycotts primarily harm those they are intended to help is reminiscent of those who defended Apartheid South Africa (or who urged ‘engagement’ rather than boycott). President Ronald Reagan, for example, said in 1986 that “The primary victims of an economic boycott of S.A. would be the very people we seek to help. Most of the workers who would lose jobs because of sanctions would be black workers”.
So if hasbara in 2012 has a sense of déjà-vu, that’s unsurprising.