Last month, the Israeli government canceled a plan to segregate public transport.
The scheme introduced by the defense ministry required Palestinians traveling back from day jobs in present-day Israel to homes in the occupied West Bank to ride on separate buses from Jews.
Stopping this was a canny public relations move, given that segregated buses are so symbolically redolent of apartheid South Africa or the Jim Crow US south. But as Michael Omer-Man pointed out at +972 Magazine, pervasive segregation already exists, not just on buses, but in virtually every aspect of life under the “singular” regime that controls Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Nonetheless, despite the negative attention the bus plan brought Israel, more than half of Israeli Jews (52 percent) still support “implementing a separation between Jewish and Palestinian passengers on buses in the territories, in the vein of the experiment that Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon recently announced,” according to this month’s “Peace Index” poll published by the Israel Democracy Institute.
Boycott starting to bite
The poll has another important finding, as its authors state: “It appears that the Jewish public is aware of the deterioration that has occurred in Israel’s international status. This awareness seemingly stems from the intensification of voices calling to boycott Israel and its institutions. A large majority (69 percent) characterize Israel’s relations with the countries of the world as not good at all or not so good, with only 29 percent viewing these relations as moderately good or very good.”
This finding is good news for supporters of the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS).
The interviews for the poll were done between 1-4 June, coinciding with the Israeli government’s massive propaganda pushback against BDS.
The Palestinian BDS campaign is inspired and modeled in large part on the similar campaign against apartheid South Africa a generation ago. The sense that the status quo was costly and unsustainable, leading to more and more isolation was key to persuading white South Africans to accept political changes that were previously anathema (I discuss this sea change in opinion among whites in a 2009 article, which I expand and develop in my most recent book).
In the 1980s, opponents of BDS against South Africa argued that making whites feel more isolated would only make them more fearful, stubborn and unwilling to compromise. While they moved to the right in the short term, within a few years the vast majority embraced something they said they would always oppose and feared would bring about their destruction: a one person, one vote system in a nonracial South Africa.
Israeli Jews are, like white South Africans once were, still overwhelmingly convinced that they alone are in the right and the rest of the world is just inexplicably hostile and misinformed.
But wide public recognition among Israeli Jews that BDS is changing perceptions of Israel – that is to say imposing a cost – is the first step on the long road they will have to travel from a regime of apartheid, occupation and colonization to democracy.
I argued last week that BDS is the new bogeyman conjured up by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to replace the supposed existential threat from Iran that proved so useful to whip up the Israeli public and distract world attention from Israel’s oppression of Palestinians.
That is not to say that Israelis don’t genuinely perceive BDS as a real “strategic” threat to their dominance – it is that – but that Netanyahu is also playing it up for political reasons.
Last month’s Peace Index poll provides more support for that conclusion: “Despite the warnings sometimes voiced by government officials, a clear majority (59 percent) of the Jewish public does not believe that at present, after major progress has been made toward a framework agreement between Iran and the United States, a right-wing government will give a green light for an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.”
Even more striking, a decisive majority of Israelis Jews (60 percent) does not support such an attack.
In other words, not only has the world stopped believing Netanyahu’s bluster about Iran, the Israeli public has as well.