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                                                                                               BOYCOTT ISRAEL - THE HARD QUESTIONS

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We are aware that a boycott against the State of Israel will raise concerns among some allies and antagonists alike, and challenging questions will arise.  This document is designed to address some of those thorny and complex questions.  This is meant as a tool for activists, not as a handbill for the public; though segments and passages might prove useful for shorter leaflets.

 Q: "Why should we boycott Israel but not Hamas for attacking civilians?"

A: Israel is not only targeting civilians in far greater numbers than Hamas, but it is also committing crimes against humanity in the form of ethnic cleansing and apartheid. Israel's ongoing policies of military occupation, displacement, land expropriation, and wide-scale mistreatment of the Palestinian population are the root of the conflict, and Israel commits war crimes in order to implement these policies. Israel is by far the richer and stronger power in the conflict, and it holds nearly all the leverage available to change policy, end the siege, end apartheid, end ethnic cleansing, end the occupation, and establish equal rights for Israelis and Palestinians. We are trying to pressure the Israeli government, as the principal instigator of the conflict, to cease its illegal and immoral practices and to abide by international legal and moral standards. Hamas should also be held accountable for targeting civilians; but these actions by the undermined leadership of a captive population (and by independent factions) are not the root of the conflict.

Q: "Why is it okay for us to boycott Israel but not okay for US/Israel to impose boycott on Hamas?"

A: There is an enormous difference between a state-imposed economic blockade and a consumer boycott. The European Union and the United States, together with Israel, have leveled massive sanctions against the Palestinians resulting in the withholding of critical supplies necessary for the daily survival of the population.

Since Hamas won a plurality in the Palestinian elections of January, 2006, Israel, with the encouragement of the United States, has withheld millions of dollars in taxes due to the Palestinian government. This economic blockade -- especially of Gaza -- has caused massive suffering for ordinary Palestinians. Israel has cut off entry to Gaza of fuel, food, medicines, electricity, and other urgent necessities, resulting in skyrocketing unemployment, increased deaths from injuries and curable disease, and malnutrition.

The Israeli government exerts full control over Palestinian movement and commerce. Because of this, international law requires Israel to ensure an acceptable level of well-being for the Palestinians. The Israeli and international sanctions against the Palestinians flout this responsibility. But consumers around the world are in no sense obligated to purchase Israeli products. In fact, we have a moral responsibility to boycott those products in order to avoid supporting criminal actions with our dollars.

Israel is punishing the entire Palestinian population, not because of terrorism perpetrated by Hamas, but because Hamas refuses to act as a puppet government, a proxy for the Israeli occupation.

Rather than starving and persecuting the Palestinian population, Israel must negotiate with Hamas. Hamas has at numerous points over the past few years clearly expressed a willingness to engage in negotiations, and has in fact initiated unilateral ceasefires over extended periods. Negotiation with Hamas will be necessary for any progress toward peace with justice.

Q: "Doesn't a boycott hurt those whom it is meant to help?"

A: In the last fifteen years the Palestinian economy has been so efficiently divorced from the Israeli economy that very few Israeli products are produced by Palestinian labor or materials. With most Palestinian labor in Israel prohibited, Palestinians have widely returned to agriculture where possible, and they are quite often living at a subsistence level. If we boycott Israeli-processed diamonds, fruit grown on a kibbutz, or facial cream created on an illegal Israeli settlement in the West Bank, the economic impact of our actions will most directly affect the Israeli producers.

Palestinians themselves have called on the world to boycott Israeli goods. [link to
[Palestine BDS Campaign]

Our boycott does not only target Israeli-produced goods, but also US companies that profit from Israel’s illegal and immoral policies. For example, Motorola, an American company, produces technology for the Israeli army that is crucial to Israeli war operations. This technology includes radar, radio, and cellular telephone systems []. If we send Motorola a strong enough message that we disapprove of the company's practical support of Israeli war crimes -- and there is already a Motorola boycott campaign being promoted around the country [] -- we can induce them to reconsider this behavior and ultimately end their complicity.

The most well-known international social-justice boycott in recent years was the widespread boycott of South Africa in protest of its racist apartheid system. At that time a blow to the South African economy could arguably damage the living standard of the victims of apartheid. But anti-apartheid activists in South Africa still called for a boycott, which in the long run played a significant role in changing the system.

Q: "How is a boycott of Israeli goods different from collective punishment which we elsewhere deplore?"

A: Collective punishment is a legal term described in the Fourth Geneva Convention (Article 33). It refers to an occupying force's punishment of a group for offenses that an individual committed. This describes the common practices of the Israeli occupying forces against whole Palestinian communities, neighborhoods, and families.

The collective punishments that Israeli forces practice include house demolitions, curfews, checkpoints, control of imports and exports, mass arrests, and military attacks such as tear gassing, sniping, and bombing residential neighborhoods and civilian institutions. Our boycott is a non-violent tactic. As a form of economic pressure it is not punishment, but simply a grassroots refusal to participate in consumption that supports the Israeli economy. Our aim in calling this boycott is to make the Israeli government and its citizens realize that the people of the world do not accept the policies of apartheid and ethnic cleansing. Using our purchasing power strategically is one of the few ways available to send that message. An economic boycott may cause slight repercussions to be felt by the Israeli population, but unlike collective punishment, a boycott leaves ample room for Israel to change its policies. The Palestinians have no such options.

We are aware that many Israelis, both Jews and non-Jews, object to the actions and policies of their government. Members of Israeli society benefit from the occupation and abuse of Palestinian rights in varying measure depending on their socio-economic status.  The privilege afforded by living in a relatively affluent society -- where some of that affluence is gained through the oppression and exploitation of others -- accrues to different members of that society in different degrees. Given this, Israelis of all ethnicities and stations will be affected, to one degree or another, by any successful boycott results.

To the extent that a citizen profits from the actions of a government, he or she has responsibility for those actions. There must be limits to such responsibility and limits to punishment; so we do not support collective punishment in the form of mass bombing, for example. A consumer boycott seems to us a reasonable and proportional response, precisely because it is non-violent and does not threaten a community's survival. A boycott against Israel only threatens the economic well-being of members of one of the richest countries in the world -- and its primary target is the most affluent: the owners and managers of companies that are enriching themselves through occupation and exploitation. In doing so, a boycott of Israel sends a clear and concrete political message with plenty of opportunity for compliance.

An economic boycott against Israel pressures the Israeli government to cease its illegal and immoral policies, and it calls on those who object to those policies to resist them more urgently and aggressively. Our boycott is part of a larger ongoing campaign which includes support and collaboration with many Israelis who are already resisting the Israeli government's self-destructive actions.

Many Israeli companies that produce and export the goods we buy are benefiting directly from the occupation of Palestinian land. Their factories are in many cases located on land stolen from the Palestinians, and much Israeli produce is grown for export on settlement farms that are located on land taken from Palestinians.

In the long run, when Israel moves towards peace instead of permanent war with its neighbors, both physical and economic security will increase for the Israelis as well as for the Palestinians.

We do not wish to ignore the fact that there are strong parallels between the oppression practiced by Israel, and the privilege enjoyed by some members of that society, and a similar dynamic in the United States.
The large number of us in this country who object to our government's actions and policies continue to profit, in varying degrees, from our government's actions, and we must grapple with the consequences of our real if limited responsibility.

Q: "Why we are boycotting products from Israel and not just from the Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories or US companies that deal with Israel?"

A: We are calling for a boycott of all Israeli products because it is the State of Israel that acts as the principal generator of the extensive catalogue of grave crimes against the Palestinian population. The State of Israel, and not just some factions or currents in Israeli society, stands behind the war crimes and crimes against humanity, including ethnic cleansing, illegal military occupation, and maintenance of an apartheid regime.

Furthermore, Israel’s policies of apartheid and ethnic cleansing are also applied to Palestinian citizens inside Israel. Our pursuit of justice cannot be confined to the military occupation or the settlements.

We are targeting the entire Israeli economy because the Israeli State, wherever it wields power, consistently privileges one part of the population while discriminating against the other. This system of apartheid has been imposed both within Israel and in the Occupied Territories.

We do not single out the settlements in the Occupied Territories for boycott because the economy of the settlements is closely interlinked with that of Israel. In many instances, raw materials come from one side and labor from the other. We cannot really affect the Israeli economy without targeting both sectors. In any case, the settlements do not exist independently of the Israeli state, but with direct support from that government.

We have worked and continue to work to persuade US companies that supply war materials to Israel to discontinue this practice, but this is a long-term effort. The shocking Israeli assault of December 2008 and January 2009 has removed all doubt that Israel must be regarded as a rogue state and made to change its illegal and immoral policies.

Q: "Why not boycott China or other countries that violate human rights?"

The magnitude and intensity of US government support for Israel and its policies of apartheid have no parallel. If the US were giving equivalent support to China or Sudan or the Congo or Indonesia, we would have equivalent responsibility to address the grave human rights issues with those countries. As it stands, Israel’s policies of ethnic cleansing and apartheid are fairly regarded by the world as extensions of US policy, and so we as US citizens have unusual responsibility to change those policies. At the same time, we support non-violent citizen action in favor of human rights for all peoples of the world, and we express solidarity with all struggles for human rights, and we would support nonviolent actions to address human rights violations anywhere in the world.

Q: “Would you support international legal sanctions against Israel? If so, how is that different from US/EU/Israeli sanctions against Hamas?”

A: The actions and policies of the State of Israel are the root of the conflict. We have long called for sanctions against Israel for the same reasons that we are conducting a boycott campaign. Likewise, the argument against sanctioning Hamas is similar to the argument against boycotting Hamas (see above). The State of Israel is the actor that holds most of the leverage in this conflict. Israel is the occupying power, not Hamas. Israel has one of the most advanced, well-equipped military machines in the world. Israel's policies from the beginning of its existence have progressively corralled the Palestinians into ever more desperate circumstances. While we do not express blanket support for all of Hamas' policies, it is only direct economic pressure on Israel that will open the way for a just solution. Sanctions against Hamas will only increase the misery of the Palestinian population.

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