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
"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
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 http://www.bdsmovement.net/]
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 [http://boycottisraelnyc.org/]. 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 [http://www.hanguponmotorola.org/] -- 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.
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
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
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
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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