November 28, 2009
Israel is doing a lot of wrong things. These wrong things are taking a central place in the world public attention. Many non-Israeli people want to do something to change these wrong things. Boycotting Israel is one of their options.
Boycott is a strong weapon that is not suiting every situation. It could be an overkill in many cases, and achieve the opposite then the required result.
I’ll try to examine several common forms of boycott and explain their possible results. Then, I’ll try to provide some rules of thumb for effective boycott.
My assumption is that the consideration whether to boycott or not depends only in the question if the boycott would achieve practical results. Boycotting as a statement or as a punishment is fundamentally senseless when you are not a teenager who defends her popularity.
One area, which in a boycott is almost always wrong, is the cultural area. I’m talking about cases like boycotting Israeli books and movies, excluding Israeli artists from festivals, or simply expelling Israeli people from public discussions.
The main reason that boycott is wrong in such cases is that cultural events are aiming to the little people. The little people can be roughly divided to three groups:
- People who are already agree with your opinions: these people are not your problem.
- People who are disagree with your opinions: the boycott will not positively affect them anyway.
- A large mass of little people who are just living their little life: these people are not interested in the big picture (they want to, but they don’t have the time or the nerves). It’s not their fault that they born in this crazy place and they just want to live there life. They don’t have strong opinion about the Israel-wrong-things issues, and they are the ones who are actually able to change their minds.
The only result of working against these people will be that these people will tag you as an enemy who is positioned in the “other side”. This means that whatever you are trying to say, they are probably against it. You are just arrogantly disturbing their little life with your naïve and stupid ideas. It is also a strengthening to “everybody is against us so we should trust only ourselves and listen to nobody” arguments.
If you are against what their government is doing, but not against “them”, then accepting this people as people, and communicate with them naturally about your common interests, will expose them much more effectively to your alternative opinions. If there is a common sense in your opinions, then something will probably defuse.
Economy and Diplomacy
There are, however, places where the boycotting weapon might work. I’m talking about economy and diplomacy. In those two areas people tend to believe that they are making rational decisions, so pressure may be annoying, but effective in some degree.
Even in those cases, the boycotting should be done carefully and responsibly as a strong way to say moderate things. As soon as a tiniest amount of propaganda or judgment is involved, the whole thing become emotional again and the little people are closing themselves again (and this time also with contempt to the stranger who doesn’t understand the complexity of the situation).
A place that boycott is possible in principle, but is wrong for the current Israeli situation IMO, is the academy.
Academy should be loyal to the truth. If the academy is bending its methods to support a political agenda, then it’s no longer Academy, but Agora. The global academic community should not tolerate such cases. This should be the only reason for academic boycott. As I said, this is not the situation in the Israeli academy these days.
Any other reason for academic boycott will betray the fundamental idea of academy.
Rules of Thumb for Effective Boycott
- Avoid judgment. There is no point in telling people that they are morally wrong. Just tell them that they crossed your lines and you practically don’t want to be a part of that. Leave the right or wrong question to their own conscience.
- Be specific as possible. If you are against the Israeli occupation, for example, then work against the occupation. Boycott companies that provide weapons, or boycott products of the Israeli settlements. Boycotting “Israel” in general will damage your focus and will position you as a distant “other” who is against “us”.
- Be clear about your conditions. It should be clear that you are stressing a specific point, and not pushing as much as you can.
- Have willing to listen and learn. It will give you an honorable way back in case you are changing your mind; it will reduce the resistance of the other side to listen; or at least it will help you to know your enemy.
- Make it clear that your interests are not contradicting the interests of the boycotted group when this is the case. If you think that the occupation is bad to the Israeli interests then make sure they know that.
- Keep it close to the subject. Don’t boycott as a statement. Don’t boycott in one area to stress another. If you’ll do such things then people will recognize the inconsistency and focus on that. If you are boycotting the academy, and the academy is not the root of the problem, then people will think that you found an excuse to strike wherever you can.
- Work against the big system and not against the little people. If you work against the people, then people will reduce the situation to pro/against us and ignore your messages. More than that, some politicians may use your acts it as a trigger to encourage xenophobia and strengthen the parts of the big system that you are against. But if you are working against the big systems, then the little people are probably on your side.