Boycotting Israel

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.

Cultural Boycott

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:

  1. People who are already agree with your opinions: these people are not your problem.
  2. People who are disagree with your opinions: the boycott will not positively affect them anyway.
  3. 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).

Academic Boycott

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.
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8 Responses to “Boycotting Israel”

  1. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Reddit by keithjr: Since Israel gets most of its economic capital in the form of US aid, how much can an economic boycott accomplish?…

    • Alan Says:

      Don’t forget the bctyoot of Disney, too! The offense? Gay Day at Disneyland.I agree that bctyoots don’t work. There are far more people today than there were 30 years ago. Very diverse, too. Plus, we’ve had decades of apathy. So, no matter how bad a corporation is, there is not enough people to make a bctyoot work. Not only are the people more diverse these days, so are the companies. Seems that every company is a subsidiary of some other company. How can you hurt one economically (through a bctyoot) when you don’t even know if it’s going to affect their bottom line? For example, GE (General Electric) used to mean kitchen appliances to me. But they own NBC, Telemundo, and a whole lot more.None of it will matter once the comet hits the Earth.

  2. J Mazafi Says:

    Great idea! lets boycott the only democracy in the middle east which faces constant existential threats from in it’s surrounding, dictatorship ruled neighbors (including Lebanon, ruled by Hezbollah). We can start with there medicine – some of the best in the world (wait, not a good idea – might need that) Or there computer/internet industry (oh oh, might need that too…) I’ve got a better idea, how about boycotting the Arab nations which support suicide bombers and terrorism in general?

    • drew3000 Says:

      Good post not marred by propagandists in the comments section. Israel is not the “only” democracy in the Middle East. It depends on how you identify that word. Lebanon has elections. The occupied Palestinian territories have elections. Iraq and Iran have had elections after a fashion. The list goes on.

      Neve Gordon points out the Israel is really only a quasi-democracy for certain people, based on ethnic identity, at best. But that depends on how you look at Israel’s borders:

      If you count it based on wider freedoms and equal access for all, then Israel could not be counted as a democracy since internal Israeli Palestinians are regularly denied equal rights and status of Jeish Israelis and if you look at the Palestinians living under military occupation, they have no recourse at all and are relegated to a separate police and judicial system. Also, if we look at the issue of settlements, these are the cornerstone of an apartheid system based on ideas of ethnic purity and exclusiveness.

      So, as you can see, Israel is not a democracy, as the fundamental nature of democracies is that they don’t come with conditions.

      • Shuxrat Says:

        I’m a big Pollan fan and will continue to be but Michael no one boitytcong WF believes they’ll bring a $5 billion juggernaut to its knees. We believe in buying consciously and our dollars are better spent building our community’s healthy living infrastructure (farmers markets, veggie stands, small grocers and local health food stores). Besides the PR people at WF insist that store traffic is unaffected so, it’s win-win: we shop where we want, Mackey gets the Glenn Beck/radical libertarian/tea bagger crowd. No problemo. I only miss the 365 brand fig newtons and the employees at my former store.

  3. Jack Mazafi Says:

    Not all of Israel’s citizens are Jewish – Israel has a large Arab population which enjoy the same rights and freedoms as Israels’ Jewish citizens without exceptions as well as other minorities. Arabs also enjoy political freedom as well as hold seats in Israel’s parliament (How many jews hold political power in any of the Arab states?) Yes, people living in the occupied territories live a horrid and undemocratic life – but that is by there own hand, not Israels. As for the surrounding so-called democracies,well, we all saw what happened in Iran these past few months, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon (Ruled by Syria, Hezbolah) and oh yeah, Iraq (LOL) surly you are joking Drew3000.

  4. Auth Says:

    Yes, there’s an interesting falcaly in Pollan’s argument, i.e., that WF, nay, the sustainable food movement, can’t survive without Mackey.I’m neutral on the boycott, myself. I shop at WF every couple of years, or if I’m travelling, etc. But they should make clear on their facebook page under what conditions they’ll call off the boycott. Would they be happy with Mackey’s firing? Passage of a public option? An Apology from Mackey or its Board of Directors? What?Re lubricants, there’s Fair Trade .I wonder if there’s FT lube.Hrmm .

    • Sakuni Says:

      free tibet!> CHina systematicly moves han-chinese to tibet to bemoce a majority in the region, changing tibet into a proffitable tourist area and ensuring valuable mineral deposits.Although this is only one of many reasons to boycot. The chinese government is also responsable for poluting our world(the air not even clear enough to see or breathe), killing falungong practissioners(peacefull buddhist like movement)harvesting their organs,abusing poor people for cheap labour, allowing discrimination on minority`s or even small people, driving them to undergo expensive surgery to lengthen their legs or to whiten their skinn. Furthermore know that Beijing will not be representative for china`s situation , the rest of the country will still be a very poor sight.Let’s hear our voice against these medieval practises. Jiefang Xizang!

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