What BDS and Israeli Settlers Have in Common

The settlers have done everything they can to make sure no one distinguishes them from Israel proper. That’s playing into the boycotters' hands.

David Rosenberg
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Confrontation in Beit El, armed forces on left, settlers on right: How dare anyone suggest that the Dreinoff buildings in Beit El be torn down?Credit: Emil Salman
David Rosenberg

The Israeli settlements movement may preach about Greater Israel and talk the talk of annexation, but only the most nave and extreme of them really want it.

Why would they? Right now, the settlers have the best of all possible worlds. They get all the rights Israelis enjoy inside the Green Line, as well as a host of special benefits and tax breaks that their pre-1967 countrymen do not. They also enjoy political status that enables them to lord it over a disenfranchised Palestinian population.

Unhappy non-settler Israelis inside the Green Line have to live side by side with Arabs who can vote and exercise their basic rights. Over the Green Line, building on privately owned Palestinian land isn’t an issue about property rights or the rule of law but about fulfilling the extra-legal but overriding Zionist enterprise. How dare anyone suggest that the Dreinoff buildings in Beit El be torn down?

So the occupation, or as its defenders like to call it, the rule over “disputed territories,” has its advantages, for the settlers at least. But being considered an integral part of Israel has its advantages too.

So when it’s convenient, the settlers and their supporters insist on the fiction that the West Bank, or at least its settlements, are part and parcel of Israel. Certainly that is how they want the world to see it.

Define 'Israel'

The narrative, which the settlers have nearly succeeded in imposing on public opinion, is that we’re all one. Any attempt to boycott the settlements is an attack on Israel and even the world’s Jews.

Thus the outrage expressed by many, including mainstream Israelis no less than Yair Lapid, at the thought that the European Union  may require products made in the West Bank to state their origin explicitly, rather than say "Made in Israel". Separate labeling would be a “de facto boycott of Israel” portending "disaster to the Israeli economy,” Lapid, the former finance minister, said in April,

Then there’s the anti-boycott law, approved by the Knesset four years ago and mostly upheld by the High Court in April, which allows businesses to sue those calling for a boycott for damages. The court removed the most outrageous of the law’s elements, which had allowed for unlimited damages even when none had been proven, but upheld the rest. Justice Hanan Meltzer backed the law as a legitimate defense of the Israeli state against the threat of economic boycotts.

But the law plays the same trick the settlers do, by conflating Israel proper with the settlements.

The law can only be enforced inside Israel, of course. But how big a movement is there inside Israel itself to boycott Israel? Maybe a professor or two, or a Facebook page on the political fringes. For that, Israel needs to write a law constraining free speech?

Of course, the real intent of the Law for Prevention of Damage to the State of Israel through Boycott is to protect the settlements because they are the only ones who face the risk. It protects the settlements by pretending to protect all of Israel.

Making Israel an easy target

The problem is the seamlessness between Israel and the settlements isn’t just a settler fantasy: After 48 years of occupation, it has become all too real.

Banks give mortgages and loans to settlements and their residents. Chain stores have branches over the Green Line. The health maintenance organizations provide medical care and the mobile operators offer service in Judea and Samaria. 

As an economic entity, the settlements are small change, accounting for just 0.5% of Israeli exports. But they have penetrated deep into the Israeli economy

It all makes Israel too easy a target for the global boycott, sanctions and divestment movement, which has one thing in common with the settlers, in that they don’t like to distinguish between Israel and the West Bank.

The EU has been trying to draw a distinction, against nearly impossible odds and Israeli opposition. It has been a painstaking, slow and deliberate process – the issue of labeling has been debated for years and has still not been approved; in some member countries, governments have had the temerity only to seek voluntary labelling – and the impact the day it is enforced will be minor.  

But as a recent EU think tank report “EU Differentiation and Israeli Settlements” points out, this isn’t so easy or defensible, in terms of EU policy. The report asks questions about charities and legal documents - but the most threatening proposal it suggests is targeting Israeli banks for their complicity in supporting the occupation.

Targeting the banks, in EU-speak

Here it is, in EU-speak, but you can get the message: “Can the EU and member states permit themselves to supply fungible funds to European banks without ensuring that such funds cannot be directed into the capital structure of such Israeli entities? And, therefore, do day-to-day dealings between European and Israeli banks comply with the EU requirement not to provide material support to the occupation? Can European branches of Israeli banks be licensed to collect deposits and attract investments in the EU without ensuring that the fungible proceeds of these operations cannot be directed into the capital structure of such Israeli entities or employed to fund activities that contravene international law and are unlawful according to EU law? More generally, do investments in undifferentiated Israeli companies and institutions comply with the requirements of the EU’s differentiation between Israel within its 1967 borders and Israeli entities in the [occupied Palestinian territories]?”

The report doesn’t answer those questions, except by implication, which of course is “no,” given how closely linked Israel’s banks, like everything else, are linked to the settlement enterprise.

It’s one thing for the EU to go after Ahava cosmetics or organic tomatoes -- that is chump change for Israel. It’s quite another to target Israeli banks.

They are at the heart of the economy and – as any Greek can tell you after the three-week shutdown of the country’s banks –they are what makes everything else work.  If the EU acts, those unhappy to souls who prefer to live in Tel Aviv or Kiryat Shmona rather than fulfill their "mission" on a hilltop or in Beit El will finally learn what solidarity with the settlers at all costs really means.

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