How charming the boycott cry is. Boycott Israeli universities, Israeli products from the settlements, flowers grown in Israel. When this call comes from Israelis, it reflects a great deal of despair, and stems from goodwill, of course. It's an enchanting formula: They'll boycott Israel, the public outcry will reach the government and the latter, being democratic, will have to obey the will of the people. How could they not have thought of it sooner?
They did think about it. That is exactly the formula behind the sanctions against Iran. Economic isolation, frozen bank accounts, senior officials not being able to travel abroad - then the Iranian people will wake up and change their regime, or at least its policies. Iran has been under sanctions for 30 years, and the people, wonder of wonders, have not risen up. They protest, but not because of the sanctions; because of the regime's suppression.
This remedy was also tried with Iraq. For 12 years the Iraqi people groaned under sanctions and dictatorship, but did not rise up against the great military leader who ruled their bedrooms. In the end there was no choice but war. Sanctions did not help.
And what about South Africa? The ostensibly successful sanctions and boycott, which led to the regime's fall? Sanctions - first military - were imposed on South Africa as early as the start of the 1960s. Then in the mid-1970s, they were extended to oil exports, and finally came the widescale sanctions of the mid-1980s. But apartheid was eliminated only in the mid-1990s, and even then it was not due to sanctions alone; in fact, in those years South Africa experienced economic growth and its exports increased 26 percent. President P.W. Botha's response to the blacks was no less vindictive than the West's desire to impose sanctions. Botha wanted to prove that outside intervention would not impact apartheid.
Israel has adopted the same policy. It has blockaded Gaza to spur the inhabitants to rise up against the Hamas regime, in order to achieve politically what the Israel Defense Forces could not achieve militarily. But three years of blockade, four years of fighting Hamas, and even the destructive Operation Cast Lead did not do the trick. The people of Gaza did not rise up, and the Hamas regime only grew stronger.
Anywhere sanctions are imposed - from Iraq to Iran, from Gaza to Pakistan - nationalist and radical forces actually have become stronger. Even the intellectuals who oppose the regimes have found themselves forced to defend them from outside intervention. Nationalism, or more correctly, extreme nationalism, rejoices.
People calling for a boycott of Israel or its institutions and products have given up on change from within. But what is worse, the call is motivated by the same logic that guides government policy in Gaza, and it is just as mistaken. After all, there is no reason whatsoever to believe that the Israeli government or the public will behave differently than Gazans or Iranians.
The fact that Israel is a democracy is no guarantee. Proof of this lies in the collective behavior in the face of Turkey's attack on Israel and the threat of military sanctions. Cancelling vacations in Antalya, protests and boycotting Turkish goods have become symbols of the "just struggle" against the bad guys.
If Israeli scholars are banned by universities in London, that's not so terrible. They can still go to Pennsylvania, and if they are banned there, they can still correspond and publish online; what's more important is that foreigners don't dictate policy "to us." If now, even before a boycott, lecturers have to think twice about what they say lest extreme nationalists mark them, then under sanctions, some elected officials may ensure such academics are immediately fired. In any case, people waiting for an academic uprising amidst a boycott should have their heads examined.
Who else can take part in the civil disobedience in the boycott proponents' fantasy? Farmers? Students? Travelers? Businesspeople? How many of them will wrap themselves in the Israeli flag to show the world we do not give in to sanctions? That will be the finest hour of the right wing, the "nationalist camp," fascism. Boycott becomes them.