Opinion

Anything but a Boycott

Israel should maintain its presence in every possible international forum, arguing, getting angry and admonishing but without boycotting or quitting

The logo of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is seen in front of its headquarters in Paris, France, October 4, 2017.
PHILIPPE WOJAZER/REUTERS

Israel’s usual free-flowing political disagreement has severe arteriosclerosis. The argument has turned into repulsive verbal extremism on social media, and worse, disengagement: shunning and withdrawal, resignation and ignoring — ideas that are foreign and dangerous to democratic society. The danger of ostracism rather than dialogue is that it leads to a choice between a threat of force against the legitimate government or the withdrawal of a desperate minority into its own shell.

Examples of this are varied. In his December 24 op-ed in Haaretz, “No legitimate right wing in Israel,” Gideon Levy argued that Israel lacks a legitimate right wing and that “Yoaz Hendel, Aryeh Eldad or Israel Harel are no less corrupt than Netanyahu.” Not because they too are suspected of receiving illegal favors but because their stable-cleaning efforts are worth nothing as long as they support Israel’s continued presence in Judea and Samaria. In other words, it’s really not important if some “right-winger” advocates preferential funding for schools in Sderot to improve math skills, and maybe opposes expelling African migrants from south Tel Aviv or tried to defend the Supreme Court against the government’s destructive laws. If he also believes a solution other than withdrawing from the territories is possible (like that of the organization Two States One Homeland), his contribution is negligible.

It is a destructive school of thought that jibes with the malicious boycott, divestment and sanctions movement and has anti-Semitic components. The government can take pleasure in this school’s current weakness, but a boycott has the potential to do great damage, and the Foreign Ministry understands this.

A boycott is Israel’s Achilles’ heel, more problematic than any festive decision to move another embassy to Jerusalem. And what does Israel do? It boycotts the boycott activists seeking to enter the country instead of letting them wander the land, challenging their ideas and trying to convince them. In contrast to the after-the-fact invitation from Israel’s ambassador to New Zealand to meet with pop singer Lorde after she gave in to BDS and canceled her concert, such meetings should be conducted in advance, at dozens of embassies in Israel and abroad, as a preventive measure. That is what is needed, not boycotting the boycotters and abandoning the battlefied.

The role of Israeli diplomacy is to make the boycott taboo in the eyes of the world’s liberals, working to bar its use, similar to a ban on the use of mustard gas in war. What’s more, Israeli efforts at a counter-boycott are rather amateurish.

Evidence of such an Israeli counter-boycott can be found in the country’s relationship with UNESCO. Israel has benefited from its practical ties with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, but its attitude toward it is one of hostility and dishonesty. True, it is inconceivable that Jerusalem’s Temple Mount would only be considered a Palestinian-Muslim site when every scholar and every believing Christian know it was the site of the Jewish Temples.

But what’s the point of resigning from UNESCO, as Israel has announced? Is it because the organization treats Israel unfairly? It would be better to remain a member and to argue and accuse and get angry and pound on the table, but not to leave. The United States can always return. But Israel? There’s no knowing.

It’s also not clear that Israel is acting wisely in its boycott, even if unofficial, of the new Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl, who is associated with the Freedom Party, which is suspected of neo-Nazism. Boycott now, and what next? Pressing the party to admit that it is anti-Semitic, which it denies? Strengthening the party’s hostile foundations? And what if a friendly government were to refuse to meet with an Israeli cabinet minister because his positions didn’t suit it?

Israel should maintain its presence in every possible international forum, arguing, getting angry and admonishing but without boycotting or quitting. And that applies at home too, by the left against the right and vice versa. After all, this is a government that wraps itself up in its Jewish identity. It should follow Hillel’s precept not to set yourself apart from the community.