If It Talks Like a Boycott and Walks Like a Boycott

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

Panic strikes the right-wing guardians of the Hebrew language every time the word “boycott” is paired with “Israel.” There is no boycott of products made by the Jewish settlements in the West Bank, they screech; On the contrary, Europe gleefully imports settler products to the tune of $300 million a year.

They’re right. The European Union doesn’t boycott settler products. Its new guidelines merely state that any future agreement with Israel will exclude the settlements and companies doing business in the occupied territories. “Restrictions, not boycott; everything will stay the same,” yell Israel’s guardians. After all, there are customs restrictions on Israeli manufacturing in the West Bank even now. Though not really, because the Israeli government reimburses anyone exporting from the occupied territories for tariffs paid in Europe.

But it isn’t actually necessary to use the word “boycott” to understand what it means. Sanctions against Iran refrain from using the word but amply clarify the punitive measures anyone doing business with Iran will face. The freeze on assistance imposed by the American administration on rogue states isn’t called a boycott either. Semantics are unimportant. Whatever talks like a boycott, walks like a boycott, and quacks like a boycott is a boycott.

Israel’s idiotic response to the EU doesn’t use the word “boycott” either. We will not engage in scientific cooperation with the EU should Europe insist that the occupied territories aren’t part of Israel, stated the government. When decisions like that were made in Chelm, the notorious city of fools in Eastern European Jewish folklore, they were usually examples of black humor eliciting bitter laughter. But when the Israeli government makes a decision to withhold financing and grants of some €300 million, it is an economic and scientific crime that will cost the Israeli taxpayers NIS 1.5 billion if the government decides to reimburse its research institutions for the losses. But maybe it won’t cost the taxpayers anything at all because the government won’t reimburse the research institutions. Because, after all, what’s scientific research compared to Israeli sovereignty over the occupied territories?

The loss of €300 million is a drop in the ocean compared to the enormous investments Israel has made beyond the Green Line. The treasury’s “loaves and fishes miracle,” as it discovered another NIS 4 billion could cover it without any trouble at all. The real panic is that, all of a sudden, it has become clear that not only does the government have no monopoly on labeling what constitutes Israeli products, and not only can it no longer pass off as “Made in Israel” items manufactured across the Green Line, but it doesn’t even have a monopoly on drawing its borders. It has only pseudo-sovereignty over its settlements because no one – not in Europe nor in the United States – acknowledges their legality. Those same settlements, meant to expand Israel’s borders, are redrawing the recognized Green Line border. Their status is, at most, that of the West Bank during the time of the Jordanian occupation, when no international body recognized its annexation by Jordan.

Suddenly Europe – that aged, venerable, slumbering power – comes along and, with one single rumble, threatens to turn things upside-down. Because as long as the Jewish settlements constituted the unity of the land, while destroying the unity of the country, everything was just fine. But now something’s gone terribly wrong with the convenient equation. The settlements, with their own bare hands, are bringing the Green Line back to life. In case they weren’t satisfied with being a drain on the budget, they are now directly aiming and shooting at some of Israel’s national interests. The lie concerning their contribution to Israel’s national security was already exposed several decades ago. Now the government is trying to save the settlements from suffocating inside the balloon of Greater Israel. But the air is leaking out, and the government has failed to notice that the rest of the country is trapped and gasping for air inside the same balloon.

In the meantime, the United States is keeping mum. It may be contemplating Europe’s move with envy. With one small blow, Europe managed to promote the peace process and make Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sit down with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. Maybe Obama, too, will start thinking this is the tack Washington should take. Not a boycott, of course -- just “restrictions.”

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