Israel's Problem Isn't BDS – It's the Occupation

One can object to boycotts. But sanctimonious wailing and the automatic posing as victims coated with the memory of the Holocaust won't hide the fact that Israel is ruling over an entire other nation.

Ravit Hecht
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An archive photo of the Qalandiyah checkpoint outside Ramallah, July 2013.Credit: Reuters
Ravit Hecht

The daily Yedioth Ahronoth has launched a campaign called “Fighting the boycott” — the subheadline declares that the paper too “is mobilizing to join the battle.” Yedioth was never a journal with a particular ideology, so it’s probably trying to position itself as a patriotic, right-wing paper in its war against the leading daily, the free Israel Hayom owned by U.S. casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.

The campaign's opening salvo was an article by right-wing journalist Ben-Dror Yemini, who accused rock star Roger Waters, gender theorist Judith Butler (a Jew) and physicist Stephen Hawking of harboring dark motives and anti-Semitism in their opposition to the occupation.

Yemini lays out the usual right-wing argument against anti-Israel initiatives: The boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, despite the way it presents itself, not only opposes the occupation but denies Israel’s very right to exist.

According to this thinking, Nazi-like propaganda methods ensnare nave young Jews who espouse values of tikkun olam, repairing the world. In addition, the global struggle against the occupation is hypocritical and biased because only Israel is targeted, not those awful countries like Iran, Sudan or North Korea.

This last argument is particularly interesting because it’s popular on the right and implies an unconscious admission of guilt. If Israel is as pure as the driven snow, why should it be mentioned in the same breath as emblems of human rights violations? If Israel is completely blameless, why does it need special treatment or a better spot in the group of problem countries?

The answer is that most Israelis — even if they fear territorial concessions for security reasons and don’t believe that a peace deal with the Arabs is sustainable — know that Israel is committing an injustice against civilians and denying them their freedom. They know that in the frequent rounds of violence, Israel kills thousands of innocent people as well as terrorists. They know that in a certain place under Israeli rule there is one legal regime for one nation (Israeli law for settlers) and a different one for another nation (military law for Palestinians).

How does one deal with such guilt, to which Yemini is also an accomplice? “Israel, of course, is far from perfect”, the writer states before returning to the real enemy, the BDS movement.

Yemini sets BDS in his sights, but Israel faced a suspension from FIFA last week not because of that vilified organization but because of claims by the Palestinian Football Association that others supported. The affair that made the whole country hold its breath proves the opposite of what Yemini is arguing. Israel is a member of FIFA because the world recognizes its sovereignty within the 1967 borders. It risked expulsion because of its policies in territories it captured in 1967.

Stretching the conflict back to 1948, which Yemini attributes to the boycott movement, serves his goal. It removes with a magic wand Israel’s responsibility for the situation that began in 1967.

The hope that the Palestinians will quietly resign themselves to the settlements, happily content with the conditions imposed by the occupation, is unrealistic. What can we do if they impudently insist on resisting and striving for freedom, their natural right?

Under those circumstances, what kind of struggle do Yemini and his right-wing readers, or any other reasonable person, prefer? Diplomatic and economic measures or exploding buses? UN votes or suicide bombers?

One can object to boycotts, including cultural or economic boycotts of the settlements. But sanctimonious wailing and the automatic posing as victims coated with the memory of the Holocaust is as mistaken an approach as the one Yemini accuses BDS of. Israel’s problem isn’t BDS or Jibril Rajoub — it’s the occupation.