From Socialist Voice, October 2010


Palestine, Israel, BDS, and the left

Part 2

It is sometimes argued that the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign will hurt “good Israelis” or Israeli workers. To deal first with the former point, the “goodness” or otherwise of any given individual Israeli is irrelevant to the campaign. The target of the boycott is the Israeli state; and while the state governs a society made up of individuals, it is also the apparatus by means of which Palestinians have been oppressed, colonised, murdered, and ethnically cleansed.
     As long as the state is Zionist-colonialist in outlook and practice it will be the target for boycott. The aim is that all Israelis, “good” and “bad” alike, will realise that it is not in their individual or collective interest to be part of an apartheid state that is shunned by the world and will realise that steps towards the reforming of the exclusivist-supremacist state will begin from within.
     Being determines consciousness; and one thing is certain: existing in a state where there are no repercussions for outrageous action will never lead people to re-examine commitments to Zionist-colonial fundamentals. To quote the Israeli journalist Gideon Levy, “Israelis don’t pay any price for the injustice of the occupation, so the occupation will never end.”
     As specifically regards Israeli workers, for whom it is sometimes argued that the boycott “drives them into the arms of the ruling class,” while one shouldn’t fall into the trap of viewing the Jewish-Israeli working class as a single homogeneous and ideologically immovable reactionary bloc, an objective look at the reality on the ground will show that these workers vote overwhelmingly for parties of the right, including the Labour Party. The only major non-Zionist working-class party in Israel, Hadash, gets the overwhelming majority of its votes from Palestinian citizens of Israel. The unfortunate fact is that Jewish-Israeli workers are already in the blood-drenched clutches of the ruling class.
     In theory it is fine to suggest, as some far-left groups do, that these workers “have more in common with the oppressed Palestinian masses than with their own capitalist class,” and that a common struggle should be waged against Israeli colonial capitalism. In the short term, unfortunately, this is unlikely to happen. While there are of course class divisions in Israeli society—some of them acutely sharp—Palestinians cannot afford to sit around waiting for the magical day when the Jewish-Israeli working class wakes up and decides to throw off the shackles of Zionism and embrace its Palestinian brothers and sisters.
     In addition, BDS is being endorsed by small but growing radical sections of Jewish-Israeli society. Such organisations as Boycott from Within, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions and the Alternative Information Centre, as well as individuals such as Ilan Pappe, Neve Gordon, and Yitzhak Laor, have fully endorsed the Palestinian call for BDS, while others have embraced limited aspects of it.
     The Israeli state views even these small developments with alarm, and laws are now being drawn up to criminalise Israeli BDS activists.
     Finally, a contradistinction is sometimes drawn by left groups between “individual” consumer boycott action, portrayed as “ineffective,” and “collective” action, led by trade unions, seen as “effective.” A recent article by an English far left group argued, in relation to the temporary dockers’ boycott actions in the United States, Sweden, Greece and elsewhere in the aftermath of the Flotilla massacre, that these actions “are dangerous to the Zionist ruling class. The same cannot be said of the BDS campaign as a whole.”
     This is an utterly false dichotomy. Of course no-one in the Palestinian solidarity movement would argue against trade union boycotts—indeed the movement continually argues in favour of such action, was enthusiastic in its support for the dockers’ actions, and hopes they can be built upon and expanded—or argues against their effectiveness, as they stop Israeli goods at source.
     Counterposing the two is pointless and elitist, ignoring the fact that most of those who “individually” boycott Israeli products are in fact workers. It also ignores the fact that the dockers’ actions were not the result of some spontaneous awakening but were argued for by activists who have been promoting and laying the groundwork for BDS since 2005.
     Boycott has to start somewhere. In Ireland it started on the streets and has grown to include the trade union movement. The ICTU passed a boycott resolution in 2007 and is now initiating a consumer boycott awareness campaign among its member-organisations.
     Of course this is far from the optimum action trade unions can take; and Palestinian solidarity activists—especially those in the trade union movement—should continually push for stronger action; but it is a start and should be welcomed.
     All advances in the boycott campaign, whether they come from individuals, trade unions or indeed among the business community, are welcomed by Palestinians and should be welcomed by those of us who stand in solidarity with them.
     To end on a question: If “individual” boycott actions are so “ineffective,” why are the Israeli state and its international operatives also seeking to criminalise consumer boycott actions and activists?
■ Part 3 of this article will appear in next month’s issue of Socialist Voice.

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