This is the kind of vital shift in Israeli Jewish society that is taking place under the nose of the authorities and they hate it. Why should Jews be treated better than Arabs? Why should the Jewish state spend every day finding new ways to discriminate against Palestinians? And why should the democratic world – that funds, aids and backs Israel – stay silent. Zionist groups are worried but have no real response to Israel’s ever-expanding occupation.
Here’s Mya Guarnieri, a Tel Aviv-based journalist and writer:
Leehee Rothschild, 26, is one of the scores of Israelis who have answered the 2005 Palestinian call for BDS. Recently her Tel Aviv apartment was raided. While the police did this under the pretense of searching for drugs, she was taken to the station for a brief interrogation that focused entirely on politics.
“The person who came to release me [from interrogation] was an intelligence officer who said that he is in charge of monitoring political activity in the Tel Aviv area,” Rothschild says. It was this officer who had requested the search warrant.
Since Operation Cast Lead, Israeli activists have reported increasing pressure from the police as well as General Security Services – known by their Hebrew acronym, Shabak.
The latter’s mandate includes, among other things, the goal of maintaining Israel as a Jewish state, making those who advocate for democracy a target.
House raids, such as the one Rothschild was subjected to, are not uncommon, nor are phone calls from the Shabak.
“Obviously [the pressure] is nothing compared to what Palestinians are going through,” Rothschild says. “But I think we’re touching a nerve.”
When asked about the proposed Boycott Law, Rothschild comments: “If the bill goes through, it will peel off, a little more, Israel’s mask of democracy.”
As for her involvement in BDS, Rothschild remarks that she was not aware of the movement until it became a serious topic of discussion within Israel’s radical left, which she was already active in. And even after she heard about it, she did not jump onboard right away.
“I had reservations about [BDS],” Rothschild recalls. “I thought about it for a very long time and I debated it with myself and my friends.
“The main reservation I had was that the economic [aspects] would first harm the weak people in the society – the poor people – the people who have the least effect on what’s going on. But I think that the occupation is harming these people much more than the divestments can.”
Rothschild points out that state funds that are poured into “security and defence and oppressing the Palestinian people” could be better used in Israel to help those in the low socioeconomic strata.
“Another reservation I have had is that it might make the Israeli public more extremist, more fundamentalist,” Rothschild adds. “But I have to say that the road it has to go to be more extreme is very short right now.”
As an Israeli, Rothschild considers joining the BDS movement to be an act of caring. It is tough love for the country she was born and raised in.
“I hope that, for some people, it will be a slap in their face and they will wake up and see what’s going on,” Rothschild says, adding that the oppressor is oppressed, as well.
“The Israeli people are also oppressed by the occupation – they are living inside a society that is militant; that is violent; that is racist.”
‘Renouncing my privileges’
Ronnie Barkan, 34, explains that he took his first step towards the boycott 15 years ago, when he refused to complete his mandatory military service.
“There’s a lot of social pressure [in Israel],” Barkan says. “We’re raised to be soldiers from kindergarten. We’re taught that it’s our duty [to serve in the army] and you’re a parasite or traitor if you don’t want to serve.”
“What is even worse is that people are raised to be deeply racist,” he adds. “Everything is targeted at supporting [Jewish] privilege as the masters of the land. Supporting BDS means renouncing my privileges in this land and insisting on equality for all.”
Barkan likens his joining of the boycott movement to the “whites who denounced their apartheid privileges and joined the black struggle in South Africa”.
When I cringe at the “a-word,” apartheid, Barkan counters: “Israel clearly falls under the legal definition of the ‘crime of apartheid’ as defined in the Rome Statute.”