An important debate on sanctions, Israel and the one-state option

After my story in Crikey a few days ago – talking about the concept of boycotting Israel and the one-state solution – a Jewish Australian responded yesterday. The following is my (unpublished) response:

The decision to support a cultural and academic boycott of Israel is not something to be taken lightly. It is done, like the global outrage against apartheid South Africa or Sri Lanka, because normalised relations with an occupying state is not morally justifiable.

In refuting my arguments yesterday, David Imber creates a Middle East reality that simply doesn’t exist. He attacks me for “punishing the whole of a country for the extreme political views of a few.” In fact, the Israeli public has consistently voted for political parties (from the Right to the centre) that have only increased the occupation in the West Bank and maintained an illegal blockade on Gaza.

The Israeli public saying it wants to end the occupation isn’t really good enough after more than 40 years of its existence. Such words are meaningless when more and more colonies are springing up every day. Presumably Imber believes that this “minority extreme” should be regarded as ineffective. The opposite is true. The so-called Left and Right have, since 1967, funded, backed and armed the occupation; it has become a modern Zionist trait.

“To call for a boycott”¦would hurt the many Israelis who voted for engagement and peace”, Imber states, seemingly oblivious to the facts on the ground in Palestine today. I wonder if he has ever seen the daily burning of Palestinian fields by settlers, Jewish soldiers beating Palestinians or spitting settlers on peace activists. Religious Jewry is actually growing in political power, not decreasing, as Imber claims. The “secular” majority of which Imber talks (and admires) has become impotent. There is no real Israeli peace movement today of any power.

I, along with millions of others around the world, support a boycott against Israel because there is little chance the political will could be mustered to bring peace. I don’t completely dismiss the possibility of the international community getting its act together and understanding that Israel’s racially exclusion may be reversed. This won’t happen, as Imber naively argues, by simply hoping and praying. That path has been tried for decades and achieved nothing more than entrenched occupation.

Naomi Klein expresses it best when outlining her reasons for the boycott:

“There has been a huge amount of misrepresentation about the boycott campaign, claiming that it is a boycott of Israelis, or Jews, or that it’s anti-Semitic… When writers and artists stop participating in the Israeli government’s strategy to use culture to hide what’s on the other side of the concrete walls, Israelis may eventually decide that those walls are a liability and decide to take them down.”

Today, Crikey publishes the following letters:

Robert Johnson writes: David Imber’s presumably confected outrage seeks to divert the focus of Antony Loewenstein’s important raising within Australian discourse (more common elsewhere) of the one- versus two-state solution.

It’s Imber’s prerogative to advocate the Thatcher option over the Mandela option on sanctions (Thatcher’s compassion for black South African suffering was just as touching, and apartheid-era South Africa also called itself a democracy). But at least… Loewenstein is searching for just and sustainable solutions whilst Imber seems more concerned about temporary inconvenience to people who continue to overwhelmingly support an unjust regime, regardless of who his family there votes for.

It’s disingenuous to portray Israeli supporters of Palestinian oppression and expanded occupation as minority extremists; the three main parties’ candidates went into the elections earlier this year trying to outdo each other on the Gaza atrocity and none promised an end to expansionism. External pressure remains essential and is long overdue.

And, of course, to suggest, as Imber does, that to care about present-day Palestinian suffering means that you care less (read “don’t care”) about the perpetrators’ greater suffering in a different time and place goes to the core of how intransigent and ruthless the continuation of Palestinian oppression will remain without such intervention. Given that the two-state solution contains major difficulties (how can it not be a three-state solution with Gaza’s isolation?

Israeli agreement will require trading the best land it has illegally occupied in the West Bank for some unwanted land elsewhere; Israel will have ringed-off and isolated Palestinian East Jerusalem from the West Bank as it is doing right now (four-state solution?); will all major Israeli parties renounce mainstream support for expansionist “eretz Israel” ideology (notably, Likud and Kadimah)?

What about the Palestinian refugees’ right of return? Would a Palestinian state have the right to mount a nuclear defence against its militant nuclear-power neighbour? Is a two-state solution thus compatible with a durable regional peace? etc).

A sustainable peace demands the sort of dialogue which Lowenstein’s article called for and Imber’s response sought to kill off.

Benjamin Teale writes
: Of course a boycott of Israel punishes the whole of the country, but have you considered the possibility that the whole is not being punished simply for the extreme views of the few, rather that the whole is being punished for not doing enough to express and act upon their more moderate views and hence, banishing the views of the extremists to the sidelines where they belong?

Mike Carey writes: Recently 10,000 Israelis urged a boycott of Volvos and IKEA homeware products. This was not in response to hundreds of civilians killed or illegal suburb building on occupied land but in reaction to a Swedish newspaper article alleging Israeli Defence Force soldiers harvested organs from slain Palestinians. Insert something about goose and gander here.