Don’t boycott Israel, you cultural terrorist

Date posted: June 14, 2010
By Joharah Baker for MIFTAH

It is almost admirable how Israel can twist and turn events around so much and slap on new laws for their own benefit that it would be shameful not to call it anything less than an art form. Israel has always boasted of its law abiding system, its elevated status as the region’s “only democracy” and its civility in the face of such barbaric and terror-driven neighbors. While we Palestinians, who have faced the wrath of this biased legal system designed to oppress and exclude Palestinians understand it fully, this is not been true for much of the world.

That is, until now. Israel has gone so far over the edge, even the dullest of minds can see how discriminatory and frankly, insane, Israel’s politics really are.

Boycotting Israel, politically, economically, culturally and intellectually has been a means of resistance for years, albeit with ebbs and tides in terms of its effectiveness. Palestinians boycotted Israeli products during the first Intifada in the last 1980s and the early 90s and international groups have been intellectually and culturally boycotting Israel for years, something which took on particular force after the creation of the Boycott and Divestment and Sanctions movement, which went global in 2005. Naturally, Israel was far from happy about those who dared to challenge Israel’s image of democracy and freedom. Palestinian and international activists have been imprisoned or barred from entering the country after being pegged as somehow posing a “security threat” to the state of Israel.

However, Israel’s hostility towards the boycott took on an even sharper vengeance after the Palestinian government launched a campaign at the beginning of the year to boycott illegal Jewish settlements and their products. As it turns out, the campaign has proven effective, not only here in Palestine but abroad. In May, two Italian supermarket chains announced they would no longer sell products produced in West Bank settlements. The European Union has made it clear that settlement products are not eligible for preferential treatment in accordance with tax-exempt trade agreements. And Palestinians have stopped buying or even seeing settlement products on their shelves, thanks to the customs authority, which blocks any wayward shipments of settlement goods into Palestinian areas.

Israel has reacted badly, its officials calling the boycott “economic terrorism” and a breach of trade agreements. Earlier this month, 25 Knesset members introduced a bill in the parliament calling for the criminalization of the boycott. Basically, the bill says that if Israeli citizens (in this case, Palestinian-Israelis who have voiced their support for the settlement boycott and Israeli leftist professors who support an academic boycott) are found to be involved in any sort of boycott of Israel, they would be made to pay a fine so as to compensate those companies hurt by the boycott. For non-Israeli citizens (that is, all those people of conscience who come to support the Palestinians), if found guilty of “boycotting” they could be banned entry into the country for 10 years.

On that note, let’s not forget the “cultural terrorism” Israel accuses the boycott movement of perpetrating by urging musicians to cancel their concerts in Israel. Earlier this week, the American rock group The Pixies canceled their June 9 concert following the Israeli attack on the Freedom flotilla, which resulted in the deaths of nine Turks. Last month, Elvis Costello also cancelled his concert in Israel, saying his decision was “a matter of instinct and conscience”.

The instances of boycotts against Israel have begun to grow more frequent, thanks to Israel’s equally growing acts of violence against Palestinians and others. Following the flotilla atrocity, Israeli members of the gay community were curtly uninvited to attend the gay pride celebrations in Madrid, with the organizers saying they feared the group would be met by angry pro-Palestinian groups if they came.

Swedish dock workers launched a weeklong blockade of Israeli goods and ships between June 15–June 24, citing the reason for the blockade as “the unprecedented criminal attack on the peaceful ship convoy.” And the largest British trade union, Unite, voted on June 4 for a complete boycott of Israel and its services, “similar to the boycott of South African goods during the era of apartheid.”

Boycotting has always been a peaceful and legitimate way of protesting, be it apartheid South Africa or racist America. However, Israel, the country which is to blame for so much discrimination and racism, and hence the boycott of it, has now tried to turn the tables on the world and portray itself as the victim. In Israel, a number of supermarket chains have begun to start a boycott of their own of Turkish products. Turkish, that’s right, the country of which the nine dead peace activists are citizens (save for the Turkish-American teen killed on the Mavi Marmara).

Israel’s audacity is outrageous, no doubt. One of the chains that announced its boycott of Turkish pastas and flour is the infamous Rami Levy, the settlement supermarket chain in the West Bank, which itself is a major target of the Palestinian boycott campaign. “For reasons of ideology and conscience, it would be unacceptable for us to do nothing when the Turkish people behave this way,” said Levy himself, the owner of the chain. “This is the minimum that we can do.”

Just to get things straight –Rami Levy supermarkets are all built on land in the West Bank, Palestinian land, which international law deems as occupied. Settlements themselves are illegal, which means the supermarkets are equally as illegitimate. Still, Rami Levy is presumptuous enough to say his chain will boycott Turkish products as a matter of “ideology and conscience?” The Turkish people’s “behavior” in question was boarding a ship full of humanitarian aid to a besieged and oppressed people, armed with nothing but the chairs onboard. In contrast, Israeli naval commandos stormed the ship, beat and opened fire on the activists, killing nine and injuring 40.

It seems unimaginable that anyone could possibly follow this argument and still consider themselves a credible critic. Now that boycotting is being proposed in the Knesset as a criminal offense, will Israeli supermarket chains such as Rami Levy and Mega also be punished for their “behavior?” Or are such laws retained exclusively for those who feel compassion with the Palestinians and who have a nagging conscience that compels them to defend justice regardless of the stakes? Unfortunately, we all know the answer to this one.

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