Movement Targets Israel
By George Bisharat
16 August, 2007
does a citizen-led boycott of a state become morally justified?
That question is raised by
an expanding academic, cultural and economic boycott of Israel. The
movement joins churches, unions, professional societies and other groups
based in the United States, Canada, Europe and South Africa. It has
elicited dramatic reactions from Israel's supporters. U.S. labor leaders
have condemned British unions, representing millions of workers, for
supporting the Israel boycott. American academics have been frantically
gathering signatures against the boycott, and have mounted a prominent
advertising campaign in American newspapers - unwittingly elevating
the controversy further in the public eye.
Israel's defenders have protested
that Israel is not the worst human-rights offender in the world, and
singling it out is hypocrisy, or even anti-Semitism. Rhetorically, this
shifts focus from Israel's human rights record to the imagined motives
of its critics.
But "the worst first"
has never been the rule for whom to boycott. Had it been, the Pol Pot
regime, not apartheid South Africa, would have been targeted in the
past. It was not - Cambodia's ties to the West were insufficient to
make any embargo effective. Boycotting North Korea today would be similarly
futile. Should every other quest for justice be put on hold as a result?
In contrast, the boycott
of South Africa had grip. The opprobrium suffered by white South Africans
unquestionably helped persuade them to yield to the just demands of
the black majority. Israel, too, assiduously guards its public image.
A dense web of economic and cultural relations also ties it to the West.
That - and its irrefutably documented human-rights violations - render
it ripe for boycott.
What state actions should
trigger a boycott? Expelling or intimidating into flight a country's
majority population, then denying them internationally recognized rights
to return to their homes? Israel has done that.
Seizing, without compensation,
the properties of hundreds of thousands of refugees? Israel has done
detainees, many held without trial? Israel has done that.
Assassinating its opponents,
including those living in territories it occupies? Israel has done that.
Demolishing thousands of
homes belonging to one national group, and settling its own people in
another nation's land? Israel has done that. No country with such a
record, whether first or 50th worst in the world, can credibly protest
Apartheid South Africa provides
another useful standard. How does Israel's behavior toward Palestinians
compare to former South Africa's treatment of blacks? It is similar
or worse, say a number of South Africans, including Archbishop Desmond
Tutu, U.N. special rapporteur in the occupied territories John Dugard,
and African National Congress member and government minister Ronnie
Kasrils. The latter observed recently that apartheid South Africa never
used fighter jets to attack ANC activists, and judged Israel's violent
control of Palestinians as "10 times worse." Dual laws for
Jewish settlers and Palestinians, segregated roads and housing, and
restrictions on Palestinians' freedom of movement strongly recall apartheid
South Africa. If boycotting apartheid South Africa was appropriate,
it is equally fair to boycott Israel on a similar record.
Israel has been singled out,
but not as its defenders complain. Instead, Israel has been enveloped
in a cocoon of impunity. Our government has vetoed 41 U.N. Security
Council resolutions condemning Israeli actions - half of the total U.S.
vetoes since the birth of the United Nations - thus enabling Israel's
continuing abuses. The Bush administration has announced an increase
in military aid to Israel to $30 billion for the coming decade.
Other military occupations
and human-rights abusers have faced considerably rougher treatment.
Just recall Iraq's 1990 takeover of Kuwait. Perhaps the United Nations
should have long ago issued Israel the ultimatum it gave Iraq - and
enforced it. Israel's occupation of Arab lands has now exceeded 40 years.
Iran, Sudan and Syria have
all been targeted for federal and state-level sanctions. Even the City
of Beverly Hills is contemplating Iran divestment actions, following
the lead of Los Angeles, which approved Iran divestment legislation
in June. Yet the Islamic Republic of Iran has never attacked its neighbors
nor occupied their territories. It is merely suspected of aspiring to
the same nuclear weapons Israel already possesses.
Politicians worldwide, and
American ones especially, have failed us. Our leaders, from the executive
branch to Congress, have dithered, or cheered Israel on, as it devoured
the land base for a Palestinian state. Their collective irresponsibility
dooms both Palestinians and Israelis to a future of strife and insecurity,
and undermines our global stature. If politicians cannot lead the way,
then citizens must. That is why boycotting Israel has become both necessary
is a professor of law at Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco,
and writes frequently on law and politics in the Middle East.
This article appeared on
page B - 9 of the San Francisco Chronicle
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