It is a movement that is making a lot of noise. On university campuses around the world, in the media and in civil society organisations in countries across the globe. The calls for boycott, divestment and sanctions against the State of Israel. Even our illustrious (and I use this term loosely) former Minister of Intelligence, Ronnie Kasrils has fashioned a new career dedicated to this end.
The motivation is simple. If you paint Israel with the same colours as that of Apartheid South Africa and dish out the same treatment, then you can change the political status quo. Sounds simple doesn’t it. Except that in this case, changing the status quo in Israeli politics is not the end game result that detractors hope to achieve. In this case, questioning Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign state is up for debate. Anti-Israelists will passionately argue that this treatment worked for South Africa but fail to realise that the South African paradigm is not one solution fits all. Two different regions, two completely separate issues.
The question we have to ask ourselves is who really stands to lose in a boycott of Israel. We have seen attempts from academics to institute boycotts of Israeli academics including the controversial endorsement by Ben Gurion University professor, Neve Gordon. When you look at the amount of intellectual know how that is exported from Israel to other countries, especially third world and developing nations in the fields of agriculture, science, technology and medicine.
It serves no purpose to instigate academic boycotts because all this serves to do is close off intellectual discourse, after all, aren’t universities agents of free thinking and venues to challenge the status quo? It is not in the best interest of academic freedom to encourage boycotts as this seriously inhibits the flow of great ideas.
What about boycotts of goods? This is where civil society becomes a little noisier and we wonder if they have nothing better to do than to stick their noses into the events of other countries whose politics they know little about instead of concentrating on the challenges in their own countries. Oops, did I say that? Seriously though, earlier this year our very own Cosatu tried to block the unloading of a ship with Israeli goods. This was just prior to them marching on the Jewish communal organisations on a Friday afternoon, in suburban Johannesburg. Genuine concern or just a convenient excuse to use intimidatory tactics against the opposition? It definitely begs the question.
It seems our very vocal trade unionists have forgotten about who stands to lose the most in a boycott of Israel. It will definitely be people who live in drought stricken areas of South Africa who benefit from Israeli agricultural technology. It will be those suffering with AIDS who benefit from Israeli medicine and research. The list is endless but a boycott would seriously inhibit Cosatu’s sms-ing abilities if they intend to do it properly!
It is very easy for activists on both sides to play armchair politician but the impact is on the citizens. Palestinians stand to lose a lot more than Israeli’s in a boycott. At a time when the economy of the West Bank is showing significant signs of recovery and Israel have fulfilled their promises by taking down a significant amount of checkpoints wouldn’t boycotts set back the achievements significantly?
You can’t compare the situation with that of Gaza. It is exceptionally naïve to level the blame for the situation squarely on Israel. What about Egypt’s responsibility over the closed Rafah crossing? What about Hamas’ role in Gaza? Hamas have created a Taliban-esque regime that severely restricts the civil liberties of Gaza’s citizens not to mention a genocidal charter that openly advocates the destruction of Israel. This is disguised in the romantic language of resistance.
While I consider myself a romantic, I don’t buy into the “look at how Israel is oppressing us and we have no choice but to blow up our children and fire rockets and mortars” argument. I believe in responsibility and accountability and it is no coincidence that for the most part, western governments boycott Hamas and regard them as terror organisation. The Goldstone Report fiasco has once again proved that there is a whole movement in global politics that believe in rewarding terrorists and punishing victims. So I guess one shouldn’t be surprised when these very parties choose to cut their noses off to spite their faces.
While the situation in the Middle East is not an easy one to fix, and Lord knows many have tried, perhaps the best way forward is to proceed with cautious hope and not to cry boycott at the drop of a hat.