Consensus wisdom: The boycott of Israel is working

The only way to stop its spread is to end the occupation, say a growing number of prominent voices (none of whom, by the way, support the boycott).  

From reading my digital mail, I see that a lot of people who say they oppose the occupation also oppose the boycott against Israel, and not only on moral grounds, but for practical reasons as well. It won’t work, they say, it won’t convince anyone, it’ll have a boomerang effect by making Israel even more intransigent. I’ve made my arguments against the moral objections to the boycott (here, here and here), but now I want to yield the floor to much more prominent speakers – all of whom oppose the occupation and, explicitly or presumably, the boycott too – who have been warning lately that the world is gradually turning its back on Israel, and the only way it can avoid eventual isolation is by freeing the Palestinians. In other words, they’re saying the boycott is having an impact, and it’s growing. The catalyst for this gathering concern was Stephen Hawking’s decision in early May to boycott last week’s Presidential Conference in Jerusalem.

The New York Times‘ Thomas Friedman, probably the best-known foreign affairs columnist in the world, wrote on June 4 that the BDS movement “is creating a powerful surge of international opinion, particularly in Europe and on college campuses, that Israel is a pariah state because of its West Bank occupation.” The No. 1 reason why Israel must end the occupation, Friedman wrote, was “to reverse the trend of international delegitimization closing in on Israel.”

On Friday, Yedioth Ahronoth’s Nahum Barnea, the most influential print journalist in this country, wrote that the Magen David Adom ambulance service, the national branch of the Red Cross, is under pressure from the U.S., British, French, Dutch and Norwegian branches to stay out of the West Bank, where it handles the Jewish settlements. (And this was before an MDA spokesman tweeted a particularly ugly anti-Arab joke.) They want MDA to give the whole territory to Palestinian Red Crescent ambulances, which handle the Palestinian areas. Ze’ev Elkin, the far-right deputy foreign minister, says he won’t comply and doesn’t care if the Red Cross kicks MDA out of its ranks. Barnea writes:

Elkin is living in la-la-land. … He chooses not to see the growing movement to boycott Israel in academia, the cancellation by Stephen Hawking of his appearance at the Presidential Conference because of pressure from boycotters of Israel, the factories that are pulling out of the West Bank because they’re unable to export from there.

Last week Itamar Rabinovich, former president of Tel Aviv University and ambassador to the U.S. under Rabin, reportedly told the President’s Conference the same sort of things he told the Forward last month:

Rabinovich … called the academic boycott movement “an incremental process” that has been “gathering volume.” He noted that Hawking’s withdrawal and the attention it drew should be seen as “jumping to a new level” in the attempts to isolate Israeli academic work. …

Rabinovich characterized Hawking’s decision as only a boost to the BDS movement, not a game changer. The impact of anti-Israeli sentiments in the academic world is already noticeable, he said, and could increase in the future. In humanities and social studies, he said, “if you want to get invited to an important conference or to spend a sabbatical in a leading university, you better be politically correct on issues relating to Israel, or else you won’t have a chance.”

In the scientific field, Rabinovich said, such pressure is not yet noticed but could emerge in coming years, making it more difficult for Israeli scientists to receive research grants or to find colleagues who will work together on projects supported by binational funds.

Also last week, Haaretz reported on a group of top Israeli business people, led by high-tech patriarch Yossi Vardi, who warned Netanyahu face-to-face that the status quo with the Palestinians had caused a global cooling toward this country economically.

“We come from the field, and we’re feeling the pressure,” one said. “If we don’t make progress toward a two-state solution, there will be negative developments for the Israeli economy. We’re already noticing initial signs of this. The future of the Israeli economy will be in danger.”

One businessman who attended the meeting told Haaretz that the lack of progress toward a two-state solution could send Israel down a slippery slope toward a binational state that would be either not Jewish or not democratic.

“The world will not accept this,” he said. “Foreign investments will not come to such a state. No one will buy goods from such a state.”

Now in today’s Haaretz, the newspaper’s editor-in-chief Aluf Benn – a center-leftist whose politics should not be confused with those of Gideon Levy or Amira Hass – wrote that the fear of isolation is one reason why Netanyahu has been running his mouth so much about his commitment to the two-state solution.

Netanyahu is worried about the growing international boycott against Israel. Most Israelis still do not feel it, but the prime minister is under pressure. He hears warnings in the business community about the damage the diplomatic impasse is causing, and says that calls for boycotts are the contemporary form of classical anti-Semitism. If he thought it was harmless noise, he would ignore or minimize the problem. But Netanyahu apparently fears being remembered as the leader during whose time Israel was distanced from the family of nations.

This is a very telling point for those who say the boycott is ineffective: If it is, why are Israel’s leaders and their supporters screaming bloody murder about it? Do they seem so exercised by any other challenge to the status quo? Behind closed doors they’re laughing at Kerry’s peace mission; they’re not laughing at Stephen Hawking or BDS, are they?