Boycott about Palestinian rights, not destroying Israel

Noam Wiener’s post against the BDS movement once again fails to understand the movement and the general plight of Palestinians.

I am really not sure how I missed this guest post by Noam Wiener on the boycott movement, and the flurry of comments it generated, but I wanted to add a few of my own. There were way too many comments to read and I am sure that I am reiterating what many of our in-tuned readers certainly stated, but here it goes.

I have two central issues with this piece, starting with the following excerpt:

When I choose to boycott somebody, I am telling that somebody that they are, for me, a non-entity. They become transparent, not to be addressed, not to be dealt with, and not to be considered. Boycotting means denying not just an entity’s business, but its voice.

1. I don’t believe boycott means what he says it means. I may boycott Nike because it practices child labor in Malaysia, but that does not mean I view Nike as a “non-entity” with no right to exist. Boycott is about Israeli practices, not about Israel. Unfortunately, inherent Israeli exclusionary practices that privilege one people and disenfranchise another fit this bill, and may consequently force Israel to be a state for all its citizens: not such a terrible thing in my estimation.

2. No matter how many times people say it, there are those like Noam Wiener who fail time and again to understand or empathize with the refugee issue. They can say the occupation is the source of all evil till they run out of breath, but they must acknowledge that the refugees are also not a “non-entity” and that their existence and plight must be addressed.

To say that Palestinians must recognize Israel and Israeli self-determination is fine. But Israelis must then recognize Palestine and Palestinian self-determination, which includes the self-determination of refugees who were driven from their homes and desire either to return or be given compensation and resettled. Israeli self-determination does not trump its Palestinian counterpart, nor the rights that are essential to this conflict. Jewish nationalism’s desire for a state of its own, in which Jews constitute the majority, cannot justly come at the expense of another people – like white South African society’s (forgive the overuse of this comparison) desire to have an exclusionary state at the expense of the black South African population.


I am not a spokesperson for BDS but I am going to attempt to reconcile what some people, including Norman Finkelstein, view as a contradiction in the movement’s logic. The argument goes that although the three-tiered platform of BDS sounds benign, together it amounts to the “destruction of Israel.” In my opinion Israel was established at the expense and destruction of Palestinian society, because of the inherent consequences of creating a majority Jewish state on top of what was a country that was populated by a non-Jewish majority. This intrinsic obstacle was rectified by Zionists through the displacement of the majority of Palestinians, forbidding their return and erasing the traces of their society and legacy. What BDS, and the Palestinian cause in general, has always been about is recovering Palestinian rights. Of course this means ending the exclusionary nature of Israel that perpetuates their dispossession and violation of their rights.

WHAT IT DOES NOT NECESSARILY MEAN is that Israelis must lose the full scope of Zionist tenets, which include a return of Jews to their ancestral homeland and the rebirth of Judaism and Jewish life within the context of their origins and spiritual center. Thus many of the social and cultural aspects of Zionism can continue, just not those that come at the expense and oppression of the Palestinian people.