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As boycotts mount, Israel is running out of friends

Israel's international isolation has finally become a reality. Within the past week this was cemented by the absence of senior Israeli politicians from Nelson Mandela's funeral, followed in rapid succession by the decision of the American Studies Association to impose an academic boycott of Israeli universities and institutions. To many observers, it now seems as if the activist raindrops are turning into a boycott flood. Israel is running out of friends.


The mere fact that Israeli journalists are themselves discussing the growing boycott in their columns suggests that something serious is happening; bravado is giving way to sober reflection. The boycott campaigns which began to take shape towards the end of the second intifada have taken on a whole new dimension. Far from being confined to settlement produce, they are now, slowly but surely, being extended to Israeli produce per se.

Even governments that have invested much time and resources to achieve a just peace now concede that it has come to this because of Israel's constant shifting of the goal posts. Back in 1993, the six final status issues were identified and agreed upon with the signing of the Oslo Accords: borders, Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, security and water. Benjamin Netanyahu, the country's incumbent prime minister, has introduced a seventh, which is recognition of Israel as a "Jewish state", and then, most recently, an eighth; the right to station Israeli soldiers in the Jordan Valley.

By dragging out the negotiations, Israeli leaders believe that they can hoodwink the world into thinking that they are serious about pursuing peace. As the saying goes, you can fool some of the people some of the time but can't fool all of the people all of the time. The boycott genie has been unleashed and it now seems unlikely that it can be put back into the bottle.

A growing list of countries has announced a variety of measures against Israel. A newly-released Israeli report noted that South Africa has refused to import products from the Dead Sea because they are from companies operating beyond the "Green Line". Pretoria has gone even further by informing a number of major British and French companies of its intention to stop doing business with them if they continue to trade with Israeli settlements. In the same breath, the European Union High Court has ruled that produce sourced from the settlements are not Israeli and therefore should be banned from Europe. Just a few weeks ago Romania decided to stop sending labourers to Israel after the government in Tel Aviv refused to give guarantees that they would not be employed in the settlements.

Of course, Israeli officials, deceived by their misguided hubris, may not ascribe much importance to these developments. They are, though, genuinely fearful of the economic ramifications as more and more Europeans are boycotting not only settlement produce but Israeli goods as well.

Recognising the growing isolation it now faces, some of the marginally more rational Israeli politicians are desperate to rebrand their country's image. Their recent retraction of the controversial Prawer Plan which sought to "relocate"' – Israeli-speak for ethnically cleanse – thousands of Bedouins from the Negev is one example. Within the ruling Likud Party there is a debate as to whether it should continue to align itself with the notoriously racist Yisrael Beitenu Party led by the newly-rehabilitated Avigdor Lieberman.

Thankfully, the world knows window-dressing when it sees it. Such policies will not conceal the naked racism that pervades Israeli society against non-Jews and even against Jews of non-European origins, despite the token exceptions to this rule.

As it sleepwalks into the depths of international isolation, few in Israel or outside can explain its self-destruction rationally. While some ascribe it to narrow-minded ethnocentricity, others put it down to short-sightedness; either way the consequences are the same. Ironically, others could point out that Israel losing its historical compass. Was it not the revisionist Vladimir Jabotinsky who warned his fellow Zionists that every indigenous people will resist foreign domination?

There are at least 20 different boycotts against Israel now in place because of its policies. As long as it continues to deny Palestinian national rights it will continue to witness a reversal in its standing among the community of nations. As long as it defies the International Court of Justice with the construction of its apartheid wall and occupies Palestinian land, it will see the accumulative payback for its policies take effect in the boycott movement. That number of boycotts looks set to increase.

Today Israel is not just at odds with its western allies, including the Americans, it is also in a state of perpetual confrontation with them and, indeed, with a large section of the international community. It pursues negotiations not to resolve the conflict but to prevent more isolation and buy itself more time to create colonial facts on the ground. For now its dilemma may seem to be merely political and image problems but sooner or later it will begin to feel the effect of the boycotts and sanctions on its economy. Only then, perhaps, will the Israelis come to their senses. Only then, perhaps, will we start to see genuine sincerity about negotiations towards a just and lasting peace. It is certainly running out of friends but, if it is not careful, Israel could also be running out of time.

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Commentary & AnalysisIsraelMiddle EastPalestine
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