In recent days, Israel has been living in a state of great concern regarding the growth of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. This has reached such an extent that the French company Orange announced that it was suspending its contract with Israel's Partner Company. The Israeli government, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, has embarked on a major anti-BDS campaign. It put pressure on the French government, which owns 25 per cent of Orange shares, leading to the company withdrawing its decision to stop operating in Israel. The issue is far from over, though, and the battle will continue until Orange does pull out.
Over the past week, the heads of Israeli universities met with Israel's president and told him that the academic boycott has reached a critical and dangerous stage; the country could thwart the boycott if it acts immediately, they insisted. The university heads also warned the government that if it fails to launch a counter-BDS campaign before it is too late, academics and their institutions will be unable to work or cooperate with any of their peers around the world.
Netanyahu's government is discussing ways to tackle BDS. It has agreed to double the amount of money allocated to combat a boycott; it is also raising funds for its friends in pro-Israel lobby groups. The Knesset (parliament) is looking at the issue because the government regards BDS to be on a par with "terrorism" and a form of anti-Semitism against the self-declared "Jewish state". The claim is that BDS is an extension of the anti-Semitism campaign targeting the Jews in Europe, which reached its peak with the murder of millions of Jews by Hitler's Germany. This is a false analogy, not least because there are members and leaders of the boycott campaign who are Semites and some who are Jews. Secondly, the Israeli counter-campaign focuses on the allegation that the boycott campaign aims to delegitimise Israel and erase it from existence.
The importance of the boycott stems from the fact that it focuses on Israel's weakness, which Israel believes is actually one of its strong points. This is that Israel is an oasis of civilisation and democracy, that it has high moral values, respects human rights and freedoms, and adheres to international law and international legitimacy. However, all of the war crimes and massacres it commits; the blockades it imposes; the children it kills; the homes, institutions, churches, mosques and international institutions it destroys; the racism it exercises against human beings and buildings; and the laws and values its violates, are not down to self-defence, as Israel claims.
The strong point in the Palestinian struggle is that it is based on a just and morally superior cause, as well as on international law and resolutions, despite the fact that these laws and resolutions only provide for the minimum of Palestinian rights. As such, a boycott is a form of resistance that pushes hard on Israel's weakness and may make qualitative changes to the entire situation, if used as a long-term strategic tool rather than as a bargaining chip to improve the conditions of the Palestinians living under occupation, or improve the negotiation conditions that have failed to do anything. These negotiations will continue to fail unless they are based on the strong cards possessed by the Palestinians at the table.
Israel's leaders are afraid of BDS. They are concerned about its potential for more successes in light of the great shift in international public opinion, especially in Europe and the United States. Israel believes that it has lost Europe and American universities, and fears that this shift will lead, sooner or later, to a similar political change. At that point, it will not be too long before Israel faces isolation, sanctions and prosecution.
A recent BDS success was the decision by Britain's National Union of Students, which represents seven million young people, to boycott Israel. In addition, France's Veolia conglomerate was forced to sell most of its businesses in Israel after losing billions of dollars when it was boycotted worldwide.
Despite the successes made by BDS, we should still worry about its future, as Israel is putting all of its energies towards thwarting the movement. Israel has made progress in its mission, convincing the US Congress, the Canadian Parliament and other parliaments across the world to pass laws prohibiting any boycott of Israel as an act of anti-Semitism. These laws also provide for the punishment of those advocating and participating in the boycott of Israel.
The Palestinians and their friends must make more efforts and invest more resources and energy in order for the boycott campaign to succeed. This includes pushing the PA and PLO leadership to use their strength and full potential in this battle rather than being hesitant when they should stand up and intervene. When the Israeli government pressured the French over Orange, the Palestinian leadership should have countered this with pressure of its own.
The Palestinian leadership must also work on persuading Arab leaders and governments to get involved in the BDS battle because they are seen as one of the most effective tools for making the necessary changes in the balance of power. They could stop the illegal settlement expansion and Israeli plots against the Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and the territories occupied in 1948. Such a move will also open the window of opportunity to impose a deal that meets the minimum Palestinian national rights, which will not be met, on any level, in light of the continued reliance on the international community alone, the negotiations, or on America's pressure on Israel. This actually led to the disaster we are witnessing at the moment and the continued delusionary reliance on these parties will lead us to an even greater disaster.
Finally, should the boycott be limited to Israel's occupation and settlements, without affecting its alleged legitimacy? Or must it be a comprehensive boycott that is based on the fact that Israel is a state established on the ruins of another people and that it continues to annihilate this people, rejecting all international laws and UN resolutions? If these laws and resolutions were applied, then an acceptable resolution to the Palestinian issue would be reached. Moreover, Israel has thwarted and aborted all of the solutions and initiatives that have been proposed and which aim to reach a settlement that meets the minimum rights of the Palestinians, despite the fact that the Palestinian leadership recognised the right of Israel to exist, stopped the resistance against the occupation, and committed to security and economic commitments that ensure Israel's security and stability. In order to achieve an agreement, we must review the Oslo path and liberate ourselves from its obligations, even gradually, starting with an end to security coordination with the occupation authorities and ending with the retraction of Palestinian recognition of Israel.
Those who are content with boycotting the settlements should do so, but boycott will not pay off until it affects all of Israel. Only then will the Israeli government feel like it is being held accountable and at risk of isolation, sanctions, and prosecution for its past and ongoing crimes. An entity that practices occupation, settlement and racism, and which is considered an embodiment of the Zionist colonial project, cannot be legitimate, or legitimised.
Translated from Masarat, 9 June, 2015.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.