With A Little Help From Outside
June 12, 2006
The laugh of fate: The state waging a broad international campaign
for a boycott is simultaneously waging a parallel campaign, no less
determined, against a boycott. A boycott that seriously harms the
lives of millions of people is legitimate in its eyes because it
is directed against those defined as its enemies, while a boycott
that is liable to hurt its academic ivory tower is illegitimate
in its eyes only because it is aimed against itself. This is a moral
double standard. Why is the boycott campaign against the Palestinian
Authority, including blocking essential economic aid and boycotting
leaders elected in democratic and legal elections, a permissible
measure in Israel's eyes and the boycott of its universities is
Israel cannot claim the boycott weapon is illegitimate. It makes
extensive use of this weapon itself, and its victims are suffering
under severe conditions of deprivation, from Rafah to Jenin. In
the past, Israel called upon the world to boycott Yasser Arafat,
and now it is calling for a boycott of the Hamas government -- and
via this government, all of the Palestinians in the territories.
And Israel does not regard this as an ethical problem. Tens of thousands
have not received their salaries for four months due to the boycott,
but when there is a call to boycott Israeli universities, the boycott
suddenly becomes an illegitimate weapon.
Those calling for a boycott of Israel are also tainted with a moral
double standard. The National Association of Teachers in Further
and Higher Education (NATFHE) in Britain and the Canadian Union
of Public Employees in Ontario, which have both decided to boycott
Israel, did not act similarly to protest their own countries' war
crimes and occupations -- the British army in Iraq and the Canadian
army in Afghanistan. Nonetheless, the handful of human rights advocates
and opponents of the occupation in Israel should thank these two
organizations for the step they have taken, despite their flawed
It would have been preferable had the opponents of the occupation
in Israel not needed the intervention of external groups to fight
the occupation. It is not easy to call upon the world to boycott
your own country. It would have been better had there been no need
for Rachel Corrie, James Miller and Tom Hurndall, bold people of
conscience who paid with their lives after standing in front of
the destructive bulldozers in Rafah. These young foreigners did
the dangerous and vital work that Israelis should have done.
The same is true for the few peace activists who still manage to
roam the territories, to protest and offer assistance to the victims
of the occupation in the framework of organizations like the International
Solidarity Movement (ISM) which Israel fights -- preventing its
members from entering its borders. It would be better if Israelis
mobilized to fight instead of them. But except for a few modest
groups, there is no protest in Israel and no real mobilization.
Thus, it only remains to hope for the world's help.
The world can help save Israel from itself in limited ways. In
a situation in which the governments of the West effectively support
the continuation of the occupation, even if they declare their opposition
to it, this role moves to civil organizations. When a group of American
attorneys, including Jews, calls for a boycott of the Caterpillar
company, whose bulldozers razed complete neighborhoods in Khan Yunis
and Rafah, it should be thanked for this. The same applies to the
boycott of the universities: When an association of British university
lecturers boycotts Israeli colleagues who are not prepared to at
least declare their opposition to the occupation, we should appreciate
it. Each group in its field, and perhaps this will someday also
include tourism officials, business people, artists and athletes.
If all these boycott Israel, perhaps Israelis will begin to understand,
albeit the hard way, that there is a price to pay for the occupation
-- a price in their pockets and in their status.
The occupation is not just the domain of the government, army and
security organizations. Everything is tainted: institutions of justice
and law, the physicians who remain silent while medical treatment
is prevented in the territories, the teachers who do not protest
against the closing of educational institutions and the prevention
of free movement of their peers, the journalists who do not report,
the writers and artists who remain mum, the architects and engineers
who lend a hand to the occupation's enterprises -- the settlements
and the fence, the barriers and bypass roads and also the university
lecturers, who do nothing for their imprisoned colleagues in the
territories, but conduct special study programs for the security
forces. If all these boycotted the occupation, there would be no
need for an international boycott.
The world sees a great and ongoing injustice. Should it remain
silent? It is not, of course, the only injustice in the world. Nor
is it the most terrible. But does this make it any less necessary
to act against it?
It is easy to exempt ourselves from our moral responsibility and
attribute, as usual, any criticism to anti-Semitism. There may indeed
be some elements of anti-Semitism among those calling for the boycott.
But also among them are groups and individuals, including quite
a few Jews, for whom Israel is close to their hearts. They want
a just Israel. They see an Israel that occupies and is clearly unjust,
and they believe they should do something.
We should thank them for this from the bottom of our hearts.
I Divest? - By Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Against the Israeli Occupation: It's Time
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