Why an Economic Boycott of Israel is Justified
Norman G. Finkelstein
The recent proposal that Norway boycott Israeli goods has provoked passionate debate. In my view, a rational examination of this issue would pose two questions: 1) Do Israeli human rights violations warrant an economic boycott? and 2) Can such a boycott make a meaningful contribution toward ending these violations? I would argue that both these questions should be answered in the affirmative.
Although the subject of many reports by human rights organizations, Israel’s real human rights record in the Occupied Palestinian Territory is generally not well known abroad. This is primarily due to the formidable public relations industry of Israel’s defenders as well as the effectiveness of their tactics of intimidation, such as labeling critics of Israeli policy anti–Semitic.
Yet, it is an incontestable fact that Israel has committed a broad range of human rights violations, many rising to the level of war crimes and crimes against humanity. These include:
Apart from the sheer magnitude of its human rights violations, the uniqueness of Israeli policies merits notice. “Israel has created in the Occupied Territories a regime of separation based on discrimination, applying two separate systems of law in the same area and basing the rights of individuals on their nationality,” B’Tselem has concluded. “This regime is the only one of its kind in the world, and is reminiscent of distasteful regimes from the past, such as the apartheid regime in South Africa.” If singling out South Africa for an international economic boycott was defensible, it would seem equally defensible to single out Israel’s occupation, which uniquely resembles the apartheid regime.
Although an economic boycott can be justified on moral grounds, the question remains whether diplomacy might be more effectively employed instead. The documentary record in this regard, however, is not encouraging. The basic terms for resolving the Israel–Palestine conflict are embodied in U.N. resolution 242 and subsequent U.N. resolutions, which call for a full Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza and the establishment of a Palestinian state in these areas in exchange for recognition of Israel’s right to live in peace and security with its neighbors. Each year the overwhelming majority of member States of the United Nations vote in favor of this two–state settlement, and each year Israel and the United States (and a few South Pacific islands) oppose it. Similarly, in March 2002 all twenty–two member States of the Arab League proposed this two–state settlement as well as “normal relations with Israel.” Israel ignored the proposal.
Not only has Israel stubbornly rejected this two–state settlement, but the policies it is currently pursuing will abort any possibility of a viable Palestinian state. While world attention has been riveted by Israel’s redeployment from Gaza, Sara Roy of Harvard University observes that the “Gaza Disengagement Plan is, at heart, an instrument for Israel’s continued annexation of West Bank land and the physical integration of that land into Israel.” In particular Israel has been constructing a wall deep inside the West Bank that will annex the most productive land and water resources as well as East Jerusalem, the center of Palestinian life. It will also effectively sever the West Bank in two. Although Israel initially claimed that it was building the wall to fight terrorism, the consensus among human rights organizations is that it is really a land grab to annex illegal Jewish settlements into Israel. Recently Israel’s Justice Minister frankly acknowledged that the wall will serve as “the future border of the state of Israel.”
The current policies of the Israeli government will lead either to endless bloodshed or the dismemberment of Palestine. “It remains virtually impossible to conceive of a Palestinian state without its capital in Jerusalem,” the respected Crisis Group recently concluded, and accordingly Israeli policies in the West Bank “are at war with any viable two–state solution and will not bolster Israel’s security; in fact, they will undermine it, weakening Palestinian pragmatists…and sowing the seeds of growing radicalization.”
Recalling the U.N. Charter principle that it is inadmissible to acquire territory by war, the International Court of Justice declared in a landmark 2004 opinion that Israel’s settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the wall being built to annex them to Israel were illegal under international law. It called on Israel to cease construction of the wall, dismantle those parts already completed and compensate Palestinians for damages. Crucially, it also stressed the legal responsibilities of the international community:
A subsequent U.N. General Assembly resolution supporting the World Court opinion passed overwhelmingly. However, the Israeli government ignored the Court’s opinion, continuing construction at a rapid pace, while Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that the wall was legal.
Due to the obstructionist tactics of the United States, the United Nations has not been able to effectively confront Israel’s illegal practices. Indeed, although it is true that the U.N. keeps Israel to a double standard, it’s exactly the reverse of the one Israel’s defenders allege: Israel is held not to a higher but lower standard than other member States. A study by Marc Weller of Cambridge University comparing Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory with comparable situations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, East Timor, occupied Kuwait and Iraq, and Rwanda found that Israel has enjoyed “virtual immunity” from enforcement measures such as an arms embargo and economic sanctions typically adopted by the U.N. against member States condemned for identical violations of international law. Due in part to an aggressive campaign accusing Europe of a “new anti–Semitism,” the European Union has also failed in its legal obligation to enforce international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Although the claim of a “new anti–Semitism” has no basis in fact (all the evidence points to a lessening of anti–Semitism in Europe), the EU has reacted by appeasing Israel. It has even suppressed publication of one of its own reports, because the authors — like the Crisis Group and many others — concluded that due to Israeli policies the “prospects for a two–state solution with east Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine are receding.”
The moral burden to avert the impending catastrophe must now be borne by individual states that are prepared to respect their obligations under international law and by individual men and women of conscience. In a courageous initiative American–based Human Rights Watch recently called on the U.S. government to reduce significantly its financial aid to Israel until Israel terminates its illegal policies in the West Bank. An economic boycott would seem to be an equally judicious undertaking. A nonviolent tactic the purpose of which is to achieve a just and lasting settlement of the Israel–Palestine conflict cannot legitimately be called anti–Semitic. Indeed, the real enemies of Jews are those who cheapen the memory of Jewish suffering by equating principled opposition to Israel’s illegal and immoral policies with anti–Semitism.
Aftenposten January 14, 2006