Aim at the settlements, not Israel
After the main article there is a brief report about the withdrawal of a Luxembourg pension fund from any investment in businesses which deal with settlements. However, the headline to the piece makes a different rhetorical point.
By Hussein Ibish, The National
February 08, 2014
The recent SodaStream controversy has illustrated both the power and shortcomings of the various pro-Palestinian boycott movements. The falling out between actress Scarlett Johansson and her long-term former partners at Oxfam – who support settlement boycotts, but not boycotts against Israel – over her advertising for the company based in an Israeli settlement dovetails with many other European moves to draw the line with Israel.
The European Union recently insisted on excluding settlement-based institutions from its new research funding arrangement with Israel, and Germany is pushing to extend these restrictions to bilateral agreements that also involve the private sector.
Many Israelis, particularly those directly involved in business and finance, including finance minister Yair Lapid and over 100 Israeli CEOs, have expressed deep concern about Israel’s growing isolation over settlements. Israelis who are ideologically committed to a “greater Israel” naturally dismiss the emerging boycott trend as irrelevant bluster.
In fact, the growing mood in Europe that has lost patience with Israel’s ongoing settlement activities, which are universally acknowledged to be a flagrant violation of black letter international human rights law – and therefore declines to subsidise it with a single further euro – does pose a significant danger to Israel of political, diplomatic and even to some extent economic, isolation. But it’s important to note that these European boycotts are targeted directly against the settlements and the occupation, and not at Israel itself.
Here is where the most strident rhetorical “BDS movement” is, in many ways, not only failing to seize an opportunity, but it also does harm to this important campaign.
The European and other successful boycotts are aimed squarely at the occupation and are pushed by those who are determined to achieve a two-state solution. They are absolutely consistent with international law, and based on the fact that settlement activity by an occupying power is absolutely prohibited by the Fourth Geneva Convention, Article 49, Paragraph 6, because it is a major human rights violation.
Unfortunately, many self-appointed leaders of the “BDS movement” – whose efforts have had virtually nothing to do with the growing mood in Europe to cease subsidising settlement activity – instead advocate boycotting Israel across the board. The logical conclusion of their approach, and the clear subtext of most of their rhetoric, is a one-state solution in which Israel is replaced by a different state for everyone currently living in former mandatory Palestine as well as all Palestinian refugees.
This creates a series of grave complications for what is an otherwise heartening trend of increasing European refusal to subsidise or tolerate settlement activities any longer.
First, such rhetoric allows supporters of the occupation to conflate boycotts against settlements with boycotts against Israel. There is a large and expanding global constituency, based on the virtually unanimous international consensus in favour of a two-state solution, that correctly identifies Israeli settlements as the unique threat to peace and acts accordingly. But because of the rhetoric of some BDS activists, it’s possible for supporters of the occupation and others to dismiss pro-peace settlement boycotts as “boycotts of Israel”. And there is no real international constituency for either a generalised boycott of Israel or for a one-state solution.
Second, European refusal to cooperate with settlement activity divides Israelis. It says to them that while Israel is a legitimate member state of the United Nations, settlements are illegitimate and their products therefore also illegitimate. BDS rhetoric that urges a total boycott of Israel, on the contrary, unites Israelis around the occupation, allowing the settlers to argue that the future of far-flung settlements deep in the West Bank is “the same as the future of Tel Aviv”.
Rather than being able to claim credit for the increasing movement in Europe and elsewhere to boycott settlements and the occupation, some of the most vocal pro-Palestinian “BDS advocates” actually undermine them by confusing the purpose of such boycotts and allowing Israelis to both argue and, perhaps, believe, that this is a generalised attack against the legitimacy of their state rather than the illegitimacy of the occupation.
The greatest challenge facing the Palestinian national movement, particularly after the last Israeli election in which the existence of the occupation was blithely ignored, is how to bring home the reality of the conflict to Israel’s mainstream majority that lives far from the occupied territories. The developing anti-settlement, but not anti-Israel, boycott movement is one of the first glimmers of real hope about how this can be done in a cost-effective, nonviolent and non-counterproductive manner.
There is no question that Palestinians are onto a very good thing here, if they handle it right. And the Israelis clearly have a problem, as acknowledged by all of their sensible leaders. But, ironically, the biggest threat to this sudden and significant piece of leverage is the strident BDS rhetoric that makes pro-peace actions against settlements that are based squarely in international law look like anti-Israel initiatives that don’t square with the goals of either peace or a two-state solution.
If the rhetoric of strident BDS activists can be brought into line with the reality of anti-settlement boycotts, Palestinians could well acquire a significant and desperately needed new tool of leverage with Israel. If not, while demagogues may not be able to stop the growing international anti-settlement sentiment, they can certainly continue to provide apologists for the occupation with vital rhetorical ammunition for counterattack, and space for conflation and confusion, that they would and should otherwise be denied.
Hussein Ibish is a senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine, a columnist for Now Media and blogs at www.ibishblog.com. On Twitter: @ibishblog
Luxembourg pension fund bans Israel investment
Israel’s top banks and several major firms are being boycotted for their business involvement in settlements
The pension fund of Luxembourg’s government workers has added all of five of Israel’s major banks and several top Israeli firms to its list of banned investment targets.
The fund, FDC, is the latest in a line of European banks, pension funds and business firms to boycott Israeli business over its involvement in settlement activity in the West Bank.
The fund, which invests some $10 billion, lists 61 foreign firms banned for investment for a variety of reasons – ranging from violation of child labor laws to environmental damage and involvement in nuclear weapons programs.
Among them are such giants as US Boeing Aerospace and Defense, boycotted over its involvement in nuclear programs, Chevron Oil for allegedly causing environmental damage to the Amazon jungle in Ecuador, Bridgestone Automotive for alleged involvement in child labor in Liberia, Lockheed Martin over its involvement in nuclear weapons program in the UK and in manufacture of cluster bomb munitions.
Israel’s banks are on the list because of their involvement in “financing illegal settlements in occupied territories (State of Palestine).” Other firms, such as Motorola, are also on the list for “assisting in human rights violations in occupied territories (State of Palestine),” as is the Africa Israel real estate corporation (AFI) for “supporting construction of illegal settlements in occupied territories (State of Palestine).”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, asked about various boycotts of Israel, said such moves only serve to delay efforts to bring about Israeli-Palestinian peace. “It’s not justified morally to boycott Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East. Are there any other countries that have thousands of missiles directed at them?” Netanyahu asked, speaking at a news conference with visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel. “It’s neither moral nor productive.”
Merkel said she, too, objected to boycotts of Israel. “This is not an option for Germany,” she said. “We don’t believe it advances the peace process.”