Israel has no answer to non-violent action

February 4, 2014
Sarah Benton

In this posting, 1) Ian Black on the Israeli panic at the Kerry and BDS pressure on it; 2) Avraham Burg asks what’s wrong with BDS as a form of pressure by the powerless; 3)Inna Lazareva in The Telegraph takes up Scarlett Johansson’s argument but, notably, does not defend settlements, checkpoints or barrier walls. 4) Shlomo Eldar makes, and misses, the same points.

Palestinian activists celebrate as they arrive to Ein Hijleh protest village, in the Jordan Valley, West Bank January 31, 2014 (see post above and article below). Photo by

US warns Israel over apparent distortion of John Kerry statements

State department says it expects all parties in Middle East peace talks to portray accurately secretary of state’s comments

By Ian Black, Guardian
February 03, 2014

Jerusalem–The US hit back at Binyamin Netanyahu on Sunday after the Israeli prime minister warned that calls for boycotts of Israel to pressure it over settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories are “immoral and unjustified” and would not achieve their goal.

In a public spat that reflected tensions over slow-moving Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, the state department rebuked Netanyahu for apparently misrepresenting the words of the US secretary of state, John Kerry. Another senior rightwing minister accused Kerry of serving as a “mouthpiece” for antisemitic views.

Speaking on the record at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting, the Israeli prime minister said that the growing international boycott movement would only “push peace further away” by encouraging Palestinian intransigence.

“No pressure will force me to give up the vital interests of the state of Israel, above all the security of the citizens of Israel,” Netanyahu stated.

The remarks followed Kerry’s warning on Saturday that failure to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians would damage Israel’s capacity to be a democratic state and could lead to more boycotts.

“The risks are very high for Israel,” he said at an international security conference in Munich. “People are talking about boycott. That will intensify in the case of failure. We all have a strong interest in this conflict resolution. Today’s status quo absolutely, to a certainty, I promise you 100%, cannot be maintained. It’s not sustainable. It’s illusionary. There’s a momentary prosperity, there’s a momentary peace.”

The US statement department spokesperson, Jen Psaki, noted that Kerry had been referring to the actions of others and resolutely opposed boycotts. “Secretary Kerry has always expected opposition and difficult moments in the process, but he also expects all parties to accurately portray his record and statements,” she added pointedly.

Two weeks ago Israel’s defence minister, Moshe Yaalon, raised the political temperature by describing Kerry as “obsessive and messianic” in his pursuit of an agreement.

Tzipi Livni, Israel’s chief negotiator, said Kerry was merely “expressing concern” for Israel’s future.

Netanyahu’s coalition government has registered alarm at growing talk of boycotts. In the past week, a Danish bank announced it would sever ties with Bank Hapoalim, Israel’s largest bank, over the financing of settlements built across the old 1967 border in breach of international law. Danske Bank cited “ethical and legal conflicts.” The Israeli bank said Danske Bank had no investments with it.

Pressure has been building up in the European Union for tougher measures to punish Israel for its settlement activity.

Netanyahu’s remarks were mild compared to those of cabinet colleagues. Yuval Steinitz, the intelligence minister and a member of the prime minister’s Likud party, called Kerry’s comments “offensive, unfair and insufferable”, complaining that Israel could not negotiate “with a gun pointed to its head”.

Further to the right the economics minister, Naftali Bennett, from the religious and pro-settler Jewish Home party, said bluntly: “We expect our friends around the world to stand beside us, against antisemitic boycott efforts targeting Israel, and not for them to be their amplifier.”

With the US pushing hard, Israel and the Palestinians relaunched peace talks in July after a long gap but these have so far shown little sign of progress. With an April deadline looming, Kerry is expected to present ideas for a “framework” agreement sometime in the next few weeks.

The boycott issue has been dramatically highlighted in recent days by the resignation of film star Scarlett Johansson as an Oxfam goodwill ambassador because of her appearance in an advert for SodaStream, an Israeli company based in the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, which is built on expropriated Arab land. The actress said she had “a fundamental difference of opinion” with the humanitarian group because it opposes all trade with Israeli settlements. Oxfam came under pressure from the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

Up to 100 Palestinian activists have established a new protest against settlements by occupying an abandoned village in the Jordan valley. Called Melh al-Ard – “salt of the earth” in Arabic – the campaign rejects the status quo “especially given futile negotiations destroying the rights of our people for liberation and claim to their land”. It has called on international supporters “to stand with the demands of the Palestinian people and boycott all Israeli companies including Israeli factories and companies that work in the Jordan Valley and profit from Palestinian natural resources”.

What’s wrong with BDS, after all?

Israel will be helpless when the discourse moves from who’s stronger/tougher/more resilient to a discourse on rights and values.

By Avraham Burg, Haaretz
February 03, 2014

Talk of sanctions has been filling the air lately. Israelis, as always, are certain that the whole world is against us (psycho-national nonsense that will be more broadly discussed here in the future), and that all the world’s overt and covert conspiracies are focused solely on us – out of hatred and anti-Semitism, of course.

Few notice the wonderful paradox whereby official Israel, together with mobilized world Jewry, fights the scourge of sanctions by whining and screaming anti-Semitism, Holocaust and Jew-hatred in chorus. Yet in the very same breath these exact same people utilize any possible tool to advance and intensify the sanctions against Iran, as they did against Hamas until recently. And with useful diplomatic hypocrisy they make every effort not to hurt Syria’s Bashar Assad too much, or Egypt, or another few corrupt targets of Israel’s foreign policy.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement is gaining momentum and is approaching the turning point (rather slowly, it must be said) in which the civic action from below will meet the official policies of governments and parliaments from above, and sanctions against Israel will become a fait accompli. Israel’s finance minister is troubled by the economic consequences, while the American secretary of state is trying to protect us from international isolation. Research institutions are already mapping out their boycotts and sanctions while offering avenues for formulating appropriate Israeli policies. The media are also making their serious or frenzied contributions. Among all this talk, what is conspicuously missing is a real discussion of the ethical meaning of sanctions and their alternatives.

Personally I’m a man of dialogue and believe that a boycott – any boycott – is not a legitimate tool. When my prime minister leaves the room as the Iranian president is speaking, I can’t decide whether he’s an idiot or just being childish, but what’s clear is that he doesn’t represent me at all. I believe in peace and I have no doubt that proper (if pointed) dialogue with the Palestinians will in the end bring two achievements: peace, and the end to the boycotts, ostracism and isolation under discussion. It’s the same with the Iranians, and even with Danny Danon.

But those who don’t want peace, or who want it but don’t trust the partner, or who want and trust but don’t have the public courage to stand up to the enemies of peace among us, must ask themselves different questions altogether. It’s clear that there’s a connection between the diplomatic reality and its economic manifestations. It’s permissible – despite the evil and folly of that approach – to decide that it’s worth holding the occupied territories, if only because at this point the price of international isolation or the harm done to the pockets of Mr. and Mrs. Israeli is not so terrible. After all, in the end, national policy is a system of constantly balancing risks and rewards, and for now – they say – the risks are tolerable.

But everyone else – the political impotents or the merely indifferent – needs a different approach. Put yourselves for a minute in the Palestinians’ place and try to understand what Israel “allows them” and consider what you would do in their position. A violent Palestinian rebellion? No way! Totally out of the question, not least because it will be put down by a much more violent force. (It’s an undeniable fact that more innocent Palestinians have been killed by Israel than innocent Israelis killed by Palestinians). A diplomatic agreement? You’ve made Naftali Bennett’s rear end and Benjamin Netanyahu’s lost senses laugh. So then what? Nothing? Should they just say thank you and shut up? Would we remain silent and capitulate unconditionally if we were in their place?

Suddenly it turns out that the boycott movement is not just an annoying effort to hit Israelis in the pocket, but a bold and innovative attempt to achieve real diplomatic gains. And in the areas in which I firmly believe require dialogue and solutions: an end to the occupation, the destruction of the separation barrier, recognition of the rights and equality of Israel’s Palestinian citizens, and a solution to the refugee problem. It’s a local and international expression of a totally different type of Palestinian struggle, something new and not so familiar to us – nonviolent resistance. Is that also forbidden?

What emerges from all this is that of all the alternatives being suggested – as if anyone is asking us or has to care what we think – boycotts and sanctions are actually the most kosher. Silencing and repression are bad, and violence is worse. Compared to either method, nonviolent resistance and an unarmed popular uprising don’t sound so bad. The truth is that not all of their people are behind this (just like not all of our people support us), but the direction being outlined is clear, convincing and threatening. Deep down I’m convinced that the tough State of Israel has a response to any expression of force it may face. But it will remain helpless when confronted by a civil rebellion that moves the discourse from who’s stronger/tougher/more resilient to a discourse on rights and values. For this we have no answer.

What will the politicians and soldiers of the racist separation do on Hebron’s Shuhada Street, which is closed to Palestinians, if a thousand kids come with their bikes, soccer balls and cameras and ask to play on the street in front of their homes – a basic right of any normal child on any street in the world? What will be the response of the Sensible One if the parents of those children, along with hundreds or thousands of other people (me and my family among them) come to the wall of the Palestinian ghetto (known euphemistically as the separation barrier) and hold a vigil there before the international media, under clouds of tear gas, until it comes down?

The answer is clear. On the very day that nonviolence becomes Palestine’s official policy, Israel’s violent occupation policy is over. The current hysteria over boycotts and sanctions testifies to this.

Palestinians at work in the Sodastream factory in the Mishor Adumim industrial park, January 30, 2014 Photo by AFP.

‘We need 1,000 SodaStreams around here’

A plant in the Israeli-occupied West Bank that led to Scarlett Johansson ending her role with Oxfam finds itself at the centre of the debate about boycotting the territory

By Inna Lazareva, The Telegraph
January 31, 2014

Mishor Adumim–The drab factory overlooking the hilly outskirts of East Jerusalem is an improbable symbol for any political cause.

Today, though, the SodaStream plant on the Israeli-occupied West Bank is at the centre of a row between an A-list film star and the British charity that hired her as an ambassador.

On Wednesday, Scarlett Johansson quit her role as an envoy for Oxfam after the charity objected to her starring in an advert for Sodastream, whose factory at Mishor Adumim is part of the Maale Adumim Jewish settlement, deemed illegal under international law.

Oxfam said her decision to star in the advert violated its long-standing position that factories built in disputed Jewish settlements amount to a “denial of Palestinian rights”.

However, Ms Johannson, 29, who has a Jewish mother and hails from a Left-wing New York family, offered a different vision of the factory. Pointing out that it employed both Palestinian and Israeli workers on equal pay, the star of The Avengers described it as a rare opportunity to build “a bridge to peace” between the communities.

So which is it? A symbol of repression, as Oxfam suggests, or a conduit for peace, as Ms Johansson argues? The Telegraph paid a visit to find out.

The plant employs roughly 500 Palestinians from the Occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, as well as 450 Arab Israelis and 350 Jewish Israelis. It makes gadgets for creating home-made fizzy drinks.

For many of the Palestinians, working there involves negotiating a series of complex and time-consuming checkpoints between the factory and their homes in nearby Nablus and Hebron. But the high rates of unemployment in the West Bank made it worth it, they said.

“We have no problems working here”, said one Palestinian employee, as others nodded in agreement. “The relations with the others are good, the pay is fine. But the way home is sometimes very long”.

One outside contractor who regularly visited the plant added: “It’s rare to see a company like this. Everyone sits together, works together. If you ask me, there should be a thousand SodaStreams in this area.”

Two key factors drive around 25,000 Palestinians employees to work in the settlements. The average daily wage earned by Palestinian workers in Israel and the settlements was more than double that of the West Bank private sector in 2012, according to a report by the International Labour Organisation. Unemployment rises to over 40 percent amongst 20-24 year olds in the West Bank.

However, critics say the jobs generated do not justify the settlement itself at Maale Adumim, which they say was created in the 1970s as an outpost into Palestinian territory to ensure access from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea and Jordan Valley.
Earlier this week, SodaStream’s chief executive, Daniel Birnbaum, said he would “never” have built the plant there in the first place had he known the controversy it might attract. But despite it being a “pain the ass”, he said he had no intentions to shut it.

“We will not throw our employees under the bus to promote anyone’s political agenda,” he said.

Yonah Lloyd, president of SodaStream, describes the atmosphere in the plant as “very harmonious”.

“We believe what we’ve accomplished by bringing together all kinds of people to work together, break bread together at lunch, and at company events at the beach, is a dream,” he told The Telegraph.

Several of the SodaStream employees interviewed point to the schism between politics and their everyday lives in terms of relations between Israelis and Palestinians.

“It’s only segregated at the top level, between the Israeli and the Palestinian governments”, says an Arab cook from East Jerusalem working at the SodaStream canteen.

“The politicians, they make all kinds of a mess between Jews and Arabs. But the people here, the Palestinians and Israelis, they are working together, they talk to each other, there’s no problem. But at the political level, there are many issues.”

The cook, who asked not to be named, refers to the case of Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi.

“You know the story of one Israeli and one Palestinian, both from Jerusalem, both cooks?”, he asked.

“They never met in Jerusalem, but both went to London, both started making falafel and humous, met each other and became partners. It’s possible in London but difficult here, because of the politicians”, the cook says.

A Palestinian worker from East Jerusalem is waiting at the bus stop, talking into his mobile phone. “I like working here. The relations between people are good, what can I say?”

SodaStream is wrong target for Oxfam’s Israel boycott

By Shlomi Eldar, trans.Danny Wool, Israel Pulse / Al Monitor
February 04, 2014

More than any other Israeli company operating across the Green Line, SodaStream has been drawing the ire of those leading the boycott against Israel. The Israeli brand, which is successful in 45 countries, finished 2013 with revenues of $562 million, but instead of celebrating its impressive achievements, its managers and staff are forced to respond to a bevy of attacks against it. It also had to fight back against the intention of imposing a boycott on the company because its main factory is located in the area of the Ma’ale Adumim settlement.

Calls to boycott SodaStream were given an unexpected boost after it turned out that actress Scarlett Johansson was chosen as the company’s brand ambassador. For example, Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab wrote in Al-Monitor that the fact that the American actress was being forced to forgo her position as ambassador for the charitable organization Oxfam was a long-term victory for the Palestinians and their supporters everywhere.

Johansson was unwilling to give in to Oxfam’s conditions when it pressured her to give up on her contract with SodaStream, and in so doing, gave up on those who pressured her to boycott the Israeli company. Even if someone considers this a Palestinian victory, the question remains: How can Kuttab completely disregard that the SodaStream factory employs more than 900 Palestinians? Hurting the factory, which is the source of their livelihoods, would constitute an economic death sentence for those employees.

There is no Palestinian factory or company in the West Bank that employs so many workers. There is no Palestinian factory or company that provides the same terms of employment that SodaStream gives its workers, both Jews and Arabs.

By the way, Palestinian employees of SodaStream, who don’t have Israeli health insurance because they are not Israelis, and who don’t have Palestinian health insurance because there is no national health coverage in the Palestinian Authority (PA), receive an additional payment so that they can insure themselves privately in the West Bank. That is why SodaStream has some 900 Palestinian workers who are willing to work in an Israeli factory that is threatened by an economic boycott by pro-Palestinian organizations.

In January 2013, Israel’s President Shimon Peres awarded the Outstanding Exporter award to the CEO of SodaStream. Instead of assuming the decorum of the official award ceremony, Daniel Birnbaum, the company’s CEO, chose to convey to Peres his reservation about the security check that his Palestinian employees were forced to undergo before entering the presidential residence to attend the gala event. Jewish employees went through one type of security clearance, while Arab employees went through another. Birnbaum was furious. Insulted by the way his Palestinian employees were treated, he insisted on restoring their dignity. Every incident like that, Birnbaum told Peres, delays any chance that Palestinians and Israelis can one day live together. Tears trickled down the cheeks of his Palestinian employees who attended the event.

But instead, Kuttab chose for his article a single quote by an anonymous worker, who told a reporter from Reuters that the management of SodaStream was racist and that discrimination there was intentional, because the management is Jewish and the workers are Palestinians without any rights, who are afraid that they will be fired if they open their mouths.

Kuttab did not quote or even mention the many other workers, who said many different things to both the Israeli and foreign media without fear or concern.

For example, Muhammad Yussuf, 22, from the village of Jab’a told the American blog Gawker: “We live here in peace, Jews and Muslims, and we don’t have any problems.” Or other employees, who openly voiced their concern that if SodaStream suffers from the boycott or if it decides to move its factory out of Ma’ale Adumim, they will be left without work. Some 900 Palestinian families will be thrown out of a safe job, and they will not receive unemployment from the PA.

”We opened the factory to journalists, including the reporter from Reuters. And he spoke with everyone, but he chose to quote just one employee, who may not have been satisfied [at work]. When I ask the workers what worries them, they answer that they are concerned that they will return to the ranks of the unemployed, given the unemployment rate of 30-35% in the Palestinian Authority today.”

Al-Monitor asked Birnbaum, “You heard that Scarlett Johansson gave up her position with Oxfam. What did you think of her?”

Birnbaum said, “I felt bad, because she told me that she really loved working with them, but it also made me appreciate her more, because she made a conscientious decision. It is a decision that goes completely against the stream in the world in which she lives. I know that people in the entertainment industry think that she made a mistake, but she already told me in our first meeting that we’re doing the right thing. I told her, ‘You could hear back from the rest of the world,’ and she repeated to me, ‘You’re doing the right thing. You have nothing to be ashamed of.’

“She is standing boldly by her decision and putting the dilemma surrounding this situation in a very positive light. For example, there’s the legitimacy of an organization like Oxfam. It may have good intentions, but recently its actions have been less than acceptable. It funded the boycott in part. We know this, thanks to the ‘NGO Monitor’ project.

“Scarlett asked me to invite the president of Oxfam America here, and I did that. His name is Raymond Offenheiser, and he did not respond to my invitation, because seeing the factory would make him uncomfortable. He does not want to go against the populist stream prevalent among ostensibly humanitarian organizations. Scarlett highlighted the fact that even humanitarian organizations can be hypocritical.

“In this case, Oxfam said that we had to fire all of our employees, but that would be a crime against humanity. And they are calling on us to do that because it is populistic, and it serves the interests of their donors,” Birnbaum said.

The boycott against Israel poses an enormous threat to the country’s economy and international standing. But the SodaStream factory in Ma’ale Adumim is a tangible example of beneficial and effective cooperation between Jews and Palestinians.

Birnbaum repeated that in any diplomatic arrangement, he will act in accordance with the government’s decision. By the way, his factory is located in the Ma’ale Adumim area, which even the Palestinians accept as one of the large settlement blocs that might remain under Israeli jurisdiction in any future agreement, as part of an exchange of territories.

But the promoters of the SodaStream boycott are so zealous about what they are doing that they are unaware of one simple fact: Harming that thriving factory, which provides a livelihood to Israeli and Palestinian workers, and especially to do that while the diplomatic negotiations are underway, is an error and a cruel game being played with the livelihoods of 900 Palestinian families.

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