"Israel has been deeply concerned because of the growth of the boycott movement– so much so, that the French mobile phone firm Orange suspended its contract with Israel’s Partner Company," writes Hani al-Masri in the leading Palestinian daily al-Ayyam.
This gave rise to a major Israeli campaign in which the government headed by Binyamin Netanyahu took part. Pressure was exerted on the French government, which owns 25% of Orange's shares, and which ultimately forced the company to backtrack on its decision to suspend its activities in Israel. But the issue is still not over, and the battle will continue until Orange retracts its last decision.
Last week, the presidents of Israeli universities met with the Israeli president and told him that the academic boycott of Israeli universities has reached a dangerous point, but that Israel can abort this if it acts immediately. They warned the government that it if fails to act and wage a counter-campaign before it is too late, Israeli universities and academics would be unable to work or cooperate with universities or academics around the world.
The Israeli government also held a special meeting to discuss the boycott and how to confront it. It decided to set aside more funds to combat it, as well as organize a campaign to collect contributions from Israel's friends, matching the Israeli budget allocated for this mission, at least. And the Knesset is preparing to discuss the matter again.
The Israeli government views the boycott as of equal importance and danger as 'terrorism'. It is focusing on the claim that boycotting Israel is a form of anti-Semitism that targets 'the Jewish state,' which is an extension of the anti-Semitic campaign that targeted the Jews and peaked with the massacre committed by Hitler's Germany against millions of Jews. This is a false and feeble claim, because the leaders and members of the boycott campaign include Semites and Jews. Second, the Israeli counter-campaign focuses on the claim that the boycott aims to de-legitimize and destroy Israel, and wipe off the map.
The boycott's importance stems from the fact that it focuses on Israel's point of weakness, the same point that Israel portrays as its source of strength. This is the claim that it represents an oasis of civilization and democracy, with high moral values, a state that respects human rights and liberties and abides by international law and respects international legitimacy. This is despite all the crimes, massacres, sieges, and killings of children, destruction of homes, institutions, churches, mosques, and international institutions it has been engaging in, and despite the racial discrimination and attacks on human beings and their homes, and the violations of law and moral values – all of which run contrary to its claim that it is being done in self-defence.
The strong point of the Palestinian struggle is that it is in defense of a just and morally superior cause, and relies on international law and international legitimacy, even though it only calls for the realization of the minimum of Palestinian rights. Therefore, boycotting Israel is one of the means of resistance that strongly exploits Israel’s vulnerability. It can achieve qualitative successes that can change the entire situation, but only if it is perceived as one of the Palestinians’ new and long-term strategic tools, not merely as a tactical means for exerting pressure to improve the Palestinians' living conditions under occupation, or to improve the terms of the negotiations that have failed (and will continue to fail) to end the occupation unless based on points of strength that the Palestinian negotiators bring to bear at the negotiating table.
Matters have reached a point in fact where Israel has passed an endless series of racist laws. And this transforms it more and more into a regime hostile to humanity, worse than the defunct racial discrimination regime in South Africa. What worries Israel's leaders is that they fear the growth of the boycott campaign, since it is likely to secure greater successes in light of the great change in international public opinion, especially in Europe and the U.S. Israel believes that it has lost Europe and America’s universities. And it fears that this change in public opinion will lead to a similar change among governments sooner or later. Once that happens, it will not be long before Israel faces isolation, sanctions and trials.
One example of the boycott campaign's recent successes comes from the National Union of Students (NUS) in Britain which represents 7-million students, and that has demanded that Israel be boycotted. The giant French company Veolia was forced to sell off most of its business in the occupation state after losing billion-dollars as a result of the boycott campaign against it across the world.
Yet despite the boycott campaign’s successes, one should not rest assured regarding its future. Israel has deployed all its power against it and is trying to mobilize its friends and allies to foil the campaign. It has achieved important successes in this regard by convincing the U.S. Congress, the Canadian Parliament and other world parliaments, to pass laws banning the boycott of Israel as a form of anti-Semitism. These laws also include measures to punish the advocates and participants in campaigns to boycott Israel.
The Palestinians and their friends need to exert greater efforts and deploy more resources and energies to ensure the success of the boycott campaign. Among the measures that need to be taken, the Palestinians’ PA and PLO leaders must throw all their weight behind this battle, and not confine themselves to dealing with it reticently, or failing to intervene when they should do so. One example of this was Orange's backtracking on its decision after the Israeli government exerted pressure on the French government; that should have been met with similar counter-pressures from the Palestinian government.
Moreover, the Palestinian government should work on convincing Arab leaders and governments to join the boycott, because these are some of the most important tools for entering a guaranteed path towards affecting the required change in the balance of power. That will halt Israel’s racist settlement activities and its schemes against the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and inside the territories occupied in 1948. It will open a window of opportunity for imposing a settlement that achieves the basic minimum of Palestinian national rights. For these rights will never be achieved in light of the continued illusions and wagers on the international community alone, or on the path of negotiations and U.S. pressure on Israel. For that is the course that has led us to the catastrophe that we find ourselves facing today. Persisting with these illusions and wagers will only produce a bigger catastrophe.
This leaves one final point: Should the boycott be confined to the occupation and settlements and steer clear of questioning Israel's alleged legitimacy? Or should it be comprehensive and focus on the fact that Israel is a state established on the ruins of another nation that it continues to try and annihilate, refusing to implement the dictates of international law and UN resolutions whose implementation could pave the way to a satisfactory solution for the Palestinian problem?
So far, Israel has also aborted all solutions and initiatives that aim to reach a settlement that upholds the basic minimum of Palestinian rights, despite the fact that the Palestinian leadership has recognized Israel's right to exist and has halted resistance to it, abiding by all its security and economic obligations that ensure Israel's security and stability. This calls for a review of the Oslo track and for liberation from its commitments, if only gradually, beginning with ending security coordination and ending with rescinding recognition of Israel.
Those who wish to confine themselves to boycotting the settlements should do so. But the boycott will not bear fruit unless it questions the entire Israeli project. Only then will Israel feel that it is being pursued, and that it may suffer isolation, sanctions and accountability for its previous and ongoing crimes.
"After all, an entity that engages in occupation, settlement activities and racism, and which is an embodiment of a Zionist colonial project that continues to unfold, cannot be legitimate," concludes Masri.