Is a Boycott of Israel Just?
Regarding “In boycott, a political act or prejudice?” (Page 2, Feb. 12): It’s galling that in a piece on the nonviolent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (B.D.S.) movement, launched in 2005 by Palestinian civil society in response to Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights, Jodi Rudoren frames her story in terms of B.D.S. echoing the anti-Semitic boycotts of Nazi Germany, quoting several Israelis harshly critical of B.D.S. and just one Palestinian supporter. Ms. Rudoren even seems to endorse allegations that B.D.S. is anti-Semitic and directed at Jews rather than Israel and Israelis, writing, “Avoiding a coffee shop because you don’t like the way the boss treats his employees is voting with your wallet; doing so because the boss is Jewish — or black or female or gay — is discrimination.” Contrary to what Ms. Rudoren and the quoted B.D.S. critics suggest, the movement does not target Jews, individually or collectively, and rejects all forms of bigotry and discrimination, including anti-Semitism. B.D.S. is, in fact, a legal, moral and inclusive movement struggling against the discriminatory policies of a country that defines itself in religiously exclusive terms, and that seeks to deny Palestinians the most basic rights simply because we are not Jewish.
Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, Ramallah, West Bank
The writer is a member of the Executive Committee of the Palestinian Liberation Organization and head of the P.L.O. Department of Culture and Information.
The B.D.S. movement has nothing to do with animus toward Jews. Many American Jews, myself included, are vigorously working in support of B.D.S. — and there are more and more of us with every passing month. We target Israel for boycott not because we believe Israel is the worst human rights violator (we don’t), but because Israel is the single largest recipient of American foreign aid, more than $3 billion a year. As Jews, as taxpayers, as people of conscience, we have not only the right but the moral obligation to use boycott and divestment as strategies of nonviolent resistance to Israel’s systematic, racist mistreatment of Palestinians being done on our nickel and in our names.
Hannah Schwarzschild Arlington, Mass.
The Palestinian boycott call was initiated in 2005, decades after Zionists evicted Palestinians from the lands of the future Israeli state, after all of Palestine came under Israeli control and occupation, and after thousands of Palestinians had been tortured, detained or killed. International institutions have pointed to Israel’s violations of international law. Yet the United States and Western countries have ignored the harsh realities of Palestinian life and the widening system of superior privilege for Jews in Palestine. From the Israeli-Jewish cocoon it looks like an attack on Israel and the Jewish nation when the criticism of Israeli actions against Palestinians grows after decades of singular support for Israel and total silence on the Palestinian issues. Israel needs to learn to follow international law. The boycott is a teaching tool, nothing more.
Martina Lauer Chesterville, Ontario
Ms. Rudoren notes that Mark Regev, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesman, believes the B.D.S. movement is holding Israel to a higher standard than any other country in the world. Actually, the opposite is true. Israel itself likes to portray itself as having higher standards than most, while at the same time violating these standards with apparent impunity. Israel is a signatory to the Declaration of Human Rights, yet has violated almost all of its articles. Israel, in its Declaration of Independence, promised to provide equal rights and justice to all residents of Palestine-Israel, but apparently never had any intention of doing so. Israel promised, as a provision of the United Nations recognition of their state, to adopt a Constitution, but has never done so.
In view of the massive unquestioned support of Israel by the American government, one might assume that Israel would be more cooperative in the search for peace and justice. This has obviously not happened. Resorting to proclaiming anti-Semitism every time there are questions as to the policies of the Israeli government is the fallback position when all else fails. This should not be allowed.
Doris Rausch, Columbia, Md.
The Israelis claim that anti-Semitism is behind the boycott, but they don’t see the real reason: the occupation of Palestinian lands and the subjugation of the Palestinians over the years.
Lillian Laskin, Los Angeles
Regarding “The B.D.S. Threat” (Opinion, Feb. 11): Roger Cohen cites the fact that my brother, Omar Barghouti, received a degree from Tel Aviv University to conclude that Israel affords more rights to minorities than other regional states. But minorities receive higher academic degrees in all neighboring states.
More important, Mr. Cohen argues that while it was acceptable for the Jewish people to exercise their right of return to create a Jewish homeland in Palestine after 2,000 years of diaspora, the Palestinians should not be allowed to exercise the same right after 66 years of exile from their homeland. That said, he claims to be for “equality in the Jews’ national home.” What kind of equality would that be, exactly?
If a state defines its legitimacy on the premise of denying the indigenous people their right to live within it, then what choice do the indigenous people have but to delegitimize that state? To deny the Palestinians the right to fight for their right of return is to say they are not equal to Israeli Jews.
Dr. Nasser Barghouti, San Diego
The writer mentions the divestment of firms from the West Bank as potentially positive, as it may bring an end to the occupation. He also acknowledges his agreement with that aim. But there is a difference between refusing to fund the occupation and actively participating in the B.D.S. movement; the largest Dutch pension fund and the largest Danish bank are not followers of B.D.S. They, like many of us who support a two-state compromise, refuse to send money to an occupation that is detrimental to both Israel and the Palestinians. If Israel wants to be on the list of free and democratic countries, it should look to the advice of its friends, like Secretary of State Kerry, not to those who’d like to see it dismantled.
Nathan Hersh, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Mr. Cohen writes that the United Nations gave an “unambiguous mandate” in 1947 for a Jewish state. But that mandate came with specific borders based on where Jews resided in sufficient numbers to have a majority. Instead of retreating to these borders at the end of the 1948 war or allowing for a reconfiguration of boundaries based on population, Israel insisted on keeping the land it conquered, which included half the land that had been designated for an Arab state. With expanded territory, there was no way Israel could allow Palestinians to return and still be “Jewish and democratic.” The United Nations did not give a mandate for expanded borders, ethnic cleansing and mass expulsion. Allowing Palestinians to return is necessary for the healing of this conflict. A novel solution — two states with identical borders — would enable Palestinians to return and have self-determination, while allowing Israel to remain a Jewish state and haven for Jews. The two states would have equal power.
Esther Riley, Fairfax, Calif.
If right of return was world law, the Jews would come out way ahead, given how much land was taken from them in Europe and Russia, not to mention in Iran and North Africa.
Shelly B. Kulwin, Chicago
Thank you, Mr. Cohen, for labeling B.D.S. as anti-Semitic, as it denies the Jewish people the right to a national homeland. Of course, “progressive” leftists, Jewish or not, will vilify his arguments. But this article blows away the B.D.S.’s false humanitarian cover.
Rosalie Lieberman, Chicago
The writer says that of the three goals set by the B.D.S. movement, the first (ending the occupation) “is essential to Israel’s future,” the second (full equality for Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel) “is laudable,” but the third (the right of return for all Palestinian refugees) “equals the end of Israel as a Jewish state.” One of Israel’s Basic Laws, the Law of Return, guarantees automatic Israeli citizenship to any Jew living anywhere in the world, a provision that was not envisioned in the 1947 United Nations partition resolution, which provided for the creation of a state for Jews “resident” in Palestine. United Nations Resolution 194 and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Israel accepted as a condition of United Nations membership, both establish the right of refugees to return to their homes.
Mr. Cohen’s embrace of full equality is insincere because he justifies an unequal law. Inequality and guarantees of ethnic/religious supremacy are endemic to the notion of a Jewish state. Such a state can never be democratic, because in a democracy the people are sovereign. The state belongs to all its citizens.
Rod Such, Portland, Ore.
The B.D.S. movement may indeed have a negative economic impact, but it is probably the most effective way to get Israel to make any kind of deal at all with the Palestinians. If its backers can actually force an accord that creates a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders, then more power to them.
Robert Haufrecht, New York
What Mr. Cohen’s argument boils down to is a belief that civil equality and human rights are less lofty ideals than the perseverance of a Jewish majority state. I wonder, would you ever publish an opinion article voicing concern over the end of America as a white state? What would Mr. Cohen make of the demographic realities within Israel’s 1967 borders: the 20-percent-and-growing population of Arab-Palestinian citizens in Israel? What does that reality suggest for the sustainability of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state? To preserve a Jewish majority, would Mr. Cohen push his argument further to call for the removal of Israel’s Palestinian population?
Bayann Hamid, New York
Regarding “Why the boycott movement scares Israel” (Review, Feb. 1): Omar Barghouti misleadingly portrays the B.D.S. movement’s attacks on Israel. B.D.S. activists admit among themselves that anti-Israel boycotts are not simply a strategy for ending the military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Rather, the goal is the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state, exploiting the rhetoric of human rights and false apartheid analogies to demonize and isolate Israel.
NGO Monitor, which promotes accountability among nongovernmental organizations with humanitarian agendas, has found that Mr. Barghouti and other B.D.S. proponents use racist and discriminatory rhetoric in their attacks, including highly offensive Nazi analogies. This form of political warfare has been going on for over a decade, since the 2001 World Conference Against Racism. Hundreds of NGOs gathered in Durban, South Africa, to announce a strategy of pushing for the “complete and total isolation of Israel as an apartheid state” and “the imposition of mandatory and comprehensive sanctions and embargoes, the full cessation of all links (diplomatic, economic, social, aid, military cooperation and training) between all states and Israel.” Although Mr. Barghouti attempted in his opinion article to obscure the B.D.S.’s true goals, the evidence clearly demonstrates that the main targets are Israel and the right of the Jewish people to sovereign equality.
Emily Ziedman, Jerusalem
The writer is a communications associate for NGO Monitor.
Mr. Barghouti claims that the American Studies Association endorsed an academic boycott of Israel by a “landslide vote.” He vastly overstates the support. About 25 percent of the organization’s membership voted on the question, and of these the majority in favor represented just 16.5 percent of the total members. What Mr. Barghouti fails to mention is that more than 200 university and college presidents have now taken public positions against the boycott, as have the American Association of University Professors and the American Association of Universities, on the grounds that it represents a violation of academic freedom.
Sonya Michel, College Park, Md.
The writer is a professor of history, women’s studies and American studies at the University of Maryland.