Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Is a Settlements Boycott Progressive?

Israel has 16 industrial parks in the West Bank and East Jerusalem with 1,000 plants and 21,000 workers, about two-thirds of them Palestinian.  For example: Mishor Adumim, established in 1976, has 250 plants, including SodaStream, where 500 of the 1,300 workers are Palestinian.  See this NY Times article, which details how Palestinians work for Israeli firms and even the military, against their national interest, because they have no good employment alternatives.
Writing in the American Prospect, Matthew Duss asks "What's a Responsible, Progressive Position on an Israeli-settlements Boycott?": "The recent Scarlett Johansson/SodaStream controversy highlights the need to be clear about end goals."  Duss sees an odd agreement between SodaStream's more right-wing defenders and hardline backers of BDS, which is to envision this controversy as being about Israel's legitimacy as a state:
. . .  [T]his story turned out to be more interesting than the actual Super Bowl, but the story highlights a few important things. First is the growing international campaign, known collectively as BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions), to economically pressure Israel to end its occupation and reach an agreed outcome with the Palestinians. While the movement remains officially agnostic on what that outcome should be—one state or two—prominent BDS advocates such as Ali Abunimah and Omar Barghouti have made clear that they support the creation of a single state on all the land Israel currently occupies. 
Second, it revealed an interesting confluence of arguments between some BDS advocates and hardline pro-Israel supporters. Both groups have seemed intent on making Israel’s legitimacy, not its policies of occupation and settlement, the issue. In its statement concerning the end of its relationship with Johansson, Oxfam made clear that its concerns were with the settlements’ illegality, not with Israel’s legitimacy. Yet many BDS advocates and hardline pro-Israel supporters have responded as if the latter is what is really at issue.
. . .  [T]he controversy . . . highlights something else: The opportunity and necessity for progressives to state clearly where they stand with regard to Israel’s legitimacy, Palestinian rights, and the two-state solution. 
. . .  [E]nding the occupation, now nearing its 48th year, is a moral imperative.  While I recognize the value in focusing, as the BDS movement does, on a rights-based discourse[,] . . .  I don’t think those who advocate particular policies can justify being agnostic about the goal we’re trying to reach. 
It seems to me that there’s a sort of symmetry between the arguments of many BDS advocates and hardline pro-Israel supporters, with the former advocating pressure tactics without endorsing any particular outcome and the latter insisting that they favor a particular outcome (a two-state solution) while opposing all pressure to reach it. But I think for those who want a particular policy to succeed, we need to be specific about what that policy goal is. 
. . .  [P]eople should put their cards on the table. Here are mine: I think the two-state solution, while considerably difficult to achieve at this point, is the least-worst option available right now. Even if we grant that a single secular, democratic bi-national state is a more just outcome . . .  the possibility of achieving such an outcome is almost nil. And I cannot get behind a policy that would almost certainly consign both peoples, Jews and Palestinians, to an interim of violence in the hope that we’ll come out at the other end with a new single state. 
To this end, I think it’s entirely defensible and necessary to support efforts to create economic pressure against the occupation and the settlements enterprise that it facilitates. The U.S. government itself regularly declares the settlements “illegitimate,” so I see no problem with affirming that through collective, non-violent action. As Israeli journalist Bernie Avishai recently wrote, “Boycotting companies operating in the settlements is not the same as boycotting ‘Israel.’” This is a distinction that cannot be made enough.  . .   [Exactly the point which Partners for Progressive Israel has made repeatedly for about three years now.
While Duss may have written the best of a recent crop of excellent analyses, Gershom Gorenberg (also in The American Prospect) wins the prize for the best title on this contentious issue: "Frankly Scarlett, You Should Give a Damn": "A starlet can be ignorant of politics, but Netanyahu is willfully twisting the words of EU and American leaders on the settlements boycott issue."

And Bernard Avishai (our guest at a recent teleconference) makes the important point that securing a future for an Israel at peace with a new Palestinian state necessitates building an economy that equitably links both: "Yes, Scarlett Johansson's Defense Of SodaStream Is Problematic."  The occupation (with its physical and bureaucratic roadblocks and arcane rules that disadvantage Palestinian entrepreneurs) makes it impossible for Palestinians to grow their own economic enterprises and to establish cooperation with Israelis on the basis of equality. 

Finally, there's this excellent new column by Roger Cohen in the NY Times: "The B.D.S. Threat." Cohen writes wisely of the need for Israel to arrive at a two-state agreement, with the boycott threat possibly goading it in this direction, but also opines sharply:
. . .  I do not trust the B.D.S. movement. Its stated aim is to end the occupation, secure “full equality” for Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel, and fight for the right of return of all Palestinian refugees. The first objective is essential to Israel’s future. The second is laudable. The third, combined with the second, equals the end of Israel as a Jewish state. This is the hidden agenda of B.D.S., its unacceptable subterfuge: beguile, disguise and suffocate.    

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

And so Meretzniks happily endorse as "excellent" a Roger Cohen piece which calls "full equality" for Palestinian citizens of Israel merely, "laudable." Not essential, nor vital, nor a prerequisite.

At the end of his column Cohen reinforces this point by specifically avoiding the use of the term "full equality" and defining equality in ways that would not actually ensure full equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel.

So much for Meretz's supposed commitment to equal rights.

Of course Cohen also opposes basic human rights for Palestinian refugees. Apparently another argument that makes his position "excellent."

Ted

Blogmaster said...

We don't speak for "Meretzniks," but Cohen's was one of several thoughtful pieces cited here, which more or less conform with our group's views or concerns. As one of our most dedicated readers, Ted knows that our position on the generations of Palestinian refugees involves a package of compensation and a variety of resettlement options that do not include a wholesale "return" to what is now the State of Israel.

Anonymous said...

Dear Blogmaster,

Again, Cohen equivocated on full equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Do you agree that full equality is merely laudable as Cohen has asserted in his "excellent" column, or do you disagree with Cohen and believe that full equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel is essential?

Thanks,

Ted

Blogmaster said...

It's sad that Ted finds a reason to argue with Cohen's expression of support for full equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Anonymous said...

Dear Blogmaster,

Cohen's statement that "full equality" for Palestinian citizens of Israel is "laudable" is not "an expression of support." Laudable is defined as commendable, deserving of praise. Praise does not necessarily imply support for implementation. As you know, we often says things are laudable as a preface to saying they are not practically implementable. Therefore support for implementation needs to be explicitly stated.

And he explicitly states that "full equality" cannot be implemented in combination with the right of return due to his demographic fears. "The third, combined with the second, equals the end of Israel as a Jewish state." For Cohen, maintaining a Jewish majority trumps his commitment to equality and human rights.

Again, Cohen very specifically avoids using the phrase "full equality" when he explains what he supports at the end of this op-ed.

Perhaps you'd like to reread the excellent column?

Ted

Mark Hurvitz said...

I take issue with Duss' comment (emphasis mine) regarding "agnostic":
"While the movement remains officially agnostic on what that outcome should be—one state or two—prominent BDS advocates such as Ali Abunimah and Omar Barghouti have made clear that they support the creation of a single state on all the land Israel currently occupies."
Calling for "a single state on all the land Israel currently occupies" effectively calls for the end of the State of Israel.

In addition, Duss grants:
"that a single secular, democratic bi-national state is a more just outcome"
What makes this more just? Where does Duss see a binational state that functions justly for its two nations?