Israel, normalising the abnormal (IV): Towards a systematic boycott
Clearly, rejecting normalisation in the Arab world includes boycotting official normalisation of the relationships on state level. However, there is a need to re-organise the existing boycott at the grassroots level in order to put pressure on the official level.
Most Arab regimes have abandoned the boycott of Israel, especially in terms of foreign companies that have investments there. Indeed, a systematic boycott of Israeli regime requires paying attention to many details that may be not well known to the general public.
Such organisation is not currently present at the grassroots, in order to lead not only a boycott of Israeli goods, but also the companies that profit from and invest in the colonial project in Palestine.
The boycott strategy is even more important at the international level, in countries that have normal relations with Israel. In this case, boycotting is a form of peaceful resistance that plays out globally.
It is the answer to the question of how to translate global solidarity with the Palestinians into practical measures. In truth, the most effective method to go beyond seasonal protests is boycotting, but it requires a comprehensive and delicate approach to win over mainstream support and influence decision-making.
The boycott strategy includes both individual voluntary actions, which no government in the world can suppress; and organised collective boycotts by civil, academic, and trade union groups of their Israeli counterparts.
The boycott strategy differs from one country to another, according to the state of public opinion and the nature of relations with Israel. Without a doubt, this means the boycott movement in every country must be run in a way that suits conditions there on the basis of universal shared principles. The global BDS movement has achieved a lot in this regard, but there still much to be done.
|The most effective method to go beyond seasonal protests is boycotting, but it requires a comprehensive and delicate approach to win over mainstream support and influence decision-making|
A systematic boycott was implemented against the South African apartheid regime that intensified and peaked shortly before that regime fell. Its influence became crucial when governments officially joined the boycott, beyond the African continent as Western states without which South Africa's regime could not have survived economically and militarily also joined the boycott.
A real battle was fought against the policy of then-British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher by a very active anti-apartheid movement in Britain as well as Western Europe and North America.
Yet none of this would have been possible without a pan-African boycott first and foremost, and a non-centralised multilateral global campaign similar to the anti-colonial movements. The leadership of the African National Congress had also considered the boycott a key part of its strategy alongside armed and political struggle.
|The leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organisation maintains close political and security relations through the Palestinian Authority with Israel, and opposes publicly and officially the boycott strategy|
What about Palestine?
We don't see this happening in Palestine's case. Indeed, the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organisation maintains close political and security relations through the Palestinian Authority with Israel, and opposes publicly and officially the boycott strategy. Instead, the Palestinian Authority calls on Arabs to visit Jerusalem and blesses Arab steps toward normalisation.
Meanwhile, the Arab countries surrounding Palestine have either concluded peace treaties with Israel without a just solution of the Question of Palestine, or declared peace with Israel to be their strategic choice.
Every European country embarrassed by its silence vis-à-vis the occupation and Israel's crimes tries to compensate by proposing peace or dialogue initiatives bringing together Israelis and Palestinians, rather than push for a boycott. However, the European parliament has succeeded in imposing a boycott, albeit very timid, of products made in illegal Israeli settlements.
By contrast, there are attempts in the West to criminalise the boycott of Israel, most notably in the United States where a campaign for this purpose is already active.
And in Russia, China, and the Far East, as in elsewhere, even the products of settlements are not subject to a boycott. Rather, we see a rapid evolution of ties between Israel and countries that were once considered friends of the Palestinian people, such as Russia and India, now allies of Israel, and China, Far Eastern nations, and African states.
There is no international boycott of Israel in place as such. Israel continues to develop its economic, academic, and cultural ties worldwide. Its diplomatic relations have seen a boom since it signed peace treaties with Arab countries and the Oslo Accords with Palestinians, as did its economy.
|The boycott, as a mode of struggle vying to win international public support, has scored achievements at the level of academic, civil, and trade union boycotts of Israel.|
Why is the boycott important? In truth, it is crucial exactly because of the circumstances described above. The boycott, as a mode of struggle vying to win international public support, has scored achievements at the level of academic, civil, and trade union boycotts of Israel.
The International Solidarity Movement with the Palestinian people, however, lacks important ingredients for success in the presence of a Palestinian leadership that does not want solidarity, and that instead wants to win over Israel "logically" and win US support, because it is committed to the so-called political process.
The solidarity movement wants to do something useful for the Palestinians and wants to counter the policies of the occupation. The boycott is a suitable strategy that can gradually chip away at the occupation, as well as ostracise it and put it on the defensive, even at the level of public opinion. The boycott movement, if it expands abroad, can also achieve stronger influence that can in turn have a positive impact on the Palestinian arena.
The Palestinians have nothing to tell the global boycott movement when it comes to the respective conditions of the states in which it operates. However, the Palestinians can give a good example in the struggle against normalisation in Palestine, for example against the security collaboration with Israel and other channels of cooperation between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government.
Indeed, it is not logical for Palestinians not to lobby against collaboration with the principal party responsible for the oppression of the Palestinian people, namely, the security agencies of the occupation. This should be the first mission for Palestinian boycott movements in the Palestinian territories, followed by boycotting Israeli goods – while bearing in mind that many Palestinian products contain Israeli-made ingredients. However, the matter remains culturally and economically significant.
|The popular boycott movement remains crucial for putting political, economic, and moral pressure on Israe|
The popular boycott movement remains crucial for putting political, economic, and moral pressure on Israel. Israel not only refuses to be compared to the South African apartheid, but also benefits from a special status that bestows upon it special international privileges, and any comparisons or replication of the South African boycott is a very disturbing prospect for Israel.
This leads Israel and its allies in the West to react in e very tensed manner, even in panic, against the boycott of Israel, which requires some preparations for this round of the struggle. One of the most important steps in this regard is to formulate Palestinian rights within a democratic context against a racist settler-colonial occupation and the boycott strategy as a democratic civil right.
This was the final part of a four-part series. Click on these links to read part I, II and III.
Azmi Bishara is a Palestinian intellectual, academic and writer. Follow him on Twitter: @AzmiBishara
Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.