BLANKFORT: Response to Avnery on boycott issue September 2, 2009

Apartheid SA & Israel

by Jeffrey Blankfort  -  Mondoweiss  -  30 August 2009

Editor’s note: The boycott debate is hotting up and interestingly between Jews.  It is very much like the debate involving Women for Palestine and Jews from the peace camp  around 2003.  Then, we posted articles like Leila Farsakh’s “Israel: an apartheid state?” where she states that “the Oslo process made the Palestinian situation legally similar to South Africa’s bantustans” and that “Palestinians and their supporters abroad would do well to take the South African resistance movement into account when rethinking their political vision and resistance strategy.”  Eighteen months earlier, in an article entitled “Apartheid in the Holy Land” and then again in  “Against Israeli Apartheid”,  Archbishop Tutu had already drawn the parallels between Apartheid South Africa and what Israel was doing to the Palestinians.  But, despite the Wall going up and Israel’s illegal settlement expansion increasing and much else besides that has oppressed and discriminated against the Palestinians, the counter-arguments against those parallels and boycotts came hard and fast.  Bard College Professor of Human Rights, Ian Buruma had written in July 2002 “Do not treat Israel like apartheid South Africa” and cited the same arguments that are as unconvincing now as they were then.   It is hard to imagine after all that has happened and is happening that Jews  are still arguing for and against comparisons. Shulamit Aloni said it very clearly in her article translated by Sol Salbe in January 2007: “Jewish self-righteousness is taken for granted among ourselves to such an extent that we fail to see what’s in front of our eyes.”  The academic debate though is really meaningless to the Palestinians who are the victims of Israel’s apartheid policies.  It was Palestinian civil society that realised the situation would only deteriorate further if Israel was not held to account and so it called on people the world over to join them and the BDS global movement was born.   That is what matters, not the individual agonisings of Israelis and Jews who are still torn between their consciences and their crumbling dreams.

The brave decisions of Israelis like Neve Gordon may yet inspire others to follow him.   Jeff Blankfort, in his reponse to Uri Avnery for criticising boycotts, says it plainly – “the boycott issue is a critical moment of truth”.

Dear Uri,

If one’s stand on the boycott issue is a critical moment of truth, and I believe that it is, I am sorry to say that you have come up wanting in your latest column. That you base your opposition to the boycott on a Jewish history that the vast majority of Israelis have never experienced, but on which they have justified their dispossession and oppression of the Palestinians (whose personal history is far worse) and that 99.9% of those same Jews oppose such a boycott (which I suspect is an exaggeration) is to make a mockery of everything that you have been doing and writing for decades.

By what right have you and the 94% of your fellow Israelis who supported the onslaught on Gaza, and with whom you now stand on the boycott issue, to make any claim on those who believe that the only way to bring about a just solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict is to make Israel a political and economic pariah? Do you really think that the majority of Israeli Jews living within the Green Line are any less responsible for the present situation than those in the settlements, and if you do, pray explain who was responsible for electing the likes of Begin, Shamir and Sharon as their prime ministers, not that Rabin or Peres were a whit better? Can you honestly make a case that Israel has not merited a pariah status many times over?

And what do you offer in its stead? You write that when Archbishop Tutu asked what the dwindling lot of “Israeli peace activists, are hoping for, you told him:

“We hope for Barack Obama to publish a comprehensive and detailed peace plan and to use the full persuasive power of the United States to convince the parties to accept it. We hope that the entire world will rally behind this endeavor. And we hope that this will help to set the Israeli peace movement back on its feet and convince our public that it is both possible and worthwhile to follow the path of peace with Palestine.”

Let’s be honest. You know that it is not going to happen when the majority of both houses of the US Congress have already sent the president a letter warning him not to put pressure on Israel and a record number of congressmen and women from both parties, more than a tenth of the House show up in Jerusalem over their summer break to express their solidarity with Netanyahu.

You already anticipated that when on February 21st you wrote, “Obama has not yet passed a real test on any issue. It is already clear that there is a marked difference between what he promised in the election campaign and what he is doing in practice. In several matters he is continuing the policies of George Bush with slight alterations. That was, of course, to be expected. But Obama has not yet shown how he would act under real pressure. When

Netanyahu mobilizes the full might of the pro-Israel lobby, will Obama surrender, like all preceding presidents? ”

When Obama bends on this issue as he has become adept in doing on all the others, will you then be ready to support the boycott or will you still be asking the world to continue deferring to Jewish sensibilities and become, in practice, an apologist for the status quo? Believe me, your ads in Ha’aretz and your weekly demonstrations protesting the occupation do not speak nearly as loudly as do your words in this essay.

Jeff Blankfort


Related article:
“Tutu’s prayer” by Uri Avnery, 29 August 2009

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