Op-Ed: Boycotting Israeli companies is anti-Israel

Palestinians and Jews work at a SodaStream factory on Feb. 2, 2014 in the Mishor Adumim industrial park in the West Bank. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Palestinians and Jews work at a SodaStream factory on Feb. 2, 2014 in the Mishor Adumim industrial park in the West Bank. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

NEW YORK (JTA) — The hostile intentions of the international boycott, divestment and sanctions movement toward Israel are clear. But some believe it is possible to be pro-Israel while supporting just a little BDS — boycotting Israeli businesses located on the West Bank but not those within pre-1967 Israel.

While such a strategy may make people feel good about themselves, it is a distinction without a difference — like being just a little pregnant. More important, by adding to the boycott pressure, it will make resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute harder to achieve.

The issue has attracted international attention because actress Scarlett Johansson, the telegenic public face of SodaStream, refused to bow to pressure from the BDS establishment and sever ties with the West Bank-headquartered Israeli soda company. Its main factory is in Maale Adumim, a community very likely to be allotted to Israel in any potential peace agreement.

SodaStream’s owner disclaims any political motivation and says he would gladly keep the place going under Palestinian rule, and the Palestinian workers tell reporters they are treated well and make three and four times the average salary in the region. But no matter — Oxfam, the well-regarded organization dedicated to fighting poverty around the world, strongly criticized Johansson for her SodaStream connection, leading the award-winning actress to end her role as an international Oxfam “ambassador.”

Oxfam and like-minded groups — some of them Jewish — sincerely but naively believe that boycotting only across the Green Line enables them to issue a moral protest against Israeli settlement policy without being against Israel itself. Some consider their boycott as being in the best interests of the Jewish state. Unfortunately, they seem unaware of whom they are getting into bed with or the consequences of the association.

The BDS movement was founded in 2005 to delegitimize and ultimately destroy the State of Israel by falsely charging it with racism and apartheid, and orchestrating an international economic and cultural boycott against it. BDS finds its model in the campaign that managed to bring down white-supremacist South Africa, where apartheid was real enough.

The official Palestinian call for BDS states that the movement’s goals are ending Israeli “occupation and colonization of all Arab lands” — a formulation that tellingly leaves open the possibility that it refers not just to the West Bank but to pre-1967 Israel as well — and “promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees” (including their descendants now numbering in the millions) “to return to their homes and properties.” If carried out, this agenda would mean not just the end of the Jewish state but also an unimaginable bloodbath.

The BDS double standard never lets the facts get in the way of the cause. When the head of the American Studies Association explained the organization’s decision to boycott only Israel’s universities even though other countries have far worse human rights records, he said: “You have to start somewhere.” But why does “somewhere” have to be Israel, unless the aim of BDS is not to protect human rights but to specifically target the Jewish state?

U.S. Secretary of State Kerry has for some time been engaged in difficult negotiations to get Israel and the Palestinians to agree on a framework for a two-state solution that would see Jewish and Palestinian states living side-by-side in peace. In poll after poll, some two-thirds of Israelis say they favor a pullback from parts of the West Bank and land swaps for those parts that become part of Israel if that would produce an agreement, so long as their security interests are safeguarded and the so-called Palestinian “right of return” does not bring the demise of the Jewish state.

These concerns are exactly what Kerry is now trying to get the Palestinian side to address. On three previous occasions — in 2000 at Camp David, in 2001 at Taba and in 2008 when Ehud Olmert was prime minister of Israel — similar negotiations came very close to success, only to have the Palestinian side walk away from the table.

According to recent reports from Ramallah, the Palestinian leadership, buoyed by the rising BDS tide, is sorely tempted to back out of a deal yet again. An end-run around the negotiation track and an appeal to the United Nations for recognition as a state — and to the international courts in The Hague to put Israel in the dock — would eliminate the need for the Palestinians to make any concessions at all. They would have all their work done for them by the international community, leaving Israel isolated.

That is exactly the kind of international isolation that the BDS movement has advocated from the start — the worldwide demonization of Israel as the new South Africa. And those morally fastidious boycotters of SodaStream and other West Bank companies who consider their version of BDS to be pro-Israel will realize too late that they have been used.

(Lawrence Grossman is the American Jewish Committee’s director of publications.)

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