In light of the SU’s decision to endorse the BDS campaign, Sam Glover asks whether the global boycott movement is the best route to progress
On Friday 16th, the University of Manchester Students’ Union voted to endorse BDS, the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign. After the vote, the Union said they would be calling for the University to “fully divest from all the companies associated with Israel’s war crimes.” However, the official, global, BDS movement calls for a boycott of Israel in the same vein as the one imposed on South Africa during the apartheid era. This type of boycott would not only apply to Israeli companies complicit in settlements in Palestine, but also to any company based in Israel. This stinks of antisemitism. Critics of the Israeli government, rather than the people of Israel, ought to oppose BDS and its offshoots. I offer three reasons for this.
1) Boycotting imports of all Israeli products will only serve to bolster the narrative of the Israeli government.
What is the purpose of the boycott? Presumably, it is to make progress towards removing Israeli settlements from the West Bank and to work towards justice in the region. But a major part of Israel’s narrative is that the country and its people are despised the world over and that everyone is against them. This is justified to some extent. The terrorist group Hamas, which Israel is fighting in Palestine, state in their covenant, “our struggle against the Jews is very great and very serious.”
The BDS boycott is also reminiscent of campaigns in Nazi Germany that encouraged people to stop buying goods from Jews. A boycott applied to the whole of Israel, rather than to only companies that are involved in the horrors of the Israel-Palestine conflict, underlines in red Israeli claims that countries in the West and people on the left are antisemitic and out to get them. BDS will strengthen such claims; it will do very little to stop anything worth stopping.
2) If we boycott Israel, we will find ourselves with little justification for not boycotting everyone else.
The state of Israel isn’t the only state that carries out atrocities. Are we also to boycott the many central African countries for practicing female genital mutilation? How about boycotting the United States for the horrors of Guantanamo? Are we going to stop importing stuff from Japan because of their terrible human rights abuses of prisoners? If we organised a boycott of every country that did terrible things, we wouldn’t buy goods from anyone. It would even be impossibly difficult to justify the purchase of British goods. Boycotting countries in whole rather than companies that do terrible things is a great way to end up starving yourself to death because you can’t find a food-producing country that hasn’t done something terrible.
3) The Israeli people, rather than the Israeli government, would lose the most from a boycott.
Who is responsible for the settlements in the West Bank? It certainly is not the average Israeli citizen. Most people in Israel are doing very little to support the current Israeli government. Likud, the party of government, only have thirty of the one hundred and twenty seats in the Knesset, the legislative branch of the Israeli government. And these are the people who will suffer from a boycott of all Israeli companies, not the government or soldiers. I doubt the wealthy bosses of Israeli companies will suffer tremendously — they can pass costs on to labourers and consumers. The boycott would harm people that have nothing to do with the actions of the state and Israel. It only serves to undermine British efforts to combat antisemitism.
Antisemitism in Britain is at crisis point. Jewish people are more likely to be the victim of a hate crime than any other minority group. Hate crimes against Jews are on the rise. Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition, has called Hamas a group for “peace and social justice”, despite their explicit contempt for Jewish people, as documented in their covenant. A boycott of Israeli companies with no relation to the Palestinian conflict sends one message: we don’t care what you’ve done, we just care that you’re Israeli.