Why oppose a boycott of Israel?
Boycotts hurt both Palestinian and Israeli societies
The Palestinian economy is linked to the Israeli economy. The economy of the West Bank grew 60% in 2008, in large part because Israel’s economy was also growing – Israel is the major export market for the Palestinians. Any boycott that harms Israel also harms the Palestinians, possibly more than it hurts Israel. This is all the more true for the interplay between Israeli and Palestinian civil societies; excluding Israeli universities and cultural projects has a knock-on effect on Palestinian culture and academia.
Boycotts target the Israeli People, not the Israeli Government
The Israeli government is not the same thing as Israeli civil society. Many people opposed the War in Iraq, but a global campaign not to buy Cheddar Cheese and to ban British football clubs from the Champions League would target British civil society, not the British government. Similarly, a campaign to boycott Israeli goods and academic and cultural life targets the people of Israel, not the Israeli government.
Boycotts weaken the forces of moderation
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be solved when moderate leaders on both sides can agree on a two-state solution. Boycotts pull Israelis and Palestinians apart, strengthen extremists and weaken moderates. The boycott campaign even targets joint Israeli-Palestinian peace projects like OneVoice, claiming all examples of Israelis and Palestinians working together should be boycotted. The best way of achieving peace is to try and bring moderates on both sides back to the negotiating table, not by imposing a unilateral boycott on one side.
Boycotts won’t actually achieve anything
Most people can see that academic and cultural boycotts are discriminatory and so they are deeply unpopular. When it comes to goods, Israel’s major exports to Britain are embedded computer chips and generic medicines. Nobody is seriously suggesting that these be boycotted, because it would be impossible. Instead the focus is on low-value fruit and vegetables, which form a tiny part of Israel’s exports. This is gesture-politics which is not supposed to actually help achieve peace.
Boycott calls can provoke violence and antisemitism
Despite all of the points made above, there is unlikely to ever be a widespread boycott of Israel. However, because the call to boycott and exclude Israel and its supporters is so close to the traditional antisemitic exclusion and boycott of Jews, some people are responding to calls for boycotts by engaging in violence against shops and businesses believed to be linked to Israelis or Jews. These have often harmed people here in Britain. For example, in response to call to boycott, four Starbucks shops were attacked in London in early 2009, allegedly because their Chief Executive is Jewish. Similarly, the proposed academic boycott of Israel has hurt mainly British Jewish academics, who have been harassed for working with their Israeli colleagues.