Where I work, you are confronted with demands that you boycott Israel very frequently. This is the most recent contribution to an ongoing attempt to vilify Israel, on a toilet door.
By what measure is Israel “the most barbaric occupation of our time”? Is Israel conducting an occupation? Yes. Why? It’s complicated. Partly because it tells itself it is doing a bad thing to avoid a worse thing. Partly because it estimates it has less to lose by occupying Palestinians and blighting their freedom than it has by not doing so with the threat from Hamas, Hesbollah, Islamic Jihad, Al Asqa Martyrs, and Hizb ut Tahrir whose stated aim is to obliterate Israel and – this is important – eradicate Jews from the region. Partly because its ridiculously pure proportional representation system enslaves it to its expansionists (and who else but Israel is responsible for its own political system?) Partly because it lacks the creativity to find a way out of the cul-de-sac of laying responsibility for ending the violence on the parties who are wedded to violence. Partly because some politically influential Palestinians are so quick to use or threaten violence as a way of grabbing and keeping political power. Partly because, in Abbas, Israel has failed to recognise and work with the most moderate Palestinian political leadership to date. Is the occupation barbaric? No, although it is often violent and it is intrinsically racist. The most famous claims to barbarism – the massacre at Jenin and the death of Mohammed al Dura – were fabricated (they were blood libels). Barbarism to me looks like this lynching. Israel doesn’t do anything like this (and I don’t think Palestinians are either systematically or intrinsically barbaric either).
A pro-boycott attitude is an excellent predictor of profound ignorance about the Israel-Palestine conflict, and I feel very confident that there is more to this conflict than any boycotter understands.
From what I can gather, the Israel boycott isn’t spreading. Because most people can’t see how it will help Palestinians, only people who think Israel it detestable are joining it. In order for boycotting to grow, boycotters have to make as many people as possible hate Israel. And that’s how they work.
Compare with Burma, a regime which relies on forced labour, denies its people any democratic power whatsoever, fails to protect them after an earthquake, and suppresses all political dissent with terrifying violence. A targetted campaign to get Cotton Traders to stop sourcing clothes from Burma works in days. The reason for this is that, if we want to get into league tables, it’s hard to think of a state that treats its people with more contempt than Burma. Unlike Israel, there’s a good case for boycotting Burma: the reinstatement of democracy is entirely in the power of the regime. You don’t have to hate anybody to boycott Burma – you just have to be satisfied that the boycott will work to lever political power.