Geopolitics

BDS And Me: Time To Spread Boycott Of Israel Far And Wide

Protester holding a Palestinian flag to his chest
Protester holding a Palestinian flag to his chest
Mohamed Seif El Nasr

-Essay-

CAIRO — As someone who fully supports the Palestinian cause, it is challenging to write an article about boycotting Israel for fear of being dragged into the particulars of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. In a world that is very much manipulated by biased media, it is hard to resist the urge to first rebut Israel's nonsensical arguments and list its daily brutalities, beginning with its right to exist as a state. Zionism is, after all, a colonial movement, as per the affirmation of the founder of political Zionism, Theodor Herzl, himself.

The legitimacy of Palestinian resistance by all means, including armed struggle, is legally guaranteed by several United Nations Resolutions, but that is not the focus of this article. My arguments are directed at those who have no doubts that the Israeli occupation is illegal and immoral, but question whether the Arab popular boycott is useful for the Palestinian cause.

There are generally two ways to approach the issue of boycotting Israel: One is the method of being drawn into the much larger subject of the historic Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and the other is to assess the situation in occupied Palestine exactly as it is today. For most Arabs, it is almost unavoidable to adhere to the first approach and regard the conflict in an inclusive way. This is usually aggravated by the fact that our attitudes in the Arab world toward Israel are usually associated with a political identity. And the problem with embedding our attitudes toward Israel in our political identities is that this is a complex process that can be painful, given that political identities are usually multifaceted.

In most Arab countries, opposition to Israel is still entrenched in the ideologies of the left, and this has been the case since the 1950s. Support for Palestine is mingled with ideologies like Pan-Arabism. The Muslim Brotherhood — and Islamists in general — generally view the liberation of Palestine as a religious duty at its core, and most do not differentiate between this and the ultimate aim of reviving a caliphate. Those who still support Egypt and Jordan's peace treaties with Israel often consider a balanced approach to be more apt and generally blame both Palestinians and Israelis for the "continued violence," while adhering to a "my-country-first" approach, along with an entrenched hatred for both Islamists and leftists.

For years, the relative stability of Arab states under various regimes has shielded these groups from one another, but when a vacuum of political power was created following the Arab uprisings, they inevitably clashed. Supporters of Palestine with leftist backgrounds found the Islamist position of claiming to support Palestine while attempting to revive a caliphate incompatible with their principles and had to unite with a larger secular camp, even if it included those who do not care about Palestine. Islamists largely considered the position of the left to be a betrayal of the 2011 revolutions and a step back into the arms of the secular dictatorships overthrown by it. The third group, originally the more lenient towards Israel, eventually thrived with the "my-country-first" approach.

The Supreme Court of Israel has endorsed the criminal conduct of the Israeli military.

Never failing to associate Hamas with the Islamist camp in general, the third group used the panic created by the rise of the Islamic State to echo the Israeli and Western rhetoric that Islamist insurgency, not Israel, is now the largest existential threat to the Arab world. Furthermore, they highlighted how the left, for some reason now represented by the Syrian government, which always boasted of its hostility towards Israel, has killed many more people in the Syrian Civil War than Israel has in decades. The group ended their argument by claiming that hostility towards Israel is inherited from leftist dictators who historically misused the Palestinian cause as a national rally to justify internal oppression. Within all this historical hostility between these various political identities, most people have forgotten that support for Palestine should emanate not from our political or sectarian identity, but from our humanity and ethics, and they have ceased to analyze the situation in occupied Palestine as it is today.

The situation today is that Israel is governed by one of the most extremist and militarized regimes in its history, and continues, unabated, in its illegal land grabs in Palestine. The situation today is that Prime Minister Netanyahu has vowed never to remove any "settlements," and that the Israeli ruling party has voted to formally annex the West Bank. The situation today is that Israel continues to imprison more than two million people in Gaza, living in catastrophic conditions, with the United Nations recently noting that their situation is further deteriorating. The situation today is that Israel still massacres Palestinians when they protest unarmed with indisputable evidence that Israeli military snipers are intentionally targeting unarmed civilians and cheering after killing them.

Boycott poster in Jerusalem — Photo: Saeed Qaq/APA Images/ZUMA

The situation today is that the Supreme Court of Israel has endorsed the criminal conduct of the Israeli military by unanimously refusing to declare as unlawful any regulations that allow Israeli soldiers to open fire at unarmed Palestinians. The situation today is that the death toll of Palestinians in the recent Great March of Return protests has surpassed one hundred, with over 12,000 wounded, most of them condemned to lifelong injuries, as opposed to one Israeli soldier, who was "slightly wounded." The situation today is that some people consider it to be wrong, or even damaging, to defend Palestine on a purely humanitarian or ethical basis and to fail to condemn the atrocities of Arab leftist regimes or Islamists. The situation today is that all humans with a conscience, regardless of their political or sectarian identity, should condemn Israel and exercise whatever is in their power to support Palestinians.

Now that this is established, let us move to the essential question of whether boycotting Israel is actually an effective tool to end, or at least restrain, Israeli aggression. It should be understood that it is in the nature of humans that they rarely tend to make compromises unless it is in their own interests, and that it is in the nature of states that they almost never make compromises without being forced. In 2005, following the Second Intifada, polls indicated that almost 60% of Israeli Jews were willing to support withdrawal from the West Bank as part of a peace agreement, while in 2017, only 36% were willing to do so. This is highly indicative of the fact that, with the end of large scale armed resistance, the Israeli public has lost its incentive to offer any land compromises and that the aggressive, uncompromising policies adopted by the current Israeli Cabinet are a representation of widespread public opinion in Israel. It is accordingly logical to assume that, without anything compelling Israelis to reconsider the situation, they will continue electing and supporting the right-wing governments that have improved their security, even at the cost of inhumanly treating Palestinians.

To consider the above within the context of examining the argument for popular boycott in the Arab world, it is important to note that recent polls in Israel indicate that normalization with the Arab world is the single incentive Israelis view as being most conducive to peace. As for the claims that it is almost hypocritical for Arab individuals to boycott Israel while their states are increasing normalization, it should be noted that Netanyahu recently stated that the greatest obstacle to "peace" with Palestinians today is not the leaders of Arab states, but "public opinion on the Arab street." This proves that, even if Arab states are collaborating, popular boycott and public opinion in the Arab world matter, and, while they will not perhaps deter Israel from its crimes, they are at least acting as a restraining force against Israel's final "peace," which, according to various indicators, consists of leaving Palestinians with nothing.

International boycott movements ... could compel them to elect a less extremist cabinet.

Finally, while it is unrealistic to think that Arab popular boycott alone might end Israeli occupation, it is reasonable to hope that an international boycott could. In recent years, global public opinion has swayed in favor of Palestinians, leading to nearly three-quarters of Israeli Jews feeling that the "whole world is against them." The increasing successes of the international boycott movements, if coupled with a solid Arab popular boycott in the future, should definitely create more incentives for Israelis to pursue peace, and could compel them to elect a less extremist cabinet. It is therefore my belief that Arab individuals who choose to normalize with Israel are not only removing the last "most conducive" incentive for Israelis to seriously pursue peace, but should consider themselves as directly liable for the continued suffering of Palestinians.

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A check operation in Indian-administered Kashmir, following a spate of targeted attacks on the region's Hindu minority

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Здраво!*

Welcome to Friday, where Joe Biden vows to protect Taiwan from China, Alec Baldwin accidentally kills a cinematographer, and can you guess what day it is TODAY? We also have a report from a researcher in San Diego, USA on the sociological dark side of food trucks.

[*Zdravo - Macedonian]

💡  SPOTLIGHT

Iran-Saudi Arabia rivalry may be set to ease, or get much worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before, writes Persian-language media Kayhan-London:

The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.

Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

Kayhan-London

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Biden vows to defend Taiwan: U.S. President Joe Biden said the United States would come to Taiwan's defense if it were attacked and had a commitment to defend the island nation that China claims as its own. The White House clarified for the second time in three months that U.S. policy on the subject has not changed, and declined further comment when asked if Biden had misspoken.

• Call on China to respect Uyghurs: A statement from 43 countries denounced China's human rights record at the United Nations over the reported torture and repression of the mostly Muslim Uyghurs, as well as the existence of "re-education camps" in Xinjiang. The declaration calls on Beijing to allow independent observers immediate access. In response, Cuba issued a rival statement shortly afterwards on behalf of 62 other countries claiming "disinformation".

• Alec Baldwin fires prop gun, kills cinematographer: U.S. actor Alec Baldwin fatally shot cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and injured director Joel Souza after discharging a prop gun on the set of his new movie, near Santa Fe. The accident is being investigated.

• Berlusconi acquitted: Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was acquitted of judicial corruption charges. The 85-year-old media mogul had been accused of seeking to bribe guests present at his infamous "Bunga Bunga" parties to lie about the evenings as part of an underage prostitution case.

• COVID health workers death toll: A new WHO working report estimates that between 80,000 and 180,000 health and care workers may have died from COVID-19 between January 2020 and May 2021. The same report also noted that fewer than 1 in 10 healthcare workers were fully vaccinated in Africa, compared with 9 in 10 in high-income countries, and less than 5% of Africa's population have been vaccinated.

• Seven killed in Russian gunpowder factory blast: An explosion at the Elastik gunpowder and chemicals plant southeast of Moscow killed at least seven people, while nine are still missing.

• Aye aye, CAP'n: HAPPY CAPS LOCK DAY, FOLKS!

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

Dutch daily De Volkskrant pays tribute to "sound master" and renowned classical conductor Bernard Haitink, who died at 92. Born in Amsterdam, Haitink made more than 450 records and led some of the world's top orchestras in the span of his 65-year career.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

The food truck, a sign that the white and wealthy are moving in

In San Diego, California, researcher Pascale Joassart-Marcelli tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun. In The Conversation she writes:

🥡 In 2016 in City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice). Just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors — who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets — now face heightened harassment.

🤑 Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation. Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure. It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies.

🏙️ My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44. When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

€6.65 million

The remains of "Big John," the world's largest triceratops skeleton ever found, were sold at auction for a European record price of 6.65 millions euros in Paris to a private anonymous collector from the U.S. The 200 pieces of the skeleton were unearthed in 2014 in South Dakota and reassembled by specialists in Italy.

👮🎮  IN OTHER NEWS

Police bust Mexican drug gang recruiting boys via online video games

Police in Mexico have intervened to rescue three minors, aged 11 to 14, from recruitment into a drug gang that had enticed them through online gaming.

A top Mexican police agency official Ricardo Mejía Berdeja, said the gang had contacted the youths in the south-central city of Oaxaca, chatting through a free-to-download game called Free Fire, which involves shooting at rivals with virtual firearms.

Calling himself "Rafael," another player of the same age, the suspected gang member offered one of the youths work "checking radio frequencies and watching out for police presence" in Monterrey, northern Mexico, reported national daily El Heraldo de México. The pay was unusually good — 8,000 pesos (almost $400) every two weeks — and the youth called two friends who also wanted to get in.

The three boys were set to take the bait, but an anonymous Mexican intelligence agent following the exchange while also posing as youth playing Free Fire, ultimately led police to a safe house in Santa Lucía del Camino, outside Oaxaca.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"I just want to make China understand that we are not going to step back."

— U.S. President Joe Biden vowed to defend Taiwan if it came under attack from China, an assertion that seems to move away from the U.S. stated policy of "strategic ambiguity." His administration is now facing calls to clarify this stance on the island.

📸  PHOTO DU JOUR

Paramilitary soldiers are conducting a check operation in Indian-administered Kashmir, following a spate of targeted attacks on the region's Hindu minority that have left at least 33 dead since early October. The region, claimed in full by both India and Pakistan, has been the site of a bloody armed rebellion against India since the 1990s — Photo: Adil Abbas/ZUMA

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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