Commentary | Point / Counterpoint: An economic boycott of Israel?

Debate over the Middle East has filled these pages since the Israeli offensive in Gaza began over a month ago. Below, two students debate the roots and utility of an economic boycott of Israel.

Point: The world’s lacklustre response to a humanitarian crisis

Idil Issa

What happened recently in Gaza? Since this is well-tilled soil, I will deal with two pressing issues in its aftermath: the humanitarian response, or lack thereof, and an important talking point in the media post-Gaza offensive, the Hamas Charter.

The current thrust of European “diplomacy,” post-Gaza offensive, is focused on weapon smuggling to Hamas. While some weapons could have been leaked through the tunnels between Gaza and Egypt, the tunnels were primarily used to stave off the imminent starvation of a captive population – which has endured three years of international sanctions for exercising its democratic right to vote for Hamas – and to deliver basic supplies, such as oil.

A people must survive somehow, and they will find ways of doing so. Last year, the UN deemed the tunnels a “vital economic lifeline.” The mainstream media’s current attempts to reduce the tunnels to weapon conduits is at odds with the facts of the situation, and contributes to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Rather than applaud the bombing of the tunnels as a key plank in the reduction of Hamas’s retaliatory capacity, it should be acknowledged for what it was – the garroting of the people of Gaza, cutting off the last tiny air pocket in the depths of the sea of misery created and approved of by the international community.

Normally, the global community is expected to band together after the dust has settled to impartially tend to the wounded civilians, the homeless, and the hungry on both sides of any given conflict. But the BBC has just recently refused to air a Gaza humanitarian aid appeal because it fears compromising its impartiality. And France, led by Nicolas Sarkozy – the one-time European Union’s Prince Charming – has directed a French frigate into the waters off Gaza, not to deliver food aid, but to prevent weapon smuggling from Iran to Hamas.

Has anyone taken note of the death toll, which stands at approximately 1,300 Palestinians to 13 Israelis? Has anyone taken note that it is more logical to demand an end to U.S. shipments of arms to Israel, in violation of its own laws which prohibit the use of these weapons against civilians? Or the imminent starvation of the Gazans? Justice is so far removed from the international community’s response, it’s incredible that we remember what it looks like.

Second, the Hamas Charter. The argument is that Hamas is inherently a terrorist organization, given its Charter’s express goal of eliminating the State of Israel. Let us examine this Charter. “Israel will rise and will remain erect until Islam eliminates it as it had eliminated its predecessors.” Pretty dire material. But what about the Israeli constitution? A State for Jews – “Every Jew has the right to come to this country as an oleh.” The 1950 Law of Return states that dead people of Jewish heritage are granted the right to return, but livingPalestinian refugees are not – this is equally problematic.

And let’s not forget that Canada’s Constitution defines the Queen as the Head of State. People seem to be completely incapable of considering the diplomatic realities of the here-and-now, and are focused on Hamas’s Charter as though it were white phosphorus: burning to the touch, and solely responsible for placing Hamas into the category of terrorist organization. Unless people have been getting paper cuts on copies of Hamas’s Charter lately, it escapes me how this document has been harming Israel of late. It was Israel that broke the ceasefire which led to the tragic Gaza offensive. On November 4, 2008, Israel attacked Gaza and killed six Hamas fighters. This was reported widely, in the Guardian newspaper and even, albeit reluctantly, by CNN.

Hamas has extended the olive branch to Israel, and is willing to consider a two-state solution. And I am searching the horizon desperately for any glimpse of a strong Palestine, member-state of the United Nations, with a strong, happy, un-oppressed populace. Israel has made it its aim to prevent the establishment of Palestine, and has actually implemented this aim. Now who’s the terrorist? And finally, it seems a little rich to me that the incendiary language of an oppressed people is used to paint their movement as a movement of terrorists. As someone from Africa, during the liberation struggles of the sixties, very incendiary language was used against the oppressors. This isn’t the point. Stop the oppression. Then it may make more sense to expect polite conversation. But I am pragmatist at heart – I am in favour of a two-state solution, which will only be achieved by taking the wind out of the belligerence and oppression of the Israeli Government. That is why I am in favour of a boycott of Israel. Not Israeli people, or academics – I believe in free speech, and such a boycott would be unfair. But I am in favour of a blanket boycott of all Israeli goods and economic dealings. It is high time to force Israel back into the fold of international law, order, and justice, and even to welcome it back as a positive member of the world community alongside a hard-won new Palestine.

Idil Issa is a U3 Philosophy and Political Science student. He can be reached at idilissa@gmail.com.

Counterpoint: Five things to ignore before boycotting Israel

Mookie Kideckel

So you want to advocate for an economic boycott of Israel? I’m not going to try to convince you otherwise, but I would like to prepare you for the obstacles you’re bound to face. They will be nagging, but pay them no heed and they’ll often disappear. In particular, there are five things you must ignore, or you risk derailing your entire mission.

Ignore the fact that your proposal has no moral legitimacy. This one will be tough, but the results are worth it. Your adversaries may point out to you that, since one of the primary concerns of those in favour of a boycott has been the economic blockade of Gaza, it is hypocritical to advocate economically crippling Israel.

They may further insist that since you don’t advocate boycotts against states with more dire humanitarian situations, such as Sudan or Sri Lanka, you’re applying an unfair double standard to Israel’s actions. They may conclude that because of these things you do not have a leg to stand on. Just tell them they’re racist and read the wrong media, and that leg will grow back faster than Pinocchio’s nose.

Ignore the fact that this boycott is completely unnecessary. You don’t need to convince me that the only reason people defend Israel’s existence is because they’re brainwashed victims of the conspiracy between CNN, George Bush, and the Elders of Zion. But some people may not be totally sold on this.

They may dig into their propaganda archives and point out that Israel is not the only aggressor in the region – that since 1948 Israel has faced armed invasion, plane hijackings, suicide bombings, and rockets. They may methodically recite to you the dominant ideological message that Israel is not even solely responsible for the suffering of Palestinians – Jordan and Egypt have killed Palestinians, Hamas has used civilian facilities for military operations, and Fatah and Hamas killed over 100 people in their 2007 battle. Once they tell you that a boycott is therefore totally mis-targeting the incredibly complex origins of the Middle East conflict, turn up your satellite feed of Al-Aqsa TV really loud and drown them out.

Ignore the fact that even if there was a necessity, an economic boycott would fail to address it. We both know that the people directly responsible for making Israel’s primary exports – including jewelry, textiles, and electronic, communication, medical, and scientific equipment – are similarly responsible for setting Israeli government policy.

And by further impoverishing poor labourers and by pushing into new poverty white-collar workers, the only possible outcome is increased tolerance and amicability. When someone points out that this doesn’t make any sense, start reading Green Eggs and Ham loudly and ask them if they would not also rise up if they had to eat their green eggs and ham in a box.

Ignore the fact that even if a boycott did address the issue in theory, in practice it would not. For this step, just remember that South Africa is the only country that has ever existed. When naysayers point out how sanctions in Iraq failed to stop Saddam Hussein, or how sanctions against Cuba left Fidel Castro thriving and in fact just pushed him closer to the U.S.S.R., or how sanctions against North Korea have not stalled Kim Jong Il’s nuclear program, yell “But South Africa!” and walk away.

Ignore the negative consequences that could stem from a boycott. Remember, our society is not at all reliant on electronic communication devices, computers, or medical technology, and we don’t need to buy these things. When people remind you that the Stone Age sucked, just give them some popcorn, turn on The Flintstones, and walk your car home.

Once you master these five simple things, you’ll be well on your way to effective demagoguery. Soon you will be able to spread your message far and wide. Or, you know, you could not.

Mookie Kideckel is a U1 History student. Send pleasant ideological suggestions to mookie.kideckel@mail.mcgill.ca.


Comments posted on The McGill Daily's website must abide by our comments policy.
A change in our comments policy was enacted on January 23, 2017, closing the comments section of non-editorial posts. Find out more about this change here.