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Israeli Diplomats in South Africa (1964) on Boycott: Shades of BDS!

israeli diplomatic memo on sanctions

1964 Israeli diplomatic memo on the efficacy of the sanctions movement against South Africa

Thanks to Yigal Arens for posting this amazing portion of an Israeli diplomatic memo from its South African legation in Capetown.  It was written in 1964 at the early stages of the sanctions movement there:

Boycott activities: although threats of economic boycott don’t have a great impact on public opinion [in South Africa], and this is thanks, in no small measure to South Africa’s successful propaganda, nevertheless boycott protests of the sort organized in Aberdeen [Scotland, I presume] or those in Amsterdam and Stockholm, each of which had a very grassroots character, contribute in creating anxiety within the white public.  South Africa has succeeded in giving the Whites a sense of security in regard to its economic stability.  But the public believes, with some measure of justification, it would be impossible to impose a full economic boycott because of the potential of South Africa [to withstand it] or because of the interests of those nations trading with it.

However the type of boycott whose actual value [ability to tangibly damage the economy] may be small, but whose propaganda and psychological value is great, is what greatly influences public opinion [here].  This is the path on which [boycotters] must continue, in addition to all the other means that are available by which to force South Africa to diverge from its racist polices.

As I’ve written in a recent post, the Israeli liberal Zionist intelligentsia is extremely uncomfortable with BDS for precisely the reasons outlined above.  That’s why you are reading so much “noise” criticizing the movement.  One of the main issues raised is that BDS is insignificant because it has no tangible impact on the Israeli economy.  These opponents seem to believe that BDS’ goal is to be the sole tool in toppling the Occupation.  But BDS doesn’t have to do that.  There are a whole range of tactics and tools that together will bring this about.

And just wait till the Kerry talks fail.  Then you’ll see all of this go into an even higher gear.  Even if the talks don’t immediately fail and proceed to whatever the next stage is supposed to be, Israel will be hounded by BDS until a final deal is struck.

Here’s another historic example of right-wing naysaying about the sanctions fight against apartheid South Africa.  This NY Times op-ed was written by a conservative African-American economist, Walter E. Williams in 1983:

While the majority of black South African leaders are against disinvestment and boycotts, there are tiny factions that support disinvestment -namely terrorist groups such as the African National Congress.

That’s why you’ll find Israeli journalists who will interview Palestinians who tell them they like the jobs Israelis offer them and that they shouldn’t support BDS.  Seen from their own personal pocket-book, this sentiment makes perfect sense.  But it shouldn’t be a primary factor in judging BDS.

Here’s another common theme of the BDS naysayers:

South African problems defy simplistic solutions put forward by supporters of disinvestment and boycott…

Black rule is no guarantee that the mass of South African blacks will be freer and have a higher standard of living…

If the South African Government would give its black countrymen freedom tomorrow, it would take well over 100 years before there would be meaningful equality.

…It is South Africa’s economic growth that is breaking the back of apartheid. Rapid economic growth makes racial discrimination costly. As such, this is the tragedy of the disinvestment movement. A growing, robust economy tends to reduce racial hostility and awareness;

It’s ever so complicated.  And these radical leftists with their black and white solutions just mean trouble.  We’ve got to sit back and take time to digest the situation and come up with ways to help that don’t hurt Black South Africans but encourage whites to move toward ameliorating their condition.  Forget mass action, just let economics do the trick.  We who believe in capitalism know that it will inevitably better the lot of poor blacks without the violent upheaval that the anti-apartheid movement represents.  Gradualism works.  Extremism fails.

Yes, we’ve heard this tune before.  It failed then and it will  fail now.  It’s something like the message Scarlett Johansson offered in her fullsome defense of Sodastream.  She said the company was working to “build bridges” between Israeli and Palestinians communities.  Doing so through the 1,000 jobs it provides in its settlement plant to Palestinians and Israeli Palestinians.  But political problems and power imbalances aren’t solved through economic development.  They’re solved (if they’re solved) through protest, pressure and ultimately negotiation.

H/t Rania Khalek.

The latest development is that a major Danish financial institution, Danske Bank, has banned Bank Hapoalim from its investment portfolio.  Two other Israeli construction companies owned by conflict diamond magnate, Lev Leviev, which build settlements, are also on the blacklist.

{ 7 comments… add one }
  • Oui February 4, 2014, 2:46 AM

    Case Studies in Sanctions and Terrorism

    (Aug. 2, 1963) – US ambassador to UN, Adlai E. Stevenson, speaking in opposition to mandatory arms embargo: “The application of sanctions in this situation is not likely to bring about the practical result that we seek…. Punitive measures would only provoke intransigence and harden the existing situation…” Nevertheless, US pledges to terminate all new sales of military equipment by end of 1963.

    “The Unspoken Alliance” : Ties Between Israel and Apartheid South Africa

  • Peter Belmont February 4, 2014, 7:05 AM

    If BDS and other mechanisms should succeed in chasing Israel off, would that solve all the problems of the Palestinians?

    I think it is probably correct that ending the occupation (really ending it: not like the embargo of Gaza after Sharon’s famous pull-out) would not solve all of Palestinians’ problems. It would not solve the problem of the PRoR to Israel, would not magically create a viable economy, would not produce democracy or a crop of decent, capable, knowledgeable, non-corrupt leaders. Israel would continue to steal water, the new petroleum reserves would require to be shared (but wouldn’t be), all the garbage-toxics-sewage-and-military-wastes dumped by Israel and Israelis in WB&G would not immediately be cleaned up, and there’d still (without a peace treaty) be no highway from G to WB.

    So what? So the BDS-ateers should quit? No way!

    People want a shot at self-determination and to lift the oppressive yoke of occupation. They should have it.

    And it is equally necessary for Israel to learn that [1] it must end its immoral illusory omnipotency — wrapped in immunity and impunity and [2] it can live as an ordinary nation rather than as a raging carnivore, red of tooth and claw, unsatisfied unless destroying the lives of a subject people. “We were slaves in Egypt” seems to have been learned as the obverse lesson: “We must hold slaves in Palestine”.

    Perhaps one thing that must happen is a rabbinic revamping whereby ancient teachings — which I know nothing of but the little Israel Shahak illuminated, and whatever the dreadful military and settler rabbis have revealed — ancient teachings will be forever annulled, revoked, renounced, etc., so that Israelis can live with their neighbors as equals and not as conquerors.

    • Nicodemus February 8, 2014, 6:17 PM

      The Gaza Withdrawal was a con. Sharon split the Palestinians into two enclaves for the conquering. When they democratically elected Hamas, he and W. Bush used this as a pretext to put Gaza under siege. They then propped up Abu Mazen, a man who is inclined to opt for the two-state solution, a life-line for the Greater Israel ultimate goal, or otherwise a “manageable”.

      Today, the West Bank looks like dots on the map. It is virtually non-existent save for its demographic hostages who we know exist undoubtedly. Gaza is still under siege.

      Sharon’s plan, as was very characteristic of him, was never to create peace, but provide corridor for the end of Palestine once and for all. And we all know the “Greater Israel” fanaticism goes beyond the confines of Palestine. In fact, that is why the Israeli lobby swarms congressional halls to urge America to illegally balkanize Syria.

      Therefore, Palestine has already been destroyed. The only residual territories left are meaningless. The Palestinians have lost their voice. All that remains is for the annexation of the settled lands, which they are happily engaging in already.

      However, under conditions of regional peace, the Likudists will meet their destined demographic expiry. The reason they want to create global chaos (so overtly) is that they require the necessary “fog of war” for the next stage of their plan, applying a “final solution” to their Palestinian question.

      It does no favors to anyone when these facts are painted as something else. Regional and global peace for another 5-6 years is all it will take to end the Zionist project once and for all, which has never been a secular democracy, not under any notion of the term, nor was it meant to be originally.

  • ToivoS February 4, 2014, 5:58 PM

    Richard, good analysis of BDS. However it would be overly optimistic to think that BDS will really begin it bite in just a few years. After all it took 27 years for it to work against S. Africa. Even 1 year prior apartheid’s capitulation, we could see articles in right wing press claiming how ineffective the boycotts were. Having said that it amazing how fast BDS against Israel is moving.

    The final nail in coffin of S. African apartheid was when the boycott began to affect the international market in S. African bonds. The bankers then decided game over. It is interesting to note that Israeli businesses are beginning to show concern. Businesses in France pressuring De Gaulle is what preceded the French retreat in Algeria. So maybe we will not have to wait for a couple of more decades to see Israel come to its senses. Perhaps Israel can learn from the history of S. Africa and France and try to take a pro-active stand rather then being forced to its knees.

    • lysias February 7, 2014, 3:42 PM

      Apartheid South Africa lasted as long as the Cold War did. When the Cold War ended, the Western powers no longer had a powerful reason to want to prop it up.

      The boycott may have played a necessary role in destroying apartheid South Africa’s legitimacy, so that, when the Western powers no longer had good reason to support it (secretly), it fell pretty quickly. But it was the end of the Cold War that accelerated events.

  • Oui February 5, 2014, 4:30 AM

    I broke out of my orthodox cocoon March 13, 2010

    Jake Wallis Simons grew up within a strict Jewish community, his life governed by religious doctrine. But once he left school, he joined the outside world and has never looked back

    Author of Telegraph article: The darker side of Oxfam.

    Following the opinion of ‘Professor Gerald Steinberg’ [NGO Monitor]. Right!

    Last December Mr. Simons wrote another ‘well researched’ article about Breaking the Silence, which really is an anti-settlement foreign funded NGO to end the occupation. “Why are European powers (and Oxfam) funding a radical Israeli group?” Most revealing, a reporter with Orthodox Jewish roots and ‘never looked back’ …

  • Oui February 5, 2014, 9:11 AM

    Update: New York anti-Boycott Bill in Trouble

    NYSUT, others oppose don’t-boycott-Israel bills

    The Assembly’s version of legislation aimed to prevent academic boycotts such as the one launched against Israel in December by the American Studies Association is scheduled to be taken up in committee on Monday [update: the bill was pulled from consideration by the committee], just days after the state Senate passed a similar measure sponsored by Sen. Jeff Klein.

    The ASA’s action is intended as a protest against Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in the occupied territories. While almost entirely symbolic, it’s seen by Israel’s supporters as a dangerous precedent for other academic or business groups.

    The Assembly bill and its Senate sibling are receiving pushback from entities that are usually in lockstep behind Speaker Sheldon Silver, the sponsor of his chamber’s version — including the powerful New York State United Teachers union, which in a memo of opposition states that the bill would “serve to regulate speech based on content and the message it conveys.”

    Here’s the memo of opposition from NYSUT …

    And here’s the letter of opposition from two progressive groups, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the state chapter of the National Lawyers Guild.

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