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.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.