Today in Israel, we met with representatives from two Palestinian advocacy groups. The irony of a Birthright Israel bus behind us as we drove from our tour of Lydd to Jaffa was not lost on us. We are on two very different tours.
Jaffa Youth Movement
With our IFPB group, we took a guided walking tour of Jaffa, a port city in Israel next to Tel Aviv. The city is 5,000 years old and before the Nakba in 1948 was the second largest city in Palestine. It’s a beautiful city on the Mediterranean Sea. Not all is so beautiful about it though. Arabs cannot buy new homes in Jaffa (as only Jews can). Arabs are thought to bring the price of the property down, so contractors will not sell new construction to them. They can only buy homes secondhand.
While in Jaffa, we met with Abed from the Jaffa Youth Movement. He talked about the difficulties of life under occupation for youth and the goals of the Jaffa Youth Movement. Three main goals were to have Palestinian youth learn Arabic (many don’t know it there as they are only taught Hebrew), promote Arab women’s rights, and to take part in political activities.
Boycott from Within
Our next meeting in Jaffa was with Kobi Snitz from Boycott from Within, a collective inspired by the struggle of South Africans against apartheid to apply the same type of pressure to stop the oppression of Palestinians. They believe measures such as boycott, divestment, and sanctions are necessary steps to pressure the Israeli government to stop the occupation and to follow international law.
Kobi provided some eye-opening insights for understanding how the BDS movement is reported and perceived in Israel. He indicated that Israelis were more likely to learn about the boycott movement in the entertainment section of the newspapers, when a performer cancels a show there.
He told our group that, “If it’s a real threat, there is going to be a backlash.” He noted that the backlash will be against Palestinians (more violence towards them because it’s easier) and political policing on the Israeli managerial class, having a chilling effect on the boycotts. He believed that BDS was the biggest strategic threat against Israel and that the army and secret service were monitoring those activities. This is called delegitimization of Israel. Kobi pointed out that “The left Zionist group will brag about opposing boycotts” and that the Israeli government believes that their “only hope to slow down BDS is to use the left.”
Kobi noted recently that a large U.S. progressive company with business in Israel met with anti-occupation activists and the Israel Foreign Ministry to learn more about the issues and that Foreign Ministry’s arguments against BDS made an even better case for boycotting than the BDS supporters! He stated the Foreign Ministry only major argument was, “Muslims and Arabs are dangerous and God gave us this land.”
Other activities of Boycott from Within focus on writing letters to artists and people outside of Israel to boycott the country. Kobi reported that they first write personal letters to the artists (and some make excuses for canceling their concerts/appearances vs. directly stating that they are boycotting). If that doesn’t receive a response, they write a public letter to the artist encouraging them to boycott. Sometimes people picket their concerts on their way to Israel. He emphasized, “There is no artist that comes here that doesn’t feel the boycott.”
Kobi also told us about Who Profits, Israeli activists who research Israeli companies who profit from the occupation. Ultimately, he said they call for a general boycott of Israeli products as the entire Israeli economy profits from the occupation. He noted that everyone in Israel believes the economy is hurting because of the boycott.
Another threatening tactic used by the Israeli government to suppress dissent is a website created for students to report their teachers who say anything considered to be anti-Israel, delegitimization, and/or insulting the honor of the army and soldiers. The left on campus has been pretty much decimated. Academics, even with tenure, are pushed out for speaking out about the government. The sense that there is no real academic freedom is disturbing to say the least and something that is intolerable in many academic institutions in the Western world. But again, we are told the lie that Israel is the “only democracy in the Middle East.” The veil is coming down and more and more are realizing this to be untrue.