A commenter at the end of this piece asked if I’d ever participated in a boycott. And someone responding to this one talked about an experience he had making a personal boycott choice in reaction to the BDS phenomenon.
Regarding the first question, looking back I don’t think that I ever have practiced or participated in any boycott of any kind. Previous to when I got into the fight against BDS, it actually never occurred to me to make boycotting part of my political life. But once I saw how the boycott weapon was being misused as a bludgeon to attack Israel, it definitely became a personal decision to avoid using that weapon myself, despite many understandable requests to do so in hope of taking the fight to Israel’s foes.
Alan, who left a story about his decision to boycott Arab shops in Jerusalem as a statement against BDS targeted at Israel, has made a different choice. And while he and I (or he and anyone else) are free to agree or disagree with that decision, it must be pointed out that his choice was personal and thus profoundly different than the choices BDS is asking others to make.
Alan has chosen to deprive himself of the goods he might have bought at the prices he might have received. He has also chosen to announce clearly that he made the economic decision that he did for political reasons. And, finally, he must be willing to accept the consequences for the choice he’s made. Those consequences might be good (word getting out that boycotts go both ways) or bad (increased hostility between Israeli Arabs and Jews). They can also be internal (from feelings of satisfaction to discomfort regarding the targets he chose for his boycott action). But they are consequences that he is prepared to bear.
Contrast that with the BDS “movement” that is all about getting other people to choose divestment and (although rarely mentioned by divestment advocates) bear the consequences.
Think about it. If Hampshire’s Students for Justice in Palestine sent out a press release saying that their members were divestment from Israel, that announcement would, at best, lead to a blog entry asking what they were divestment beyond their allowances. But if they can claim that Hampshire College itself is divesting, well now that’s news. Which is why they’ve worked so hard to make it happen and, failing to succeed, they have worked even harder to get others to join them in pretending that it did.
In terms of consequences, BDS leaves that to others as well. If their activity rubs ethnic and religious tension on US campuses raw, or puts UK unions in legal jeopardy, what do they care? All they want is the “brand” of one of these well-known organizations associated with their squalid little political program. And if Berkeley is turned into a war zone or a union gets sued over the position the boycotters forced into an institution’s mouth, it’s the institution (not the BDSers) who have to deal with the wreckage divestment has caused.
Considering the pose the divestment cru routinely strikes with regard to its supposed courage and boldness, just once I’d like to see them put anything of their own on the line. I recall a film where a father blasted some young people for playing at Third World radicalism with the statement “poverty is fine when you’ve got a return-trip ticket.” But if I were to craft a similar message for BDS it would be “boycotting is easy, so long as it’s other people doing it and other people paying the price.”