Monday, July 11, was a historic day for the movement to abolish the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. The right-wing dominated Israeli Knesset gave the campaign to boycott the Israeli occupation a Good Housekeeping seal of approval – a hechsher, if you will – by passing legislation to punish it.
Of course, the effect of this legislation will be to rejuvenate the Israeli peace movement (“Israeli Left launches public campaign against new law banning boycotts,” Haaretz reports) and promote the boycott. It is a sign of the political bankruptcy of the Israeli Right that it is now condemned to take actions which promote the agenda of its opponents.
This month, the right-wing Israeli government shone a spotlight on its illegal blockade of Gaza when it made giving free publicity to the Gaza Freedom Flotilla the top Israeli government priority. Every day, it seemed, there was a new Israeli government statement calling attention to the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, more outrageous than the last: 67-year-old Alice Walker was going to pour sacks of sulfur on Israeli soldiers and light them on fire; journalists who reported on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla were going to be banned from Israel for ten years.
Fresh from that propaganda “victory,” the Israeli government then decided to devote its resources to publicizing its illegal collective punishment against Palestinians in the West Bank. A few hundred peace activists gave the Israeli government an opportunity to do so by announcing their intention to fly to Israel to participate in solidarity actions with Palestinians in the West Bank. Again, rather than ignoring a few hundred peace activists, the right-wing Israeli government devoted its resources to promoting their agenda, by pulling out the stops to block the activists from traveling to the West Bank.
“Israeli commentators and some politicians have described the Israeli preparations as excessive and bordering on hysterical,” The New York Times reported.
The Palestinian hosts decried the Israeli measures, but also chalked up a small victory. Fadi Kattan, a Palestinian organizer, said at a news conference in Bethlehem that he was “pleased – sadly pleased” that the episode had exposed what he described as Israel's draconian anti-Palestinian policies.
And now this. The Parliament of “the only democracy in the Middle East” has passed legislation to punish Israeli Jews who call for a boycott of the illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. “The bill would affect boycotts like the artists' boycott of the cultural center of Ariel,” Haaretz noted, prior to the bill's passage, referring to an Israeli artists' campaign that drew international support.
Will this stop the boycott movement? It will surely promote it, by making it more sexy. Banned by the Israeli Knesset! Government attempts to ban ideas usually backfire. In 1930, Bertrand Russell wrote:
Every boy is interested in trains. Suppose we told him that an interest in trains is wicked; suppose we kept his eyes bandaged whenever he was in a train or on a railway station; suppose we never allowed the word “train” to be mentioned in his presence and preserved an impenetrable mystery as to the means by which he is transported from one place to another. The result would not be that he would cease to be interested in trains; on the contrary, he would become more interested than ever …
“The boss organizes the workers,” labor activists like to say. The Israeli government is doing a fantastic job of organizing resistance against the occupation. Mazl tov! Keep up the good work!