Sunday, July 12, 2009

Naomi Klein and the Boycott Movement

Naomi Klein and the Boycott Movement : supporting the Palestinian BDS Call from Within (Israel) : exposing the Israeli Occupation Industry, a project of Coalition of Women for Peace (Israel) : Palestinian Global Call for BDS : Naomi Klein press conference in Bil'in

Naomi Klein's recently completed visit to Israel had a galvanizing effect on the "boycott from within" movement here (, which has endorsed the Palestinian call for BDS ( Her public meetings, in Ramallah, East Jerusalem, Haifa, and Jaffa drew hundreds of people to hear her clear-eyed analysis of why it is time for a full boycott of Israel until the occupation ends, Arab Palestinian citizens of Israel have full and equal rights, and the right of return for Palestinian refugees is fully realized under international law.

I attended her events in Ramallah and Jaffa, where hundreds of people gathered, largely supportive, to participate in a conversation that felt historic. Klein spoke clearly as a Jewish activist, though she acknowledged that that was a new role for her. In Ramallah, apparently near tears, she told us, "I come to you with humility that I didn't heed the call sooner. It was purely because of cowardice."

This admission was complex and powerful, because it juxtaposed the clarity and simplicity of her reasons for supporting BDS with an acknowledgement that supporting boycott, perhaps especially for Jews and Israelis, requires a psychological leap out of our comfort zones.

Her presentation of why BDS is right, now, was remarkable in that she consciously presented it as a positive, movement-building tool to build a joint future with Palestinians, rather than simply a method to punish Israelis. She was insistent that the boycott was not about boycotting Israelis as individuals, but was actually an opportunity for increased communication and public education. She used the example of her own unconventional book tour in Israel and Palestine as an example of how to follow the BDS call with integrity while still interacting with and educating Israelis. She avoided ideological buzz words (such as "Zionism" or "anti-Zionism") that could have been polarizing and yet emphasized the need to call things what they are (ie "apartheid" not just "human rights abuses.")

She spoke clearly about BDS as a tool of non-violent solidarity, comparing not complying with the BDS call with crossing an invisible picket line. She noted that one reason to heed the call is because it has been called by so wide a swath of Palestinian civil society and that only boycott can make the occupation visible inside the Israeli "bubble." Compared to the boycott of the Palestinian economy which includes the siege of Gaza and the choking system of checkpoints and other forms of control in the West Bank, boycott of Israel is a light punishment indeed. She quoted a Gazan who told her, "what Israelis call a crisis we'd love to have."

She firmly rejected the idea that to boycott is anti-semitic, further noting that the BDS movement needs to be particularly vigilant in standing against anti-semitism, while being prepared to call out the use of anti-semitism as a way of silencing dissent. In this role, Jews worldwide, and Israeli Jews in particular, have a key role to play.

Finally, in Jaffa particularly, there was some discussion of the mechanics of boycott, especially from within. Yael Lerer, Klein's Israeli publisher, suggested that lessons could be learned from Palestinian Israelis who have learned through experience about how to navigate living their lives without endorsing Israeli institutions. We are all learning as we go about what boycott means in practice, and that its implementation is a tactic, not an end in itself.

As Naomi Klein noted simply in response to a questioner, "It's hard. But I still agree with it."

--Rebecca Vilkomerson

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Racheli Gai
Rela Mazali
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Lincoln Z. Shlensky
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1 comment:

Jesse Fox said...

Here's what she said in Jaffa: