Boycott from Within - Building a Movement
By Tali Shapiro at Jul 07, 2009
On Saturday, I had the great pleasure of attending, what in my view, could be regarded as a historical meeting. It was the first official meeting of Boycott from Within (site still under construction), and though I have little experience with organizing, it seemed highly productive to me, and I came out feeling positive and exited.
The Complexities of a Boycott
We met up in the Arab-Israeli Al-Midan Theatre, in Jaffa (the theatre is a deliberate, symbolic choice). The first part of the program was a lecture from Naomi Klein. The lecture was a great introduction to what we wanted to do that day. In many ways Klein is a leader in the BDS movement and I personally feel the need for outside guidance, as Israel is not exactly rich with culture and tradition of dissent.
Klein's insights on the situation helped many of us understand the history of the boycott tactic, and the complexity of its inner workings. Our (I'm still getting used to the collective "we") statement is a simple one:
"We endorse the Palestinian call as is..."
Yet I felt many in the room feared the consequences of a self-boycott, and didn't quite understand that it's not as rigid as they imagine.
Naomi Klein - Leadership by Example
As I said, I view Klein as a leader and guide, and from the comments in the room, it was obvious we needed her. Klein's Shock Doctrine tour in Israel was the first tour to be sponsored by BDS International, and it's been the source of confusion. Klein's actions have been very calculated- they, also, have been made with strict consultation with BDS International. For me, they've helped clear up, how exactly one should go about a boycott.
Klein chose to come to Israel, demonstrating that she "isn't boycotting Israelis, but boycotting Israel." She chose to work with Andalus,"a progressive publishing house... dedicated to the translation of Arabic literature and prose into Hebrew." Her tour consistent of destinations in the occupied territories and progressive destinations, in Israel proper. She decided to give all the proceeds from her book to Andalus, thus strengthening the dissenting Israeli voices.
Supporting Israeli Dissent
I'd like to expand on the last point. Many of us, from Boycott from Within, will inherently suffer the financial blow that will come with a successful boycott. So will Palestinians, that are dependent on the Israeli economy and commerce. That's why I make it a point to add the statement of "Buy Palestinian" next to my own personal call for a boycott, on my front page, here at Z. Just like we aim to support the Palestinians through these hard times, I don't see any reason to deny a professor like Neve Gordon, for example, the opportunity to lecture abroad about the occupation, or have Andalus translate and sell The Shock Doctrine within Israel proper and the Occupied Territories. In my view (and I'm sure this is debatable), people who work to distribute information and educate about the occupation, will need support to fight the war from within.
The insensitivity inherent in capitalism, is in fact the source of the problem and the solution. Right now, too many corporations are profiting from Palestinian blood, which becomes just another bi-product in the ideological Zionist endeavor. The truth is, however, that Zionist ideology means nothing to anybody (not even Zionists), unless it churns out a profit. Money makes the world go round; Stop money from rolling into Israel and you will get compliance and the crumbling of yet another murderous ideology.
Who are Boycott from Within?
Though I haven't confirmed this, it seems that Boycott from Within are basically constructed of two major groups, Anarchists Against the Wall and the Coalition of Women for Peace. There are other independents, such as myself, but the demographics, in the theatre, were very obvious; Ashkenazi, well educated, English-speaking, with an unusually high percentage of gay men and women. Ages range between late 20's to late 80's, which I personally found encouraging- I wouldn't want to think that the fight for human rights can be marginalized as a "student revolt".
What does all this data mean? Right now, we are a core of "extreme" Israeli Left. The Anarchists (typically young men), who dare to travel across the "green line" and the Feminists (typically older women) that dare to question the need for civil militarism. Fluent English is evidence of their education. The fact that we were a landslide Ashkenazi majority is evidence of the social apartheid within Israel, that still subtly separates black and white Jews.
Who isn't Boycott from Within?
As the debates were unfolding, it was interesting to see the process of alienation some participants went through, as they realized they don't want to join this initiative. Though I can only speak for myself, I'm pretty sure the signed members will welcome anyone who wishes to join.
The first to leave was a psuedo-left-wing Zionist, that somehow stumbled into the Almidan theatre, on the wrong day. He got knocked out in the first round, in the short Q&A that was held after Kleins lecture. Typically, he didn't ask a question, but loudly lectured Klein on her "historical inaccuracies" and told her she only blames Israel and the usual Zionist drivel. When he later interrupted her answer to someone else's question, he was hissed down by the rest of us. Typically again, he chose to demonstratively and conspicuously walk out of the room. And typically of a Zionist, again, he stopped at the bar for a cup of coffee, before drinking it and walking out.
The second type of people that probably will not be joining us in a boycott from within, seem to be basically confused about the issues and generally uninformed. Strange questions were raised, like "how am I suppose to boycott Israeli products?"
Conclusions of the First Boycott from Within Meeting
Since the question did arise, I guess it's a good time to address the aims of the movement. Obviously we can't boycott ourselves- that would be suicide. What we are doing (other than standing in solidarity with Palestinians) is asking the world to help us from ourselves, on one hand, but also showing the world that there are Israelis who are asking for the boycott. We see it as a tool to creating a better future for ourselves, one that includes all the inhabitants of Palestine.
The Second conclusion is more global. It's very important to create a positive BDS movement. As Klein put it, at the meeting; A boycott is a negative action, thus we must conduct ourselves in a positive manner, embodying anti-racism and inclusiveness.
Though the Boycott from Within statement is that of passive support for the Palestinian call, the past few days have revealed to me, a more active entity. My inbox is full of information from the mailing list. Calls for action, letter writing, and information about the spreading of the boycott. Also, at the meeting there was some talk about spreading the word within Israel. Although that's not a goal I'd personally aim my efforts at, it's a good, proactive thought and as such, very welcome in my opinion.
There's plenty of work to do, as the group has yet to completely solidify its goals and statements, but I truly felt good energy at the meeting. The obvious hard core are capable and determined people and there was mutual respect between "leaders" and "group". Though there was a stage/audience dynamic, it was very much an open debate; People spoke, asked questions, expressed concerns... It almost felt like a democracy.