The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Ilan Pappe on boycotting Israel

There have been some interesting debates recently on whether the university boycott of Israel would be productive or not. Although I am generally in favor of boycotting Israel on the same grounds as I would have supported boycotting South Africa during Apartheid, an intellectual boycott poses more complicated problems than merely not buying Israeli wine or technology. Ilan Pappe, noted Israeli scholar from the university of Haifa, has an article in the Guardian urging both types:

I appeal to you today to be part of a historical movement and moment that may bring an end to more than a century of colonisation, occupation and dispossession of Palestinians. I appeal to you as an Israeli Jew, who for years wished, and looked, for other ways to bring an end to the evil perpetrated against the Palestinians in the occupied territories, inside Israel and in the refugee camps. I devoted all my adult life, with others, creating a substantial peace movement inside Israel, in which, so we hoped, academia will play a leading role. But after 37 years of endless brutal and callous oppression of the people of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and after 57 years of colonisation and dispossession of the Palestinians as a whole, I think this hope is unrealistic and other means have to be looked at to end a conflict that endangers peace in the world at large.

I'm not convinced about the inherent value of this type of intellectual boycott -- university professors are the type of opinion-makers one might want to engage rather than isolate. But I applaud his call for a more general trade boycott of Israel. This brings me to the debate over normalization in the Arab world, in which some Arabs and most Westerners (and particularly American opinion-makers like Thomas Friedman) have slammed the knee-jerk anti-normalization stance of the Arab left (the story of playwright Ali Salem in Egypt is a notable example.) In a democratic Egypt, for example, would widespread anti-normalization feelings trump the advantages of staying on the good side of Washington and incentives like QIZ agreement signed in December? To take it to another level, should a democratic government cancel the Camp David agreement -- wildly unpopular when it was signed -- at the risk of losing aid and a facing military attack? Or is this anti-normalization stance completely exaggerated by the intellectual class, which we might deduce from last December's protests by Ismailiya textile workers when they learned the QIZ agreement would not apply to them? Anti-normalization would be a great platform for a populist politician in an open political contest.

To put it in another way: what impact a boycott of Israel, which at most only has the chance of being a consumer issue rather than a government one in most countries, have on the actual policies and politics of Arab states than have engaged Israel like Egypt and Jordan?