Following Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu’s AIPAC speech earlier this month where he announced that “we shall boycott the boycotters”, journalist and author Michel Warschawski spoke to The Real News’ Lia Tarachansky about the Israeli government’s approach to the growing boycott movement. The campaign’s growth from civil actions of individuals to major European banks and corporations signals a change of tide, he says, and its timing, at the end of the self-appointed deadline of the US-mediated talks between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority, has the Israelis nervous. The Real News also spoke to attorney Sawsan Zaher of Adalah about the government’s approach to those at home who support the boycott.
LIA TARACHANSKY, PRODUCER: Following 11 trips to Israel-Palestine, this month U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry summoned the two sides to Washington. On March 3, the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, met with Kerry and President Obama.
BARACK OBAMA, U.S. PRESIDENT: I think that Prime Minister Netanyahu has approached these negotiations with a level of seriousness and commitment that reflects his leadership. It is still possible to create two states, a Jewish state of Israel and a state of Palestine.
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Israel has been doing its part, and I regret to say that the Palestinians haven’t. Now, I know this flies in the face of conventional wisdom, but it’s true.
DESVARIEUX: This Tuesday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also met with the American leadership.
OBAMA: President Abbas, he has been somebody who has consistently renounced violence, has consistently sought a diplomatic and peaceful solution.
MAHMOUD ABBAS, WEST BANK PRESIDENT (VIA TRANSLATOR): Mr. President, we have an agreement with Israel that was brokered by Mr. Kerry concerning the release of the fourth batch of prisoners, and we are hopeful that the fourth batch would be released by 29 March….
DESVARIEUX: The meeting was the latest in the American efforts through Kerry to reach a framework agreement regarding the ongoing negotiations. They’re due to expire in April. While he’s likely to extend the deadline, many are beginning to take his efforts seriously, despite 20 years of failure in the so-called peace process.
Michel Warschawski is an Israeli author, journalist, and longtime activist, and a frequent commentator on The Real News Network.
MICHEL WARSCHAWSKI, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): To go back and forth eleven times, it’s for nothing. At least that’s what I’m starting to say to myself. In the past, the Americans wanted something, the Israelis said no, and they answered, okay, never mind. And this isn’t what he’s doing now. He’s got patience. He set a deadline. He’ll probably extend the deadline.
But if we are at a turning point, it’s a very meaningful one. It’s not just to get to whatever agreement.
INTERVIEWER (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Oh, yeah?
WARSCHAWSKI: It means they’ve decided–and I still need to see proof of this–to apply pressure on Israel. If when Kerry came here he means business, and he says, okay, propose what you want but this is the framework and now we’re moving forward, if that is indeed true, then the year or two ahead of us, we’re going to see a conflict, a tension with the U.S., the likes of which we haven’t seen in a long, long time, if ever.
TARACHANSKY: Kerry has not been alone in visiting the Middle East. This month, German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Jerusalem and signed a deal with Israel that tightened the two nations’ diplomatic ties. German embassies will now help represent Israeli tourists abroad, and Israelis wishing to live in Germany for extended periods of time will be allowed to work.
Last week, the British prime minister, David Cameron, also visited Israel on a two-day tour, delivering a speech before the Israeli parliament.
DAVID CAMERON, U.K. PRIME MINISTER: [… with me you have a British Prime Minister] whose belief in Israel is unbreakable and whose commitment to Israel’s security will always be rock solid.
TARACHANSKY: While emphasizing his nation’s support for Israel, Cameron helped bring the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement back to the headlines when he declared the British government would never support it.
CAMERON: I’ve also underlined to Prime Minister Netanyahu what we oppose, and that is opposing–and we’ll continue to oppose–boycotts of Israel. Young Israelis will not be persuaded to support peace by seeing their own dreams for a successful future taken away from them.
NETANYAHU: It will help strengthen all the bonds that we have between us, which are economic, technological, cultural, political, and in the fields of security and defense. In all these things, we know that you are leading Britain to a friendship with Israel that is valuable for both our peoples, but also valuable, I think, for the security and prosperity of the peoples of the Middle East.
TARACHANSKY: The boycott movement, or BDS for short, has seen accelerating successes in recent months, with European companies pulling out of bids in Israel and contracts for products produced by Israeli companies in the occupied Palestinian territories being canceled.
INTERVIEWER: How do you explain the fact that the boycott’s in the headlines every day now?
WARSCHAWSKI: The boycott is in the headlines because we’ve advanced now to a phase–much faster than I thought. Until now we’ve seen a boycott as a civil action, as in just individuals and a few professional organizations. And now we’re in a phase where large corporations are also participating in a boycott, whether it is the Dutch water company or banks in Holland and Denmark.
INTERVIEWER: The latest ones are three European companies that removed themselves from the bid for the ports.
WARSCHAWSKI: Yes, now there’s the business with the ports, which means we’re no longer just at a phase which is … important … as a symbol, as a statement, but … whose effect on the decision-makers in Israel was small. Okay, so they don’t like us, but now we’re in the phase of business.
TARACHANSKY: The Israeli government’s response has been to attack anyone who supports the boycott. Speaking at AIPAC earlier this month, Netanyahu said:
NETANYAHU: One movement that’s definitely on the wrong side of the moral divide is the movement to boycott Israel, the so-called BDS. That movement will fail. The fact that they’re going to fail doesn’t mean that the BDS movement shouldn’t be vigorously opposed. They should be opposed because they’re bad for peace and because BDS is just plain wrong. Those who wear the BDS label should be treated exactly as we treat any anti-Semite or bigot. They should be exposed and condemned. The boycotters should be boycotted.
WARSCHAWSKI: This shows that Israel, that the government’s policy and the way it decided to rule, transmits that we couldn’t care less about the rest of the world. And that attitude never works. So while we were talking about activists in the U.S. and Europe, okay, don’t care. But what they refuse to see is that we’re now past that phase.
TARACHANSKY: At home, the strategy has been to attack as well. The Israeli parliament passed a law in 2011 penalizing any Israeli citizen who supports the boycott with enormous financial penalties, allowing anyone who feels injured by the boycott to sue without having to prove damages.
Sawsan Zaher is a lawyer with Adalah, the legal office that filed a Supreme Court appeal against the law. The final hearing was held on Sunday, February 16, where the state argued economic damages to settlers and others as a result of the boycott are a matter of national security.
SAWSAN ZAHER, ATTORNEY, ADALAH LEGAL CENTER: The mere fact that you have such a law already creates a chilling effect on the freedom of expression of many people. [snip] what the state and actually came and claim that they have the right to defend or to restrict the freedom of expression because of the economic damage. They should know that some damage might–some economic damage, at least, we’re talking, might happen. And this economic damage might happen as a result of people that are calling for boycotting Israel because the occupation is continuing. We’re not talking about a law that–or we’re not talking about calls for boycott, whether local or international, that are only aiming Israel only because it’s Israel. We’re not talking about such an instance. We’re talking about intensified calls for boycott, locally and international, against Israel because of the occupation and because of the discrimination, the institutionalized discrimination that Israel is undertaking and adopting since 1948 against the Palestinians that are citizens of Israel.
WARSCHAWSKI: Israel is having a hard time understanding that the world is changing. The American [empire] is declining, which is in fact an Israeli decline. There are new powers in the region who don’t have the same history and connections or strategic interests that the U.S. has towards Israel. What does China care about in Israel? It’s the size of one of their cities. There’s no oil here. On the other hand, the Arab and the larger Muslim world, that is meaningful. And it’s a world that’s changing. And Israel’s refusing to see that. The Arab Spring is not some revolution that happened and it’s over. It’s a complete, fundamental change whose results we’ll see only in 20 years. And there will be ups and d owns, but it’s not the same Arab world. The Americans understand this. Israel is totally refusing to understand this.
TARACHANSKY: For The Real News, I’m Lia Tarachansky in Jerusalem.
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