Magazine article New Internationalist

Is Boycotting Israel the Right Way to Fight for Palestinian Rights?

Magazine article New Internationalist

Is Boycotting Israel the Right Way to Fight for Palestinian Rights?

Article excerpt

Two prominent professors and authors, ILLAN PAPPE and and Norman Fink ELstein , go head to head.


Ilan Papp é is Director of the European Centre for Palestine studies at the University of Exeter. Author of 15 books, the most recent of which is The Idea of Israel: A History of power and knowledge.


In recent years, the Israeli political system has shifted to the Right, and with this have come harsher policies: ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from the West Bank, genocide in Gaza and apartheid inside Israel. Without an international reaction, Palestine and the Palestinians will soon disappear.

The Palestinians have tried armed struggle, which failed to liberate even one square inch of the land. They then put their faith in a diplomatic process that was meant to end the occupation of the 1967 areas [claimed by Israel after the Six-Day War]. The peace charade was based on the misconception that there is a significant voice within Jewish Israel that is willing to limit Zionist racism to 80 per cent of Palestine, and leave alone the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The 'peace process' allowed Israel to deepen the Judaization of the West Bank to a point of no return. At the same time, international immunity has enabled Israel to expand the apartheid system against the Palestinians inside Israel and to ghettoize Gaza. Israel has become a worse regime than Apartheid South Africa ever was.

It has to be stopped, and quickly. The same methods used against Apartheid South Africa and other rogue states are being called for. The most effective way is to send a message to the cultural and academic élites who are still received warmly in the Western world as representatives of the only enlightened state in the Middle East.

In reality, they represent a rogue regime whose moral legitimization should be questioned. They should be targeted first, and the targeting is already bearing fruit. For the first time, we hear voices of significant dissent from within these communities in Israel. It should be followed by divestment and sanctions, which have finally begun to appear - the only international activity that seems to deter the Israeli government.

The nonviolent method of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS), when expanded and adopted as an official strategy by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Hamas (and we are close to this tipping moment in time), will offer a horizon and an alternative to a desperate armed struggle that leads nowhere.


The BDS movement is said to be anchored squarely in international law. The platform consists of three planks: an end to Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza; equality of rights for Palestinian Israelis; and recognition of the Palestinian refugees' right of return. It repeatedly points to international law as the fount of this political agenda.

The core right, from which the three-fold agenda derives, is said to be the Palestinian right to self-determination. However, BDS takes no official position on the Israeli state. Its justification for this lacuna is that it 'adopts a rights-based, not a solution-based approach'.

Under international law, however, Israelis also have rights, including the reciprocal right to self-determination and statehood. This right has been ratified by the very same bodies to which BDS gestures in support of its 'rightsbased approach'.

BDS also invokes the 'UN-sanctioned rights' of Palestinians: true, the UN has sanctioned the Palestinian right to selfdetermination and statehood, but only alongside Israel, not in lieu of it. Thus, the General Assembly's annual resolution, the 'Peaceful Settlement of the Palestine Question', invariably 'reaffirms its commitment, in accordance with international law, to the two-State solution of Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security, within recognized borders, based on the pre-1967 borders'.

It is hard to make out how a 'rights-based' movement anchored in international law can credibly claim 'no position' on the core right - based on one and the same international law -of the party with which it is in conflict. …

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