Hussein Ibish
Foreign Policy
July 12, 2011 - 12:00am

In the latest of a series of extraordinarily self-defeating moves, Israel's legislature, the Knesset, has just adopted the so-called "Boycott Bill," penalizing any call within Israel to boycott Israel or its settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. The new law allows for civil suits against boycott supporters, denies them state benefits, and prevents the Israeli government from doing business with them. For a society terrified of what it sees as an international campaign of "delegitimization," its own parliament could not have produced a more stunning blow to Israel's legitimacy by conflating Israel as such with the settlements and the occupation.

More... Of course this law could not have been otherwise, since virtually all effective BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) efforts in the West have been targeted against the occupation and the settlements, not against Israel. Some BDS activists would clearly like to extend this campaign to target Israel proper, but such efforts have met with extremely limited success in Western societies. On the other hand, efforts to express disapproval of Israel's illegitimate settlement activities and therefore also illegitimate goods produced in the settlements have been meeting with a modest but increasing degree of effectiveness.

The "Boycott Bill," therefore, was never really about Israel at all, but about protecting the settlements and the settlers from a growing international campaign to refuse to subsidize a project that is a dagger aimed at the heart of prospects for a viable peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as a blatant violation of international law. City councils and governments in Europe are increasingly distancing themselves from commercial activities connected to the occupation. Norway, for example, divested from Elbit Systems, a company that manufactures sensor devices for the West Bank separation barrier, and subsequently from Africa Israel Investments, which is heavily involved in settlement construction.

The campaign against Israeli settlements is real, but this new law will almost certainly backfire. By crudely conflating Israel -- which is almost universally regarded as a legitimate member state of the United Nations -- with its occupation and settlements in the West Bank -- which are almost universally regarded as illegitimate and indeed illegal, as well as a threat to peace -- the Knesset has yet again provided an official Israeli argument for those who would extend the boycott campaign to include all Israeli institutions and not just aspects of the occupation.

The Israeli government has done this numerous times in the past. For example, when Israel applied for OECD membership, the national economic statistics it presented included the entire settlement economy, but no statistics reflecting the Palestinian villages surrounding the settlements throughout the West Bank. What this suggests is an official Israeli perspective in which there is a virtual Israel that exists wherever a settler happens to be at any given moment, and an undefined, unresolved occupation everywhere else. This legally and politically untenable and indeed preposterous position is similarly reflected in the new "Boycott Bill."


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