In the eyes of the world, the question is what can be done when the relevant institutions do not succeed in enforcing international law?
(May 5, 2005)1
Despite the recent atrocities inflicted by Israelis on Palestinians and internationals, despite the deteriorating status of human rights experienced by Israeli citizens both Palestinian and non-Palestinian, despite the mounting despair of any chance for a change on the part of Israeli governments, Israel can no longer NOT look in the mirror the world is pushing up to its face. Israel is on the brink of change or collapse.
This choice will not be enforced at gunpoint or rocket-point; nor will it be triggered by world governments. Rather, it is the growing BDS movement, led by grassroots civilians inspired by the Palestinian civil society’s call for a comprehensive BDS against Israel (2005),2 that is enforcing this change-or-collapse choice on Israelis.
The BDS movement hit the bull’s eye3 It managed to undermine Israel’s international status – a change of mind that finally pierced Israelis’ bubble of indifference: “Israel’s legitimacy is being attacked” said Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a recent Knesset discussion on Israel’s collapsing international status;4 “Our legitimacy is fragile and only a real attempt to reach an agreement with the Palestinians will repair it” said Minister Fuad Ben Eliezer a few months earlier;5 Israel is distressed over the delegitimization “assault”, wrote Ari Shavit, a mainstream Israel journalist;6 Israel is facing “an existential threat”, alleged Dan Gillerman, Israel’s 13th Permanent Representative to the United Nations (Meet the press, Channel 2, June 12 2010); Israel is facing “a major strategic threat” warned the Reut Institute’s report7; business is infiltrated by hostility toward Israel in EU, reports Minister Ben Eliezer;8 The consequences of the academic boycott are tangible. To regain Israel’s legitimacy, Israel’s policies will have to be geared towards establishing real peace, said Prof. Itamar Rabinovich, former Israeli Ambassador to the United States and former Tel Aviv University President, during a symposium on “The Delegitimization of Israel as a Strategic Threat” at Tel Aviv University.9 “Israel’s feeling of isolation is becoming more pronounced” reads a headline in The Washington Post, which says it all.10 Indeed, it is the loss of legitimacy and positive self-image that will enforce Israel to reconsider its policies.
“Israel won’t change unless the status quo has a downside” argued Tony Karon, a senior editor at TIME.com.11 Five years ago, on July 9, 2005, the Palestinian civil society took a step towards affecting just such a change. It chose a non-violent way to help render the status quo costly and hence unsustainable. It did so by issuing a call on the citizens of the world to apply Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law and universal principles of human rights. The international community responded. And enthusiastically so: The BDS movement against Israel accumulated larger effects than anticipated. Whereas the Palestinian call for BDS planted the seeds, their fruits extended beyond boycott, divestment and sanctions. It seems like the Palestinian call allowed the citizens of the world to exert their power and exercise their right to demand justice for the oppressed.
Instances of this effect abound: Israel and the military have lost the fight over international public opinion; politicians and military officers will find it difficult if not impossible to convince The Hague, says Ron Ben Yishai, an Israeli journalist and a veteran war correspondent;12 Defense Minister Ehud Barak canceled a planned trip to a Paris arms show for fear of arrest involving the Gaza flotilla attack, given that “Palestinian activists in France had filed legal complaints against him over his involvement in the flotilla affair”;13 “Two Belgian lawyers, working on behalf of a group of Palestinians, plan to charge 14 Israeli politicians, including Ehud Olmert, Ehud Barak, Tzipi Livni and Matan Vilnai, for crimes against humanity and war crimes”;14 “33 Greek citizens who took part in the Gaza-bound flotilla that was stopped by the IDF last month are planning to sue senior Israeli officials, including Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and Navy chief Eliezer Merom, Army Radio reported on Wednesday. The Greek activists also plan to sue soldiers and police officers who participated in the IDF’s interception of the Turkish-flagged ship the Mavi Marmara, which resulted in the deaths of nine activists”.15
Indeed, Israeli politicians and military officers do not feel safe abroad. No wonder, Kahanists (!) are now organizing to provide security for Ambassador Michael Oren and other Israeli dignitaries at US public events, reports Efrat Porsher, Israel Hayom, (February 14 2010).16
But not just heads of state and officers are experiencing the loss of Israel’s legitimacy as a state among nations. Israeli citizens are now exposed to it on a daily basis. Probably more than anything else, it is the cultural boycott that has captured the minds of Israelis. No discourse about shows or no-shows can avoid mentioning “cancellation”. The dominant metaphor referring to the great number of cancellations is “deluge”. Its meaning indicates huge quantities in addition to total destruction: “After us, the cancellation” [which, in Hebrew, rhymes with After us, the Deluge]17; “a wave of cancellations”;18 “a deluge of cancellations”19. The reference to cancellations does not skip those who don’t cancel, who are referred to as those who haven’t canceled.
The effect spills over to Israeli artists as well: “While it may not be surprising that a number of international artists like the Pixies and Gorillaz Sound System cancelled their shows in Israel following the IDF raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla of ships last month, the aftermath has also affected Israeli artists.
In the last couple of days, concerts by the popular Idan Raichel Project have been cancelled in Turkey, the country which seems to be the angriest at us. Another show, by metal band Orphaned Land, which mixes Arabic and Jewish-musical and cultural themes in their music, was also axed from the upcoming Sonicsphere Festival, featuring Metallica, Megadeth and a slew of other leading hard rock bands… And, in the latest cancellation, famed entertainer Dana International had a concert in Ankara, Turkey cancelled, and has been booted from the annual Gay Pride parade concert in Madrid”.20
Thanks to the Palestinians, the world has now opened its eyes. And in the eyes of the world, Israel must change. And change it will.
Disclaimer: this article was written for the 5th anniversary commemorative magazine of the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC) to be published in July 2010. The online version of the magazine will be available at bdsmovement.net
Rachel Giora is a professor of Linguistics at Tel Aviv University and a member of BOYCOTT! Supporting the Palestinian BDS call from within
2 Palestinian United Call for BDS against Israel
3 See also Milestones in the history of the Israeli BDS movement: A brief chronology