I’ve been called many things over the years for daring to speak out for Palestinian rights and for supporting the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement to promote a truly democratic Israel/Palestine. But this week I was able to add something new to the list of insults.
I am officially, thanks to the North West Friends of Israel Twitter account, a “Champagne Boycotter”.
Do Palwin make champagne? I need to check.
— WritingFromTheEdge (@RobertCohen2) January 31, 2019
A “Champagne Boycotter”, as the Tweet suggests, is a variation on the “Champagne Socialist” – a political insult aimed at the comfortable British upper middle class who want to pretend they care about ‘the masses’ while themselves living the high-life.
The ‘crime’ I’ve committed to attract the insult, was to suggest that supporters of the BDS campaign for Palestinian rights do not need to stop using their laptops, mobile phones and tablets despite the likelihood that some of the technology contained in our devices may have originated in Israel.
If you EVER needed an example of the rank hypocrisy of BDS supporters this is it.
REALLY "Do as I say, NOT as I do!" https://t.co/aaDgSFcvyl
— NW Friends of Israel (@NorthWestFOI) January 30, 2019
In some respects, I found this line of attack quite refreshing. After all, being called a hypocrite isn’t as bad as being called antisemitic which is the usual blunt instrument employed to attack Palestinian solidarity.
But having said that, the antisemitism accusation is never far away. North West Friends of Israel describes themselves as “a grassroots org that exists to advocate for #Israel in North West UK . Our aims are also to fight & expose antisemitism & BDS.” So there’s little doubt that “antisemitism & BDS” are considered interchangeable. @NorthWestFOI has nearly 6,500 followers so it didn’t take long for some of them to pile in with more hypocrisy accusations.
So is my pragmatic approach to boycotting nothing more than “rank hypocrisy”, “pick & mix” “Do as I say NOT as I do”? Or is the real hypocrisy to be found elsewhere in this debate?
Global tech giant
Technology does create an issue for the BDS movement. The last few days of business news from Israel tell you why.
On 28th January the US tech giant Intel Corp announced it was investing $11bn into Israel. The investment will bring another 1,000 Intel jobs to Israel in addition to the 13,000 Israelis already employed by Intel in the country.
If you have a laptop or tablet or smartphone there’s a fair chance it contains Intel technology somewhere in its functionality since the company supplies Apple, Lenovo, HP and Dell. The development of that technology may well have originated from Israeli research and innovation.
A day before the Intel announcement, The Times of Israel reported that one of Intel’s major competitors, the South Korean based Samsung, is to acquire the Tel Aviv based phone camera start-up Corephotonics for $155 million.
Meanwhile, Microsoft has one of its three strategic global research and development centres in Israel and employees around a 1,000 staff there.
There’s no question that Israel punches well above its weight as a centre of scientific innovation. The country has no shortage of talented tech-savvy entrepreneurs.
Some of this technological skill set is a spin off from Israel’s arms and security industry. Israel is one of the largest exporters of arms and surveillance equipment in the world. Many of Israel’s tech entrepreneurs are ‘graduates’ of the Unit 8200 – Israel’s equivalent of Britain’s GCHQ or America’s NSA.
We shouldn’t be surprised that technological innovation first developed to maintain the occupation of Palestinian land and the on-going subjugation of the Palestinian people finds its way into consumer products all over the world.
We live in an interconnected global economy in which a single product will contain components supplied, developed and manufactured from many countries. Life has become more complicated since the 1970s and 80s when we could simply choose not to buy Cape oranges to show our support for black South Africans.
So where does this lead the BDS movement?
Do we really have to unplug and throw away every piece of communications technology we own in order to be pure in our ethics? Can we no longer research via Google and share via Facebook words or images designed to support the BDS campaign for Palestinian rights?
A tactic not a religion
The point I tried to make on Twitter, but which failed to convince my adversaries, was that boycotting is a tactic, not a religion. It’s movement, not an ideology. Solidarity does not mean self-denial or creating personal inconvenience. It needs to be smart and strategic. It needs to be comfortable with inconsistency. Otherwise it will fail.
A further misunderstanding (often deliberately pedalled by its opponents) is that BDS is driven by a visceral hatred for all things Israel/Jewish. But it’s not about creating hatred, it’s about calling for change.
So, you apply a boycott where you think it will have value. Sometimes that’s about economic pressure. Sometimes it’s about simply growing awareness and solidarity. There’s no point in setting yourself up for failure or denying yourself the very means by which you can run any kind of campaign on an international scale. What help would that be to the cause of Palestinian freedom?
Here’s the pragmatic response regarding Intel from the BDS movement website FAQs
“Intel, the US chip manufacturer, has invested billions in the Israeli economy, making it deeply complicit in funding Israeli impunity. However, Intel is not currently a worldwide BDS target because of its near monopoly status in its sector, making a consumer boycott of the company hard to succeed at present.”
The advice goes on to say:
“We must remain strategic and think of sustained, long-term impact on Israel’s regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid.”
“The fact that Israel exports useful technological and medical products doesn’t mean it should escape accountability for its grave human rights violations.”
The medical point is sensible too. In the 1980s I don’t think anyone expected supporters of the Anti-Apartheid movement to boycott heart transplant surgery just because it was developed by Christiaan Barnard, a white South African cardiac surgeon working in Cape Town.
So it makes sense to build a boycott campaign around this year’s Eurovision song contest due to take place in Tel Aviv in May because it will get media attention and raise the debate and understanding to a whole new audience about what’s happening every day in Israel/Palestine.
It makes sense for Amnesty International to call out the big digital tourism giants Airbnb, Booking.com, Expedia and TripAdvisor, for listing holiday properties in Settlements on the West Bank which are illegal under international law because it’s an issue that consumers can understand and where a choice is possible.
A narrower and more focused campaign relating to technology can make sense too. For example, the call to boycott or disinvest in HP (Hewlett-Packard). HP profits from the Occupation in many ways including its provision of the automated biometric access control system employed at Israel’s checkpoints across the West bank which prevent freedom of movement for Palestinians.
The demand from pro-Israel advocates for boycott consistency has little to do with a belief in the need for ethical purity in all matters. Rather, it’s another attempt at deflection.
Much easier to talk about “hypocrisy” from BDS supporters than have to defend home demolitions on the West Bank caused by Israel’s separate and unequal jurisdiction in the Occupied Territories. 82 homes were destroyed in 2018 alone.
Much easier to keep insisting that Israel is a liberal democracy and Jerusalem is the undivided capital of the Jewish people than discuss why 330,000 Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem will not get to vote in Israel’s General Election in April.
Much easier to talk-up the threat of Iran’s nuclear weapons programme than acknowledge that Israel has been in possession of nuclear weapons for decades but still denies it.
These are the real examples of hypocrisy which advocates for Israel should be concerned about.
North West Friends of Israel tried one last time to convince me of my double-standards.
That sounds like Zionism!
— WritingFromTheEdge (@RobertCohen2) January 30, 2019
My thanks to Intel, Microsoft, Apple, Google, Twitter and Facebook for making possible this blog post in support of equal rights for Palestinians.