Thursday, 19 March 2009

Compassionate action: boycotting Israel

What's the point of detached compassion? That is, the kind of compassion which feels sorry or bad about others' suffering, but doesn't act upon those concerns. Of course, we can't always intervene on every human injustice across the planet. But sometimes it's worth stopping just to think about the small practical things we can do, the little changes in habits that can make a cumulative difference.

Quite often, it's very easy. In the case of Israel, it involves looking at the origin of products like a pepper or a bunch of flowers and deciding not to put them in your shopping basket. It can be a quiet act of individual solidarity or a collective consumer response, as in the admirable action inside a French supermarket.

Recent research has shed further light on the close trading ties between major UK supermarkets/retailers and Israeli companies serving to sustain the illegal West Bank settlements:
"Business activities in the settlements and their associated industrial zones are very important for their economic viability. Agricultural companies producing fruit, vegetables and flowers dominate, but industries producing food products, plastic products, metal products, chemicals, cosmetics and many other products are also relevant for the economy of the settlements and thus are an important factor in their continued existence. Accordingly, these economic links sustain a continuing violation of international law, which has grave consequences for the enjoyment of human rights by the local non-settler population."
Moral arguments against rejecting Israeli goods don't stand up to any humanitarian scrutiny. Naomi Klein recently responded to one such claim that it's a "one-sided boycott" with the reminder that:
"there is already a fierce campaign of boycotts and sanctions under way, and it is completely one-sided. I am referring, of course, to Israel’s brutal eighteen-month siege of Gaza, launched to teach Gazans a lesson for voting for Hamas in US-backed elections. As a direct result of this siege, Gazans have been deprived of lifesaving medicines, cooking fuel and paper—not to mention food. This is far more than a mere boycott; it’s “collective punishment,” as described by Richard Falk, United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. By contrast, the kind of legal boycott being called for by the BDS campaign would deprive Tel Aviv of some international concerts and, if it really got going, would cost Israel some foreign investment. It would not starve and sicken an entire people. In this context of actual one-sided punishment inflicted on Palestinians, sanctioned by the so-called civilized world, to complain of one-sided boycotts against Israel is, frankly, obscene."
Alongside this one-sided strangulation of Gaza, accompanied by an unremitting campaign of mass murder, it's also worth bearing in mind the illegal appropriation of Gaza's offshore gas fields, and how securing them was an important factor in the recent Operation Cast Lead against Gaza.

Ignoring the economic theft of Palestinian natural resources is just part of the special treatment reserved for 'plucky little Israel'. The US even has a special Antiboycott Compliance law which:
"prohibit[s] U.S. companies from furthering or supporting the boycott of Israel sponsored by the Arab League, and certain Moslem countries".
It's the same preferential story with Israel's nuclear weapons, a menace ignored by the West, while Iran, a state without nuclear arms and, unlike Israel, a signatory to the Non Proliferation Treaty, is routinely demonised. The recent Media Lens Alert, Selective Vision: Iran, Israel and Nuclear Arms, makes the crucial point:
"One searches in vain for any corporate media analysis focusing on Israel's large stockpile of over 150 nuclear weapons. Where is the in-depth discussion that Israel might have a reason to divert attention from its own nuclear arms by cynically manipulating fears over Iran?"
From weapons of mass destruction to goods of settlement production, Israel's military and economic output is serving to maintain fear and misery for the Palestinians and the wider region. It may seem, in the face of this mass killing machine, somewhat futile to pass-up a pack of Israeli tomatoes or complain to a supermarket about their stocking of Israeli avocadoes. But that's just the kind of habit-forming action that, through time, was so decisive in helping to end South African Apartheid.

In this regard, the Boycott Israel Goods (BIG) campaign is urging a nationwide boycott of Tesco and Waitrose, 28th - 30th March. BIG note that:
"Waitrose and Tesco are the most intransigent British supermarkets on the issue of Israeli settlement goods and Israeli produce."
So, be a shopping dissident. It's an effectively simple way of showing solidarity with the suffering people of Palestine and intensifying the pressure on Israel and their Western protectors. It's also a useful way of showing a little defiance to the supermarket monolith that's taking over our lives.

To borrow one of their 'pithy' corporate sayings: "Every little helps".


1 comment:

bernie said...

I have no problem with individuals boycotting Israel products - go for it. However, going into supermarkets and preventing others from buying Israeli products is terrorism. If I were the owner of the Supermarket these people would not be walking on legs.

Of course in America we have a right to property and the right to protect it, that is obviously not true in France.