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Boycotts of Israel: Will they help the Palestinians?
THE UK National Union of Journalists (NUJ) conference recently passed a resolution calling for a boycott of Israeli goods. The University and College Union (UCU) then followed by passing a conference resolution calling for consideration of a boycott of Israeli academic institutions.
Next week, UNISON conference is debating a motion that calls for a boycott of Israeli trade and investment. JENNY BROOKS outlines the Socialist Party's attitude to these motions.
PALESTINIANS IN the occupied territories are suffering a nightmare existence, with starvation-level economic conditions and daily military repression at the hands of the Israeli army including regular assassinations.
Over 50 Palestinians have been killed in the last few weeks alone. With this situation, any support for a boycott of Israeli goods and institutions is understandable and usually well-intentioned, but it is necessary to look closely at the consequences of such a call and examine whether it would aid the Palestinians' struggle.
Can boycotts work? In some circumstances, usually as an adjunct to other action, boycotts can have a certain effect, and in some situations a decisive effect. The example of the international boycott on the South African apartheid regime is sometimes given, a boycott that received much media attention at the time. Many people participated in it to show their hatred of the regime. However, it was the mass movement of black South African workers that ended apartheid and not the boycott.
Gift to Israeli right
In the case of Israel, a British and international trade union backed boycott is unlikely to have a significant economic impact, not least because it will attract only partial participation. But more seriously, it would play into the hands of the worst right-wing warmongers in Israel, and alienate Israeli workers, who are the only force capable of removing the brutal Israeli regime and spearheading the reaching of a lasting settlement with the Palestinian people.
The boycott votes at the NUJ and UCU conferences have already been used by Israeli capitalist politicians to launch a propaganda offensive aimed at Israeli workers, driving those workers into the arms of the Israeli right. They argue that it shows that Israeli Jews are under siege and need to stick together against what they portray as an anti-semitic stance.
This propaganda has an effect, because the starting point is that Israeli workers do not accept that their livelihoods should be affected by boycotts from workers' organisations abroad.
Israeli Jewish workers are also inevitably alarmed when some of the staunchest advocates of boycott action in Britain and elsewhere, such as the SWP, have a record of opposing the right of the Jewish people to their own state. Whereas in the case of South Africa, a majority of black workers there supported international sanctions against the ruling white elite, Israeli workers are not in agreement with sanctions against Israel.
A boycott under these conditions is a mistake, and a gift to the Israeli right. The Israeli regime has never been weaker than it is at present. The government is in severe crisis, mired in corruption and with huge splits. The prime minister, Olmert, has sunk to having virtually nil support, the army chief of staff had to resign and defence minister, Peretz, was ousted as leader of the Labour Party.
The wealth gap and the divide between the interests of the ruling layer and the mass of the working population has never been greater. Responding to wave after wave of privatisation and cuts in services and living standards, workers and students have engaged in many strikes and other struggles in the recent period.
On the issue of the occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and effectively Gaza too, consistently around two-thirds of Israelis want to see military withdrawal and the Palestinians having their own state. An increasing number of young Israelis do not want to do army service in the territories.
It is also worth noting, following the decision of the UK lecturers' union, UCU, to consider a boycott of Israeli academics, that many Israeli academics have a record of opposing the occupation.
Trade unionists in Britain and internationally should strongly support and aid struggles of the Palestinians against the Israeli regime's occupation, particularly mass struggles when they arise such as during the first intifada and the beginning of the second intifada (the Socialist Party, though, does not advocate support for some methods, such as suicide bombings of Israeli civilians inside Israel).
However, it is also essential to give full support and aid to struggles of Israeli workers against the Israeli regime, as the most effective way of weakening it further by revealing and opening up the class divisions. Israeli workers' struggles should be linked as far as possible to those of Arab workers in the region.
Two socialist states
The Palestinians and the Israeli Jews have a right to their own separate states. But achieving such states, with lasting, peaceful co-existence and decent living standards, will be unviable on a capitalist basis.
The only way that will be possible, will be on the basis of Israeli workers building the workers' movement in Israel to challenge the power, profit and prestige of the Israeli capitalist class, and of Palestinian workers also building their own united movement.
The latter would need to lead the struggle towards a genuine Palestinian state with decent living standards for all in it, while supporting the right of Israeli workers to their own state alongside it, as part of a socialist confederation.
Achieving an end to bloodshed and the existence of two states is inseparable from the struggle for socialism, as it is only on the basis of removing the profit motive and raising living standards for workers on both sides of the national divide that the basis for conflict will be removed once and for all.
In The Socialist 14 June 2007:
Unison national conference
What we think
Socialist Party NHS campaign
War and terrorism
G8 Summit protests
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party news and analysis