Thursday, April 17, 2014 Nisan 17, 5774

Boycott Bites

December 2, 2010
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If it weren't so malicious, it might actually be amusing -- using hummus to make a political point. Who knew that chickpeas could be a potent weapon?

But the effort behind the apparently unsuccessful drive to take Sabra and Tribe hummus -- along with other Israeli products -- off market shelves is misguided at best, and insidious at worst. And it's just the latest chapter in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, more commonly known as BDS.

While efforts to boycott Israeli products, academics and cultural events date back decades, the BDS movement got its start at the now discredited U.N. conference on racism in Durban, South Africa in 2001. At that fiasco, efforts to combat racism were hijacked by virulently anti-Israel, anti-Semitic forces. The whole conference degenerated into an Israel hate-fest, spurring a walkout by the United States and other nations. But what emerged from the disgrace was a well-organized, well-financed effort to make Israel into a pariah state, the same way that apartheid South Africa had once been targeted and toppled.

The difference, of course, was that South Africa's regime had oppressed blacks solely because of their race. Israel, in contrast, was at odds with a population that had long refused to accept its existence and employed terrorism as a political tool.

Lack of historical context and accuracy has long plagued the anti-Israel movement. And although it is important that historical knowledge not paralyze efforts to find lasting solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is also crucial not to let ignorance distort reality.

In that regard, it is curious that the BDS movement called for a boycott of Israeli goods on Nov. 30, the day after Nov. 29 -- the date in 1947 when the United Nations voted for the partition of Palestine, setting the stage for Israeli independence.

One might think that an anti-Israel effort might capitalize on that date, but perhaps the organizers were unaware of its significance. Or that they don't want to acknowledge the reality that had the Arab world accepted the U.N. call to divide Palestine into two states -- one Jewish, one Arab -- the Palestinian quest for statehood would have been satisfied long ago.

The reported BDS effort to boycott Israeli goods on Nov. 30 appears to have fizzled. And Jewish groups, locally and nationally, staged a counterattack with a campaign dubbed BIG ("Buy Israeli Goods") day. Here in Philadelphia, a consortium of groups converged on Trader Joe's in Center City. Within an hour, the few Israeli products the store carries were apparently sold out.

But as efforts to undermine Israel through economic and political boycotts continue, we must remain vigilant. We can make "buying Israeli" a matter of habit. We can consume lots of Israeli olives and wafers. And we must remember that history, like the futility of hummus boycotts, is all too easy to ignore.



 

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