BINYAMIN NETANYAHU was racking his brain. His whole career is based on fear
mongering. Since Jews have lived in fear for millennia, it is easy to invoke
it. They are addicts.
For years now, Netanyahu has built his career on fear of the Iranian Nuclear
Bomb. The Iranians are crazy people. Once they have the Bomb, they will drop
it on Israel, even if Israel’s nuclear second strike will certainly annihilate
Iran with its thousands of years of civilization.
But Netanyahu saw with growing anxiety that the Iranian threat was losing its
edge. The US, so it seems, is about to reach an agreement with Iran, which
will prevent it from achieving the Bomb. Even Sheldon the Great cannot prevent
the agreement. What to do?
Looking around, three letters popped up: BDS. They denote Boycott, Divestment
and Sanctions, a worldwide campaign to boycott Israel because of its 48 year-
old subjugation of the Palestinian people.
Ah, here we have a real threat, worse than the Bomb. A second Holocaust is
looming. Brave little Israel facing the entire evil, anti-Semitic world.
True, until now Israel has suffered no real damage. BDS is more about gestures
than about real economic weapons. But who is counting? The legions of anti-
Semites are on the march.
Who will save us? Bibi the Great, of course!
HONEST DISCLOSURE: my friends and I initiated the first boycott, which was
directed at the products of the settlements.
Our peace movement, Gush Shalom, was deliberating how to stop the spread of
the settlements, each of which is a land mine on the road to peace. The main
reason for setting up settlements is to prevent the two-state solution – the
only peace solution there is.
Our investigators made a Grand Tour of the settlements and registered the
enterprises which were lured by government enticements to set up shop beyond
the Green Line. We published the list and encouraged customers to abstain from
buying these products.
A boycott is a democratic instrument of protest. It is non-violent. Every
person can exercise it privately, without joining any group or exhibiting
himself or herself in public.
Our main aim was to get the Israeli public to distinguish clearly between
Israel proper and the settlements in the occupied territories.
In March 1997 we held a press conference to announce the campaign. It was a
unique event. I have held press conference which were overflowing with
journalists – for example, after my first meeting with Yasser Arafat in
besieged West Beirut. I have held press conferences with sparse attendance.
But this one was really special: not a single Israeli journalist turned up.
Still, the idea spread. I don’t know how many thousand Israelis are boycotting
the products of the settlements right now.
However, we were upset by the attitude of the European Union authorities,
which denounced the settlements while in practice subsidizing their products
with customs exemptions like real Israeli wares. My colleagues and I went to
Brussels to protest, but were told by polite bureaucrats that Germany and
others were obstructing any step toward a settlement boycott.
Eventually, the Europeans moved, albeit slowly. They are now demanding that
the products of the settlements be clearly marked.
THE BDS movement has a very different agenda. They want to boycott the State
of Israel as such.
I always considered this a major strategic error. Instead of isolating the
settlements and separating them from mainstream Israelis, a general boycott
drives all Israelis into the arms of the settlers. It re-awakens age-old
Jewish fears. Facing a common danger, Jews unite.
Netanyahu could not wish for more. He is now riding the wave of Jewish
reactions. Every day there are headlines about another success of the boycott
movement, and each success is a bonus for Netanyahu.
It is also a bonus for his adversary, Omar al-Barghouti, the Palestinian
organizer of BDS.
Palestine is well stocked with Barghoutis. It is an extended family prominent
in several villages north of Jerusalem.
The most famous is Marwan al-Barghouti, who has been condemned to several life
sentences for leading the Fatah youth organization. He was not indicted for
taking part in any “terrorist” acts, but for his role as organizationally
responsible. Indeed, he and I were partners in organizing several non-violent
protests against the occupation.
When he was brought to trial, we protested in the court building. One of my
colleagues lost a toenail in the ensuing battle with the violent court guards.
Marwan is still in prison and many Palestinians consider him a prospective
heir of Mahmoud Abbas.
Another Barghouti is Mustafa, the very likable leader of a leftist party, who
ran against Abbas for the presidency of the Palestinian Authority. We have met
while facing the army in several demonstrations against the Wall.
Omar Barghouti, the leader of the BDS movement, is a postgraduate student at
Tel Aviv University. He demands the free return of all Palestinian refugees,
equality for Israel’s Palestinian citizens and, of course, an end to the
However, BDS is not a highly organized worldwide organization. It is more of a
trade mark. Groups of students, artists and others spring up spontaneously and
join the struggle for Palestinian liberation. Here and there, some real anti-
Semites try to join. But for Netanyahu, they are all, all anti-Semites.
AS WE feared from the beginning, the boycott of Israel – as distinguished from
the boycott of the settlements – has united the general Jewish population with
the settlers, under the leadership of Netanyahu.
The fatherland is in danger. National unity is the order of the day.
“Opposition Leader” Yitzhak Herzog is rushing forward to support
Netanyahu, as are almost all other parties.
Israel’s Supreme Court, a frightened shadow of its former self, has already
decreed that calling for a boycott of Israel is a crime – including calls for
boycotting the settlements.
Almost every day, news about the boycott hits the headlines. The boss of
“Orange”, the French communications giant, first joined the boycott, then
quickly turned around and is coming to Israel for a pilgrimage of repentance.
Student organizations and professional groups in America and Europe adopt the
boycott. The EU now vigorously demands the marking of settlement products.
Netanyahu is happy. He calls upon world Jewry to take up the fight against
this anti-Semitic outrage. The owner of Netanyahu, multi-billionaire casino
mogul Sheldon Adelson, has convened a war council of rich Jews in Las Vegas.
His counterpart, pro-Labor multi-billionaire Haim Saban has joined him. Even
the perpetrators of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion would not believe it.
AS COMIC relief, another casino owner is competing for the headlines. He is a
much, much smaller operator, who cannot be compared to Adelson.
He is the new Knesset Member Oren Hazan, No 30 on the Likud election list, the
last one who got in. A TV expose has alleged that he was the owner of a casino
in Bulgaria, who supplied prostitutes to his clients and used hard drugs. He
has already been chosen as Deputy Speaker of the Knesset. The Speaker has
temporarily suspended him from chairing Knesset plenum sessions.
So the two casino owners, the big and the small, dominate the news. Rather
bizarre in a country where casinos are forbidden, and where clandestine casino
goers are routinely arrested.
Well, life is a roulette game. Even life in Israel.