29 August 2009

Uri Avnery – The Muddle Headed Zionist Opposes Boycott

Uri Avnery is unique among Zionists. He opposes the consequences of Zionism whilst supporting an idealised version of what he would like Zionism to be! Of late he seems to be obsessed with trying to prevent fellow Israelis in the peace movement drawing the right conclusion about Zionism, namely that it is inherently racist and discriminatory. First he criticised Dov Yermiya for rejecting Zionism and now Neve Gordon with his call for a Boycott of Israel.

In an overlong and rambling article, Tutu’s Prayer Uri Avnery demonstrates nothing so much as his own political limits. Despite his undoubtedly brave and lonely record in opposing the appalling war crimes of Israel, the Apartheid Wall et al, he ends up in the camp of the oppressor not the oppressed.

He argues that a Boycott of Israel will drive people into the hands of the far-right. Presumably Avnery was taking a siesta when the present Israeli coalition were elected and Liebermann made Foreign Minister? Or do they represent Israel’s left-wing now?

The major fault of the article is when Avnery says that the primary difference between Israel and South Africa is the Nazi holocaust. The fact is that it is not. When holocaust survivors first came to Israel they were treated with contempt and called ‘soap’ after the myth of holocaust victims being turned into soap. [see Tom Segev ‘The 7th Million’ and Amos Elon ‘Israelis: Founders & Sons’]. Indeed they still are treated with contempt. Only this week there was a story of one such living on the streets whilst the State waxes fat on the reparations that were meant for them. Avnery points out that the Afrikaner leadership supported the Nazis and he's right. But wasn't John Vorster, Prime Minister of South Africa, who was interned during the war for that support, an honoured guest of Yitzhak Rabin and the Israeli State? He was welcomed to Yad Vashem, the Israeli State’s memorial to the holocaust victims. As Israel Shahak, a childhood survivor of Belsen and the Warsaw Ghetto, noted of Yad Vashem in Kol Ha'ir (Jerusalem) 19.5.89:
Yad Vashem (official state Holocaust museum in Jerusalem - Ed.) theatre, I do not wish to speak, at all. It, and its vile exploiting, such as honouring South Africa collaborators with the Nazis are truly beneath contempt.
Avnery argues that the fact that Avigdor Lieberman accused the whole Swedish nation of collaborating with the Nazis is proof of this fact. But it isn't. It's proof that Lieberman is an idiot and an ignoramus. That fascists are liars or fools or both is nothing new but Lieberman's use of the holocaust proves nothing other than that Zionism consciously used and uses the memory of the most terrible racial persecution in order to perpetuate yet more racial persecution.

Of course fascists use past memories, as the Nazis themselves did with their pretence that the Jews' role as middlemen in medieval times was still a current phenomenon. In fact it was Sweden, despite the attempts of the Zionists to prevent it from being a safe haven, who took in the whole of the Danish Jewish community who escaped the initial roundup, some 7,200 people, thereby saving them from extermination. See the response of one such holocaust survivor Dr Zandman’s in Yediot Aharanot on-line.

Avenry expressed his doubts about the effectiveness of the Boycott of South Africa and went on to ask Desmond Tutu about its utility, only to be told it was immensely important. After that Avnery dropped that line of attack. Because of course it is indisputable that Boycott is the most effective weapon there is against Zionism and its treatment of the Palestinians. For Avnery to oppose it therefore means that when push comes to shove, he prefers the company of the Israeli Occupation Forces to that of the Palestinians. And therein lies the rub.

Avnery's demographics, which he uses to ‘prove’ his point, seem a bit off beam as well. There is a rough 50-50 correlation between Palestinians, including Israeli Palestinians and Israeli Jews, in what was Mandate Palestine. My understanding of South Africa's population was that the Whites were about 20-25% not 10% when Apartheid was abolished and that there were roughly 25 million not 50 million people living there. But these quibbles aside, the demographic parity in Palestine suggests a number of things such as the feasibility of a binational or unitary democratic, secular state for all peoples. It also suggests that the solution to the Palestine conflict cannot be found simply within the borders of Palestine but involve social revolution in the Arab East as a whole, and Iran too.

The apocryphal tale of de Klerk's response to Tutu (and contrary to Avnery's assertion, de Klerk was not a moderate white leader, he defeated a moderate white leader to become President and he was the leader of the vehemently pro-Apartheid Transvaal section of the Nationalist Party) when he asked for the Boycott to be called off immediately he assumed power, suggests that the Boycott was indeed the major thorn in the side of the white nationalists in South Africa. That is the lesson to be drawn from that remark not Avnery's wittering about relative population sizes.

Avnery says a boycott is founded on despair. No more so than South Africa. If it is despair, then it is despair that Israeli Jews will ever rid themselves of the privileges of apartheid. In this they are not unique. If it had been left to White South Africans then Apartheid would still be here. It is only through outside pressure that Israel can be moved.

Yes there are differences, such as exclusion of Palestinians rather than their exploitation, but on the question of race, however defined, there are clear similarities. Indeed the very example Avnery gives, of an Israeli Arab not being able to live with his/her spouse from the West Bank, in order to preserve Israel's Jewish demographic majority, suggests that the concept of race is indeed alive and well. How else can you describe the desire to preserve an artificial majority based on the fact of being Jewish? Since there is nothing scientific about 'race' then any arbitrary factor will do. It could be blue or brown eyes, it could be religion and/or it could be biological inheritance. The Zionist definition of what it is to be Jewish, which is the basis of Israel’s Law of Return, uses the Nazi definition of having one Jewish grandparent. Clearly this is a racial, biological definition. In fact the Nazi definition of Aryan was defined in the negative, i.e. not being Jewish, because there could not be a positive definition of something which doesn't exist. Being Jewish in Israel is being Aryan in Germany and the preservation of a demographic majority is exactly what race theory strives for. Unsurprisingly most of the early Zionists, when these things were in fashion, did indeed subscribe to blood and soil racism. People such as Max Nordau, Arthur Ruppin, Moses Hess and now Avigdor Lieberman and Netanyahu.

The major fault with Avnery’s thesis is that it is based on his supposition that the root of the conflict in Palestine is one of national conflict. It is not. The Zionists did not seek to expel and exclude on the basis of nationality. There was no such thing as a Palestinian nation in 1882 or indeed 1900, when the first and second aliya (waves of Zionist emigration) took place. Their actions were directed against anyone who was indigenous and not Jewish. Hence why they were classic settler colonials.

Coming in the wake of his criticism of Dov Yermiah, the veteran ex-Mapam IDF officer who at 95 has drawn anti-Zionist conclusions from Israel’s barbarities, it is sad that someone like Avnery is lending his support to Lieberman, Barak and Netanyahu’s efforts to combat the growing Boycott Divestment and Sanctions strategy.

Tony Greenstein

Tutu’s Prayer


By Uri Avnery

HOW MUCH did the boycott of South Africa actually contribute to the fall of the racist regime? This week I talked with Desmond Tutu about this question, which has been on my mind for a long time.

No one is better qualified to answer this question than he. Tutu, the South African Anglican archbishop and Nobel prize laureate, was one of the leaders of the fight against apartheid and, later, the chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which investigated the crimes of the regime. This week he visited Israel with the “Elders”, an organization of elder statesmen from all over the world=20 set up by Nelson Mandela.

The matter of the boycott came up again this week after an article by Dr. Neve Gordon appeared in the Los Angeles Times, calling for a world-wide boycott of Israel. He cited the example of South Africa to show how a world-wide boycott could compel Israel to put an end to the occupation, which he compared to the apartheid regime.

I have known and respected Neve Gordon for many years. Before becoming a lecturer at Ben Gurion University in Beersheba, he organized many demonstrations against the Separation Wall in the Jerusalem area, in which I, too, took part.

I am sorry that I cannot agree with him this time – neither about the similarity with South Africa nor about the efficacy of a boycott of Israel.

There are several opinions about the contribution of the boycott to the success of the anti-apartheid struggle. According to one view, it was decisive. Another view claims its impact was marginal. Some believe that it was the collapse of the Soviet Union that was the decisive factor. After that, the US and its allies no longer had any reason for support the regime in South Africa, which until then had been viewed as a pillar of the world-wide struggle against Communism.

“THE BOYCOTT was immensely important,” Tutu told me. “Much more than the armed struggle.”

It should be remembered that, unlike Mandela, Tutu was an advocate of non-violent struggle. During the 28 years Mandela languished in prison, he could have walked free at any moment, if he had only agreed to sign a statement condemning “terrorism”. He refused.

“The importance of the boycott was not only economic,” the archbishop explained, “but also moral. South Africans are, for example, crazy about sports. The boycott, which prevented their teams from competing abroad, hit them very hard. But the main thing was that it gave us the feeling that we are not alone, that the whole world is with us. That gave us the strength to continue.”

To show the importance of the boycott he told me the following story: In 1989, the moderate white leader, Frederic Willem de Klerk, was elected President of South Africa. Upon assuming office he declared his intention to set up a multiracial regime. “I called to congratulate him, and the first thing he said was: Will you now call off the boycott?

It seems to me that Tutu’s answer emphasizes the huge difference between the South African reality at the time and ours today.

The South African struggle was between a large majority and a small minority. Among a general population of almost 50 million, the Whites amounted to less than 10%. That means that more than 90% of the country’s inhabitants supported the boycott, in spite of the argument that it hurt them, too.

In Israel, the situation is the very opposite. The Jews amount to more than 80% of Israel’s citizens, and constitute a majority of some 60% throughout the country between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. 99.9% of the Jews oppose a boycott on Israel.

They will not feel the “the whole world is with us”, but rather that “the whole world is against us”.

In South Africa, the world-wide boycott helped in strengthening the majority and steeling it for the struggle. The impact of a boycott on Israel would be the exact opposite: it would push the large majority into the arms of the extreme right and create a fortress mentality against the “anti-Semitic world”. (The boycott would, of course, have a different impact on the Palestinians, but that is not the aim of those who advocate it.)

Peoples are not the same everywhere. It seems that the Blacks in South Africa are very different from the Israelis, and from the Palestinians, too. The collapse of the oppressive racist regime did not lead to a bloodbath, as could have been predicted, but on the contrary: to the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee. Instead of revenge, forgiveness. Those who appeared before the commission and admitted their misdeeds were pardoned. That was in tune with Christian belief, and that was also in tune with the Jewish Biblical promise: “Who confesseth and forsaketh [his sins] shal l have mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13)

I told the bishop that I admire not only the leaders who chose this path but also the people who accepted it.

ONE OF the profound differences between the two conflicts concerns the Holocaust.

Centuries of pogroms have imprinted on the consciousness of the Jews the conviction that the whole world is out to get them. This belief was reinforced a hundredfold by the Holocaust. Every Jewish Israeli child learns in school that “the entire world was silent” when the six million were murdered. This belief is anchored in the deepest recesses of the Jewish soul. Even when it is dormant, it is easy to arouse it.

(That is the conviction which made it possible for Avigdor Lieberman, last week, to accuse the entire Swedish nation of cooperating with the Nazis, because of one idiotic article in a Swedish tabloid.)

It may well be that the Jewish conviction that “the whole world is against us” is irrational. But in the life of nations, as indeed in the life of individuals, it is irrational to ignore the irrational.

The Holocaust will have a decisive impact on any call for a boycott of Israel. The leaders of the racist regime in South Africa openly sympathized with the Nazis and were even interned for this in World War II. Apartheid was based on the same racist theories as inspired Adolf Hitler. It was20easy to get the civilized world to boycott such a disgusting regime. The Israelis, on the other hand, are seen as the victims of Nazism. The call for a boycott will remind many people around the world of the Nazi slogan “Kauft nicht bei Juden!” - don’t buy from Jews.

That does not apply to every kind of boycott. Some 11 years ago, the Gush Shalom movement, in which I am active, called for a boycott of the product of the settlements. Its intention was to separate the settlers from the Israeli public, and to show that there are two kinds of Israelis. The boycott was designed to strengthen those Israelis who oppose the occupation, without becoming anti-Israeli or anti-Semitic. Since then, the European Union has been working hard to close the gates of the EU to the products of the settlers, and almost nobody has accused it of anti-Semitism.

One of the main battlefields in our fight for peace is Israeli public opinion. Most Israelis believe nowadays that peace is desirable but impossible (because of the Arabs, of course.) We must convince them not that peace would be good for Israel, but that it is realistically achievable.

When the archbishop asked what we, the Israeli peace activists, are hoping for, I told him: We hope for Barack Obama to publish a comprehensive and detailed peace plan and to use the full persuasive power of the United States to convince the parties to accept it. We hope t hat the entire world will rally behind this endeavor. And we hope that this will help to set the Israeli peace movement back on its feet and convince our public that it is both possible and worthwhile to follow the path of peace with Palestine.

No one who entertains this hope can support the call for boycotting Israel. Those who call for a boycott act out of despair. And that is the root of the matter.

Neve Gordon and his partners in this effort have despaired of the Israelis. They have reached the conclusion that there is no chance of changing Israeli public opinion. According to them, no salvation will come from within. One must ignore the Israeli public and concentrate on mobilizing the world against the State of Israel. (Some of them believe anyhow that the State of Israel should be dismantled and replaced by a bi-national state.)

I do not share either view – neither the despair of the Israeli people, to which I belong, nor the hope that the world will stand up and compel Israel to change its ways against its will. For this to happen, the boycott must gather world-wide momentum, the US must join it, the Israeli economy must collapse and the morale of the Israeli public must break.

How long will this take? Twenty Years? Fifty years? Forever?

I am afraid that this is an example of a faulty diagnosis leading to faulty treatment. To be precise: the mistaken assumption that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict resembles the South African experience leads to a mistaken choice of strategy.

True, the Israeli occupation and the South African apartheid system have certain similar characteristics. In the West Bank, there are roads “for Israelis only”. But the Israeli policy is not based on race theories, but on a national conflict. A small but significant example: in South Africa, a white man and a black woman (or the other way round) could not marry, and sexual relations between them were a crime. In Israel there is no such prohibition. On the other hand, an Arab Israeli citizen who marries an Arab woman from the occupied territories (or the other way round) cannot bring his or her spouse to Israel. The reason: safeguarding the Jewish majority in Israel. Both cases are reprehensible, but basically different.

In South Africa there was total agreement between the two sides about the unity of the country. The struggle was about the regime. Both Whites and Blacks considered themselves South Africans and were determined to keep the country intact. The Whites did not want partition, and indeed could not want it, because their economy was based on the labor of the Blacks.

In this country, Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs have nothing in common – not a common national feeling, not a common religion, not a common culture and not a common language. The vast majority of the Israelis want a Jewish (or Hebrew) state. The vast majority of the Palestinians want a Palestinian (or Islamic) state. Israel is not dependent on Palestinian workers – on the contrary, it drives the Palestinians out of the working place. Because of this, there is now a world-wide consensus that the solution lies in the creation of the Palestinian state next to Israel.

In short: the two conflicts are fundamentally different. Therefore, the methods of struggle, too, must necessarily be different.

Back to the archbishop, an attractive person whom it is impossible not to like on sight. He told me that he prays frequently, and that his favorite prayer goes like this (I quote from memory):

“Dear God, when I am wrong, please make me willing to see my mistake. And when I am right – please make me tolerable to live with.”


  1. Hi Tony - good stuff! Avnery gets away with far too many ducks and dives trying to save zionism from itself. However I think you'll find that it was Menachem Begin that took the unrepentant nazi, John Vorster, to Yad Vashem, not Rabin. I'm not saying it would have been beneath Rabin and maybe Rabin had other dealings with Vorster but I can still see Begin and Vorster standing together at the eternal flame.

  2. Hi, Toni, below is the message I sent yesterday to Uri as a comment to his op-ed:

    Hi, Uri,

    In one thing (but not only one!) I agree with you: the Boycott wasn't decisive to end the Apartheid regime in South Africa. It was relevant as an ancillary tool, but not ultimate.

    In my view what actually fatally weakened Apartheid was the war of attrition and awfully costly it lost in Angola against the Cuban internationalists. White South Africa not only did have to withdraw from Angola, but also to give up Namibia, and shortly after release Mandela and negotiate with him a way out to a regime which was broke.

    Only the Cuban factor has been buried because the West didn't want to credit the Cubans for such a prowess as they achieved in defeating the South African Western stooge. Now for one person, Mandela was well aware of it, and the first visit he paid abroad after so many years of imprisonment was to Cuba, to address the Cuban people along with Fidel Castro in La Havana.

    I say it for the record.

    As for the BDS campaign against Israel, I think it has the merit to make many people aware of what is happening there. For instance now, in Canada, whose regime is fanatically anti-Palestinian, as you certainly know there is an interesting row over the cinema festival sponsorship, and now ( after filmmaker Ken Loach withdrew in July his film Looking for Eric from the Melbourne International Film Festival because the festival receives funding from the Israeli Government) Canadian Filmmaker John Greyson has withdrawn his film Covered from this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in protest of their City-to-City Spotlight on Tel Aviv...

    I don't know whether BDS will achieve the end of the occupation and other injustices, but at least it is good to raise conscience over the Palestinian plight.

    Shalom, Enrique

  3. I think both you and Mr. Avnery make good points about the boycott issue and at this time I am not sure which side to support. I tend to think, though, that pressure on Israel, while surely satisfying and undoubtedly morally reasonable, is not terribly useful or important because the U.S. is the key to peace in the region. When America decides that it is in America's best interest economically and/or politically to stop favoring the Israelis and contributing to the oppression of the Palestinians, they will force Israel to stop and they will let the Palestinians have a state. Maybe a boycott of the U.S. would be a better idea.

  4. Mark,

    I was in some doubt whether it was Rabin or Begin. I actually read it was Begin but then the date April 1976 seemed to be Rabin. Indeed it must be because Begin didn't come to power until 1977.

    Having just done some googling I came up with this:
    'Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi [*The Israeli Connection*, Pantheon Books: New
    York, 1987, p. x-xi]:

    "Vorster had been a Nazi collaborator who, *according to Israeli law*, should have been arrested and put on trial the minute he set foot on Israeli soil. Instead, he landed at the Tel-Aviv airport, the red carpet
    was rolled out, and Israel's prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin greeted him with a warm hug."

    I can only assume that when you saw Begin and Vorster together it was in Begin's role as head of the Opposition. No matter because all this demonstrates is that when it came to links with apartheid SA there wasn't a piece of paper you could put between Israeli Labour and Likud.

    Thanks for the copy of your letter Enrique. I was thinking of sending him my thoughts too!

    EJH I disagree. Yes the US is the source of the problem, noone denies that, but Israel isn't merely a pawn of the US. We can see that quite clearly with the campaign waged by the present Israeli government against the proposal to freeze settlement building.

    Actually by campaigning against Israeli policies, not least in the US, and boycott is the best way, then you do put pressure on the US to change its position. I just don't think it is either or or, if you see what I mean!

  5. Tony G’s response to Avnery’s argument against a boycott of Israel is weak. Here are some real signs of intellectual laziness:

    1)Assume your conclusion: “Because of course it is indisputable that Boycott is the most effective weapon there is against Zionism and its treatment of the Palestinians.”

    2)Write gibberish: “There is a rough 50-50 correlation between Palestinians, including Israeli Palestinians and Israeli Jews, in what was Mandate Palestine.” Huh? "50-50 correlation?"

    3) Dispute facts without checking facts: “My understanding of South Africa's population [sic] was that the Whites were about 20-25% not 10% when Apartheid was abolished and that there were roughly 25 million not 50 million people living there.” A few seconds of research shows that there were between 40 and 44 million people in South Africa in 1994 (the range reflecting conflicting estimates, it being a difficult time and place in which to conduct a census) and of these about 13% were “White”.

    Avnery’s argument is far from the last word, but let’s keep the discussion on an intelligent level.

  6. Tony,

    I very much admire your passion. But you need to make much more coherent arguments if you think you're going to help bring about a more socialist, anti-zionist, anti-racist world.

    At root, the problem is tribalism. It's the insistence humans always exhibit on placing more value on people they identify with or consider to be more like themselves. Yeah, I know there are also some people who don't give a hoot about their tribal identity, but even many of them take advantage of the people who do care. But the human root of injustices you fight is tribalism.

    A person like me should fundamentally feel like they're on the same "side" as you, the universalist, globalist side. But I don't. You don't make sense with all your theories and slogans. Please note that you keep categorizing, characterizing, and labeling your opponents, which ends up weakening all your arguments against them. You are making the same mistake they are. If you want to reach the world, you need to start making more intellectually honest arguments.

    Avnery's piece is weak, with weak logic and supporting evidence, but your response was far worse. Slovenly.

    You sure as hell haven't moved me at all to thinking something like BDS is worth my time creating a more just world.

  7. concise - cogent - and sadly right on comment re Avnery & boycott. Sadly the times are so bad and the situation so desperate that he cannot bear to do otherwise. Wish that Tutu was not right - but sadly he is! Supporting BDS in US!
    Zayde for Peace in the Middle East
    Philadelphia, PA.

  8. To anonymous I'm sorry you think I seek to label opponents and characterise etc. them. Not so. What I do try to do is to show how even the far-left of Zionism, the Uri Avneris, who are motivated by basically human considerations, are nonetheless driven into a racist position because they cannot break from Zionism. This need for a 'Jewish' State.

    don't agree problem is tribalism, whatever that is. That is the symptom not the cause. Humanity is essentially collective. Humans form societies, they gather together for shelter. It is the social system they produce which fractures these communities into classes and sets them at one another as exploitation takes the place of co-operation. And nationalism is one of the means by which the other, the tribal etc. is portrayed as being beyond the pale.

  9. Tom says that my argument is weak and intellectually lazy. Why?

    1. It is indisputable that Boycott is the most effective weapon against Zionism. Name me another? It is no coincidence that it is Boycott, more than any other tactic, which is guaranteed to spur Israel’s defenders to new heights of hysteria. The main Zionist campaign against the supporters of the Palestinians is over Boycott. I could explain why it is to do with not accepting their artificial state as legitimate and that this is what Zionism craves above all but I used short-hand and Tom took it as laziness. So be it.
    2. Tom thinks it is ‘gibberish’ to write that there is a rough correlation between Israelis and Palestinians demographically. According to one site http://israelipalestinian.procon.org/viewresource.asp?resourceID=000636 Jews make up 50.7%. That seems to me to be a rough 50-50, so apart from nitpicking for its own sake then I’m not sure what point Tom is making. All the sites I’ve seen give the West Bank’s population as just less than 2.5 million in 1995 and Gaza’s about 1.4 million. Given both population growth and historica undercounting then we can assume at least 4 million Palestinians in the occupied territories and add to that about 1.3 million Israeli Arabs and we probably have about or near 5.5 million. Israel’s Jewish population is estimated at 5.8 million but there are reasons to suggest this is an overestimation, such as a refusal to recognise the rate of Israeli Jewish emigration.
    3. I fear Tom is substituting statistics for any analysis or comment. At least he doesn’t seem to have any to make. I accept my figures for South Africa were out. As I said I wasn’t checking because exactitude did not affect the argument. In fact I was unaware of just how much the white population has declined or the Black population grown as in 1980 there were about 20% whites. But the argument remains the same regardless.

  10. I don’t know where Tom or you or Avnery get your figures, but according to the StatsSA website, the 1996 Census counted a total of 40.5 million, of whom just under 11% were ‘white’. http://www.statssa.gov.za/census01/Census96/HTML/CIB/Population/25.htm; http://www.statssa.gov.za/census01/Census96/HTML/CIB/Population/26.htm Avnery, BTW, was much closer when he made a similar argument in January 2007. http://www.counterpunch.org/avnery01232007.html; http://bureauofcounterpropaganda.blogspot.com/2007/06/how-many-states.html

    Most of the links are broken on the PCBS English site and I haven’t managed to find a current population estimate there, but Wikipedia quotes the JP from early 2008 giving a total Palestinian population of the WB, Gaza, and E Jerusalem of just under 4 million. Unless you have worked out the population growth since then and can evidence ‘historical undercounting’, you can’t expect anyone to take it seriously when you just bump the total up by 25%. As for ‘Israel proper’, according to the ICBS, at the end of June, there were just under 1.5 million Arabs, and just short of 6 million Jews http://www1.cbs.gov.il/reader/yarhon/yarmenu_e_new.html. Using these figures, I calculate a 52/48 ratio of Jews to Arabs in the area of Mandatory Palestine. And as far as I’m concerned, that’s near enough parity. However, it’s definitely not on to play fast and loose with statistics, if for no other reason, and there are other reasons, because anyone can easily check them and if they catch you in an error they can confirm, how are they to believe anything else you assert?

    Obviously, Avneri is completely off base suggesting a parallel between the impact of the sanctions on the morale of the majority in apartheid SA and on Israeli Jews. What is of interest in this context is the impact on the morale of the Palestinians. As far as I’m concerned, the reason the numbers are important is that in SA, non Whites were the overwhelming majority – nearly 90%, 77% black, although if you were right and whites were actually 20%, it would make little difference, because the real discrepancy is between a huge majority like that and about half and half. It is one of the reasons the situation in SA was much more propitious than the situation for Palestinians now. In that 2007 article, Avneri makes this point. He also mentions there that ‘There is no doubt that 99.99% of Jewish Israelis want the State of Israel to exist as a state with a robust Jewish majority, whatever its borders’, not 99.9%, as here. Maybe things have changed by a factor of ten for the better, but I’m inclined to think he was closer to the truth the first time – about 600 antizionist Israeli Jews.

    Another point he alludes to is how utterly reliant the white SA economy was on black labour and how increasingly unreliant Israel is on Palestinian labour. There are some relevant numbers in my ‘How many states?’ post. The SA black working class was not only indispensable to the colonists, but very well organised. Another really big advantage for the antiapartheid movement, I hope you’ll agree, Tony.

    [to be continued – 4096 character limit!]

  11. [to be continued – 4096 character limit!]

    [continued] When the Archbishop speaks of how the sanctions boosted morale, I think he is reporting his first hand experience – how honestly I couldn’t say – and we can take him more or less at his word. But when he attributes the success of the movement to the sanctions, he is probably just being polite. Obviously we want to believe we played a big part in that historic struggle. Furthermore, he makes it clear that in his capacity of nonviolence advocate, he thought the sanctions were more important than the armed struggle. Well, duh! But considering the levers available to the majority in SA, it hardly seems plausible that the sanctions were decisive. There was an economic impact, of course, but the sanctions weren’t nearly as far reaching or well observed as we demanded. Diplomatic and transport sanctions, if any, were not observed in ‘the West’, as far as I could tell. Ultimately, I reckon the sanctions amounted to little more than moral support. That is probably why de Klerk was so keen to see the boycott lifted – he might have been willing to relinquish the trappings of apartheid, or not, but he certainly didn’t want the blacks to win it – it had to be a gift. In any case, even if the boycott was decisive, it took 35 years to break apartheid.

    Nor is BDS the only possible strategy. We could be demanding that the UN send a force of 150,000 to accompany the refugees’ return and oversee elections in which the entire population of Palestine could exercise self determination. Risky, and profoundly improbable, but not really unreasonable. BDS is what Palestinian civil society has requested and since Cast Lead in particular, I think it’s an idea that’s gaining some traction. But again, I doubt it will be decisive. It will help enhance the confidence of Palestinians struggling for liberation and it has already begun to instigate discussion on a much higher level than, say, Carter’s book http://bureauofcounterpropaganda.blogspot.com/2007/01/three-little-syllables.html, or the sainted Walt and Mearsheimer. http://bureauofcounterpropaganda.blogspot.com/search?q=mearsheimer;

    It’s also an encouraging sign, although not really evidence of anything, that the hasbaristas have got their knickers in such a twist about it. Whatever demoralisation BDS may foment among Israeli Jews could be a bonus, although I suppose it might just be possible to exacerbate their already extreme siege mentality. I’m beginning to think BDS has some real potential to start moving the American street towards a position that could alter the whole situation in Palestine radically.


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