Monday, 1 November 2010

Even Uri Avnery supports Ahava boycott

The Searchlight Supporter & Left Zionist Who Demonstrates Alongside the EDL

Above is Shehada Street in Hebron. When Barak allowed the few hundred rabid racists to stay in the centre of the town, and Hebron's settlers are known for their particularly virulent racism including spraying 'Arabs to the Gas Chambers' as graffitti the commercial and business heart of the city was destroyed. Shehuda Street was closed to the indigenous population.

A few days ago someone by the name of Ian posted a comment on my article about how the EDL and Zionists were demonstrating together in support of the Ahava shop, which sells stolen 'beauty' products from the West Bank.

Ian, a supporter of the Searchlight anti-fascist/pro-Zionist magazine Searchlight, protested that he was unfairly maligned. He was a socialist, a left-Zionist no less and it was us who were the extremists etc. And anyway those participating in Ahava's profits included Kibbutz Kalia. Of course Ian is slightly behind the times, because no one except the gullible believes that Kibbutzim are now, if they ever were, 'left-wing'. They employ cheap Oriental Jewish or Arab labour, which they exploit, they are based on the remains of Arab villages and they are, of course, racially exclusive being Jewish only. Apart from that, I guess they are 'socialist' if that is what you want to term collective capitalists as! Certainly no one in Israel believes they are anything other than an elite.

The mere fact that this kibbutz is based on the occupied West Bank should tell you something. But now Uri Avneri, a former Knesset Member and founder of Gush Shalom, and himself a Zionist, has come out in support of boycotting settlement produce including that of Ahava! One wonders whether the Ian's of this are now convinced or is it the case that they and he still prefer demonstrating alongside the EDL? Strange behaviour for an 'anti-fascist'

Two weeks ago, the Jewish Report published an article by Nathan Geffen and Doron Isaacs on why people should boycott Ahava and other products. The Jewish Report juxtaposed this with an article by Uri Avnery, a veteran peace campaigner debating the boycott as a tactic. The juxtaposition’s aim was to show that Avnery is not supportive of boycotts.

Below is Avnery’s reply and the original article by Geffen and Isaacs.

Zackie Achmat

Editor – Jewish Report


I was pleased to see the publication of my article, which expressed my opposition to a total boycott of Israel.

I am, however, concerned that my article was used to juxtapose the article by Nathan Geffen and Doron Isaacs, which called for a boycott of the products of the settlements, Ahava in particular.

As I have said many times in the past, I fully support the boycott of the settlements products. As a matter of fact, Gush Shalom, to which I belong, initiated this boycott in 1998. Therefore I agree with Geffen and Isaacs – kol hakavod to them.

A boycott of the settlements products is an essential step in delineating the boundary between the legitimate State of Israel and the illegal, immoral and totally unacceptable settlements in the occupied territories, which will in future belong to the independent State of Palestine. Without a clear border between Israel and Palestine, peace is impossible and we are doomed to eternal war.

Shalom, Uri Avnery

By Nathan Geffen and Doron Isaacs

Open Shuhada Street (OSS) has called for a boycott of a beauty product range called Ahava. These products, made from mud extracted from the Dead Sea, are manufactured at Mitzpe Shalem, an Israeli settlement in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). Mitzpe Shalem is also the major shareholder of Ahava, with 37% of the company’s stock. Another settlement, Kibbutz Kalia, owns 7% of the company. Both settlements have displaced local Palestinian populations.

Our call has generated controversy. Apologists for the Israeli occupation have asked why we do not boycott products from other countries with poor human rights records.

Before answering that question, consider this quick recap to the background of the conflict. In 1967 Israel, after a short war with its neighbours, occupied the two areas which constitute the OPT, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The West Bank includes East Jerusalem and its famous Old City. The three and a half million occupied Palestinians, like the Jews who emigrated to what is now Israel, have nationalist aspirations. The majority want independence in their own state. A minority want equal rights within a broader Israeli-Palestinian state.

Two broad choices faced, and still face, Israel. It could either withdraw from the OPT or it could annex them thereby making them part of Israel. In the former case, an independent Palestinian state would be established alongside Israel. Alternatively with annexation, Israel would be morally obligated to give the Palestinian population equal citizenship to Israelis, including the franchise, the same justice system and freedom of movement throughout Israel. Some mixture of these choices may also be possible, but the principles would remain unchanged. The Israeli government, the Palestinian Authority and the major Zionist organisations around the world claim to support the former solution, i.e. two states.

But Israel has maintained the longest occupation in recent history. It only annexed East Jerusalem, a small but important part of the OPT, but failed to give the Palestinians living there citizenship. Furthermore, in breach of the fourth Geneva Convention, it has allowed and encouraged Israeli citizens to settle in the OPT. The consequence of this is the mess we have to today; a highly cantonised West Bank in which 2 million Palestinians are gradually being forced into a few enclaves to make way for half-a-million settlers. Many of the settlers have moved to the OPT because of economic incentives. A minority are religious zealots. The Palestinians have no meaningful franchise. Their movement is restricted, they suffer sustained human rights abuses, and they are subject to military law while the settlers enjoy the full protection of Israeli civil law. An official policy of separation operates in the West Bank. This is the problem at the frontline of the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A worldwide movement to end the occupation has formed. It has gained momentum in recent years and it has now culminated in calls for boycotts. Some demand a boycott of all Israeli academia, culture and goods; others have called for partial boycotts. We argue that a call to boycott products produced in the West Bank is justified, both morally and strategically.

A boycott is a tactic. It is not a moral call to boycott every product produced by every country with a dubious human rights record. For one thing this is impossible in today’s global economy. Also some boycotts are wrong. For example the embargo on Iraqi goods in the 1990s caused hundreds of thousands of innocent deaths but did not help topple Saddam Hussein. A boycott only works in certain circumstances. The boycott of settlement goods is one such case for three reasons: (1) there is a worldwide movement to end the occupation and so a boycott has some prospect of success, (2) the boycott will cause inconvenience, but it won’t result in deaths, it will help alter policy and save lives on all sides, and (3) Israel, because of the liberal sensibilities of part of its population, and its desire to be recognised as a modern Western democracy, is sensitive to the boycott.

This partially answers the question why is there a boycott movement to end the Israeli occupation but not to end human rights abuses in, say, China or Iran. Yet some Zionist organisations will have everyone believe that it is simply because of worldwide hatred for Jews. Undoubtedly there are anti-Semites who target Israel but the vast majority of people support this cause because they are committed to human rights and oppose all racism, including anti-Semitism. Indeed, a large and growing number of Jews support it.

Why boycott Israeli settlement products? Nathan Geffen and Doron Isaacs — first published in the Jewish Report

The reasons for this are that the Occupation is the longest in recent history, smacks of hypocrisy in the face of Israel’s image as a liberal democracy, is undermining the prospects of democratising the whole middle east, and is destabilising the region and the world. Furthermore, the system of separation in the West Bank bares an extremely close resemblance to racial discrimination, which, in the wake of the US civil rights and anti-Apartheid movements is considered a universal evil.

Apologists for the Occupation pose Iran as the main example of a country that should be boycotted if those calling for boycotts are to be consistent. Iran is a destabilising force in the middle-east, particularly in its pursuit of nuclear weapons to match Israel. This does not imply that criticism of Iran’s anti-democratic theocracy should slacken. But in their antagonism to the West the Ayatollahs are more impervious to global moral pressure. Boycotts, like all tactics, are only invoked when they have a chance of success. There is therefore a necessary inconsistency. Nevertheless, what these apologists fail to account for is that there are very strictly enforced sanctions imposed upon Iran, and its clients like Hamas. Israel does not currently experience even a fraction of such sanctions.

The boycott will not bankrupt Israel, but it succeeds in posing the political question in the clearest light: either one supports these illegal settlements, or one is helping to remove them and to end the immoral Occupation. The rationale for a boycott of settlement products is compelling. We hope people throughout South Africa will join this boycott. In the long run, a worldwide strategic and principled boycott of settlement goods will not only help Palestinians realise their rights; it will make Israel a better place for all its people, Jews, Muslims, Christians and others. The leaders of white South Africa discovered this before it was too late. We hope Israeli leaders will too.

Geffen and Isaacs are founding members of Open Shuhada Street, an organisation that supports Israelis and Palestinians working together using non-violent means to end the Occupation.


  1. Tony ,

    It is utterly ridiculous of You to say that the Counter-Demonstration demonstrates alongside the EDL - I have posted numerous comments stating that We do not demonstrate with the EDL & do not want to be associated with Them .

    I regard it as a personal insult that You insinuate that I demonstrate alongside the EDL
    ( and by implication that I am in sympathy with Their beliefs & activity )

    Calling Searchlight
    " pro-Zionist "
    is an example of Your Sectarian attitude to other members of the Left .

    I was told that Debating with You was tantamount to oppening Myself for attack
    but I am disappointed that You seem to want to use My name as an excuse to engage in another article against Israel .

    I haven't made offensive allegations against You - please extend Me the same courtesy & refrain from using My name to make untrue & libellous comments !

    Surely instead of slandering
    Left-Wing supporters of Israel like Myself
    it would be more productive for You to try to be reasonable & engage with Socialist Zionists Who are trying to help promote peace between Palestinians & Israelis .

  2. Ian

    Why is it ridiculous to say that you were demonstrating alongside the EDL? You were and the photographs merely evidence that fact. When the NF tried to muscle in the miners’ strike or when fascists have tried to join Palestinian demonstrations they have been evicted, as the BNP were last year when they tried to join the Linday oil refinery strikers.

    Fascism is poison and death. There is never a good reason to work with fascists. It is because Zionism has tried to twist the meaning of anti-semitism so as to say that the fascists and left anti-Zionists are one and the same (and I could quote to you Zionists who say we are worse than the fascists) that they can put themselves in this absurd position. There are historical precedents for this as Donald Niewyk in his history of Weimar and the Jews shows when the Zionist Federation of Germany actually heckled a meeting of the Centralverein, the main communal organisation of German Jewry, alongside Nazi hecklers.

    It is a fact that Searchlight is pro-Zionist. It has covered very little ever of the far-right in Israel, nothing about the racism that Palestinians experience and next to nothing even about Israel’s links with the Lebanese Phalange. I was personally attacked by the then Searchlight Editor in a speech at NUS to the Union of Jewish Students back in the 1980’s when the equation Arab=Terrorist was drawn. Gable also stated in an interview with the Jewish Chronicle that he left the Communist Party because of its criticisms of Israel.

    I have no wish to libel you but you have taken the decision to join the anti-Ahava demonstration knowing full well that the EDL is also there. What you have never asked is why the EDL is so supportive of Ahava and Israel. What is it about Israel today that fascists, both the EDL and BNP – love so much?

    We know that Jonathan Hoffman can’t issue an outright denunciation of the EDL since he is complicit and hand in hand with its Jewish Division but you have no such excuse. Your problem is you believe you are a left-wing supporter of Israel. There is no such thing. Israel bases everything it does on the distinction between Arabs and Jews. It merely reverses the polarity. There was a time when socialists could fool themselves that supporting Zionism and being left-wing were compatible. The era of Liebermann and the pogrom atmosphere created against Israel’s Arab citizens has ended that. I suggest if you are serious that you reconsider what you are doing.

    Tony Greenstein


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