Boycotting Israel: Moderate voices drowned out by hard-liners

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the most complex and difficult in modern history, with two competing narratives attempting to describe an extraordinary shared history. With polarisation on the issue endemic, there is limited space for moderates in the center to advocate a resolution that delivers justice for Palestinians, security for Israelis and peaceful co-existence for both.

By Alex Bjarnason, organiser and communications Officer for Trade Union Friends of Israel

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the most complex and difficult in modern history, with two competing narratives attempting to describe an extraordinary shared history.

With polarisation on the issue endemic, there is limited space for moderates in the center to advocate a resolution that delivers justice for Palestinians, security for Israelis and peaceful co-existence for both.

There is clearly considerable anger about the lack of progress in delivering Palestinian statehood, Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and settlement building, the blockade of Gaza, and stasis in the peace process.

Such anger is exploited by activists devoted to making Israel a pariah state, completely isolated internationally as a pre-cursor to its collapse and the liberation of all British Mandate Palestine, with no interest in peace or a two-state solution.

Such views have become worryingly common in the British trade union movement, with many trade unions voting to support the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.

BDS seeks a complete economic, political and social boycott of Israel, with divestment from companies that have links to Israel and sanctions to punish the country.

Rather than proposing punitive measures against Israelis living in West Bank settlements and companies that operate there, BDS targets all Israelis, including those with progressive values who want an end to the occupation, the formation of a Palestinian state and who continue to pressure the Israeli government to take more moderate positions.

I’m often asked what motivates these activists, beyond the reaction to genuine injustice that angers us all. Many belong to far-left fringe groups and view the State of Israel as a colonial experiment supported by American imperial ambitions, based on occupying stolen Palestinian land, a case study of everything wrong with the modern world that must be resisted.

More cynically, they recognise the Israeli-Palestinian conflict provides an irresistible opportunity to recruit for political groups that are dying because the next generation have lost interest in Marxist  revolutionary politics.

The great success of the BDS campaign in British trade unions has been to draw popular support from grassroots, moderate members who agree with a proposed motion but wouldn’t support the full litany of BDS policies.

Their support derives from compassion for Palestinians who face severe hardships and anger at the policies of an Israeli government who appear harsh and cruel, with the BDS activists excelling in presenting information with a cynical mix of half-truth and spin that pushes sensible trade unionists into agreeing with less-progressive, hard-line positions.

The challenge in the future is to reach out more effectively to moderates who recognise the right of both Palestinian and Israelis to live in peace as part of a two-state solution, and find a more productive way to channel their anger that can help improve the lives of Palestinians and make peaceful co-existence between the two people become a reality.

In particular, we need to work on building stronger links between moderates in the UK and progressives in Israel and Palestine who recognise the urgency of supporting the peace process and realise a better-future will be based on friendship, tolerance and co-existence.

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7 Responses to “Boycotting Israel: Moderate voices drowned out by hard-liners”

  1. Graham Thompson


    I do hope that we will see an article claiming that all supporters of Israel secretly plan to exterminate arabs from the face of the earth. Balance is so important.

  2. Owen Tudor, TUC

    In the context of the statement about “many trade unions voting to support the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign” it is worth noting that the TUC Congress policy is to boycott goods from illegal settlements in occupied Palestinian territory, a policy supported by the vast majority of UK unions. It is not helpful or sensible to blur the distinction between boycotting Israel (which is explicitly not the policy of the TUC) and boycotting illegal settlement goods, which is indeed in line with other international boycotts – most recently of the regime in Burma.

  3. Ian

    Hi Owen ,
    But I think We should compare the disproportionate way that many Trade Unions are obsessed with condemning Israel ( a Democracy which has a innovative & fighting Trade Union Movement , LGBT Rights , Freedom of speech & a free Press , Women’s involvement in Society , Free Elections etc ) with the lack of interest that They display in supporting other Human Rights causes & Liberation Struggles . ( You mentioned Burma – how many motions are raised by the movement about the appalling Human Rights abuses , including Genocide against the Karen People , committed by the Military Junta , compared with the number raised against Israel ? )

    I realise that You do excellent work in the TUC International Department to campaign on these issues – but I wish that some of the Unions would start to get more involved with International Solidarity work .

    We believe that one of the major reasons that Israel is singled-out for condemnation is the unbalanced way that Palestine Solidarity campaigners use Our Movement to push their opinions ( always without any attempt to understand Israel’s viewpoint or Security needs ) .
    It is time that Our Movement stopped allowing itself to be hi-jacked by extremists with a hidden agenda ( Israel’s destruction as a Nation State ) .

    The Trade Union Movement should be doing positive work of facilitating dialogue between Israeli & Palestinian Trade Unionists , helping to build & train Trade Union Organisation in Israel & Palestine , doing everything We can to aid the Peace Process within the Trade Union Movements … the sort of responsible & constructive campaigning that is being carried out by Trade Union Friends Of Israel & Trade Unions Linking Israel And Palestine .

  4. Moas

    There are two laws that apply in Israel and the
    GAZA And West Bank civil and military
    The Palistine have no choice in Israel and out side
    In the West Bank or GAZA ,we have a choice
    To seek justice for all .BDS is one new way

  5. Harry Abrams

    It’s a no-brainer. This BDS business is racist hogwash by people who hate Jews. That’s all anyone needs to know..

  6. mightymark

    Particularly right to emphasize both the anti American angle and also that of recruitment to dying Marxist groupuscules. Both cynical and opportunist.

  7. abebird

    Stop wiping with your dry tears! You know that Muslims don’t accept non-Muslims entities in their “Dahr El-Islam” (area of peace and Allah acceptance). For that the Muslims are the peace deniers and they are devoted to annihilate the Jews in the land of Israel. The fact that among Jews you can find some lunatic retarded people as Azmon, doesn’t make his case right. Atzmon lost his conscience and sold his soul the Nazi devil, which he makes love with.

    Palestinian Authority Representative in Lebanon Abbas Zaki Supports Anti-Israeli Attacks
    and States: We Act According to the (Arafat and Abu Abbas 1974) Phased Plan (for the destruction of the Zionist entity). Once We Get Jerusalem, We Will Move On to Drive Israelis Out of All of Palestine. And that man sat the closest to Abu Abbas, in last September UN general assembly.

    and again:

    Nabil Shaath, Head of Foreign Relations in Fatah: We Will Never Accept the
    “Two-States for Two Peoples” Solution to the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict.

    Hamas Cleric Wael Al-Zarad Calls for the Annihilation of Jews and States: If Each Arab Spat on the Jews, They Would Drown in Arab Spit.

    Deputy Speaker of Hamas Parliament Ahmad Bahr: We Will Sweep the Siblings of Pigs and Apes out of Our Land.

    Good criticism of Arabs by an Arab

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