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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