Mondoweiss / March 2, 2023
As you have surely noticed, many liberal Zionists are calling on the world to boycott or divest from Israel over the “judicial coup” — the Netanyahu government’s steps to end the independence of the Israeli judiciary. And no wonder, boycott is a time-honored tool of social activists going back to Gandhi and Rosa Parks.
The amazing thing is that these calls by Jewish Israelis are being echoed and heralded by leading voices in the U.S. and the media. That’s in stark contrast to the longtime call by Palestinian civil society for the world to Boycott, Divest and Sanction Israel, which the American press treats with disdain and which politicians and liberal Zionists say is antisemitic.
The Palestinian campaign has long tried to stop Israel — a so-called “Jewish democracy” — from unending violations of Palestinian human rights. While the Israeli activists are largely concerned with anti-democratic moves. But the double standard for the two boycott demands shows how deeply engrained anti-Palestinian racism is in our western discourse.
Let’s have a look at the new boycott and divestment calls (which I must say I find very encouraging, because they help crack the pro-Israel Jewish monolith and open the door to BDS):
Former Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid has suggested that the U.S. stop aid. Israeli rabbi Noa Sattath called on everyone who puts money into Israel to stop doing so. Even the U.S. ambassador is getting into the act, saying that economic impact on Israel is the language that Netanyahu understands, and that will make him change his mind about cutting down the courts.
Many outlets report that divestment is already occurring because of the government’s moves against the judiciary. Most of these reports appear to be warnings to Netanyahu; but they show just how important liberal Zionists see the tool of divestment to curb Netanyahu.
“Capital flight has begun,” Yossi Alpher says at Americans for Peace Now.
Intel executive Tzahi Weisfeld warns Netanyahu that because of the “judicial coup,” the country is on the verge of losing the high tech industry, Calcalist reports. Weisfeld demands that Netanyahu “stop the madness” of his extremist government now.
[Weisfeld] is the first senior Israeli executive from among the technology giants to openly oppose the judicial coup…
According to him, “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has met many managers of huge international companies, Economy Minister Nir Barkat lives and knows the high-tech industry and understands the irreversible damage that can happen. I do not understand how Barkat is not stopping this madness and is lending a hand to the destruction of what we have built here for years. We have built an amazing industry and it cannot be that the Prime Minister is not stopping this madness.”
Tom Friedman issued similar warnings to Netanyahu in a column in the New York Times. Friedman (who once told an American Jewish audience that “Israel had me at Hello”) bewailed that Netanyahu is risking “Israel’s high-tech miracle” and its relations “with Jewish democrats across the world.” His column featured a photograph of a demonstration with the banner, “From Startup Nation to Shutdown Nation,” and quoted an executive of Wiz, an internet security company, saying the company will not invest $300 million of newly-raised capital in Israel because the country faces an “existential threat.” That executive also said:
“Unfortunately, in light of the judicial coup, [w]e have heard from worried investors and entrepreneurs who are discreetly transferring their money out of the country, as well as employees who are concerned about their future in Israel.”
The Israel Policy Forum published a podcast of two Israeli journalists, Neri Zilber and Tal Schneider, in which they said that Netanyahu is about to kill the golden goose of international investment and wreck the economy.
Netanyahu has refused to “acknowledge the damage that’s already been wrought and also the warnings from literally every economic analyst and official both internationally and here,” Zilber said.
While Schneider said Netanyahu was about to “ruin” an Israeli business culture that has reaped great material rewards.
“I presume he thinks if there will be an economic damage it will maybe be for a short term or a period of time, and thereafter he will be able to fix it,” Schneider said. “He trusts his own guts… he’s willing to ruin [the economy] in order to fix it later…. You and I understand that… once there is an economic destruction rolling you will not be able to stop it. you don’t know where things will take a deep dive… The damage can be much bigger than he presumes.”
Schneider expressed personal fear over this damage: that Israel’s high standard of living will plummet and the country will become like Argentina or Turkey.
Palestinian human rights surely don’t matter as much as the Startup Nation. For many years, Palestinians have been begging the world to use this same threat, boycott, divestment and sanctions, to stop the Israeli government from killing Palestinians and illegally stealing their property for Jewish settlements and depriving refugees of their right to return and imposing a “Jewish democracy” on Palestinian citizens.
The double standard for Jewish and Palestinian activism was blatant in a New York Times article on divestment that was surely aimed as a shot across Netanyahu’s bow. Titled, “Tech Leaders in Israel Wonder If It’s Time to Leave,” the article said that Netanyahu’s planned judicial overhaul “could transform the country and frighten away investors,” and “executives of Start-Up Nation are mulling an exodus.”
If Israel’s democratic institutions are undermined, investors and executives contended, it will keep blue-chip customers and investors at bay.
The former Jerusalem bureau chief for the Times, Jodi Rudoren, found this story “sad.” (Rudoren, now the editor of the Forward, used to hide her pro-Israel bias.)
The Times article never mentions Palestinians, even though Israel had just massacred 11 of them. And the Times has never reported that the Startup Nation is actually being put at risk by all the human rights organizations and human rights experts, beginning with Jimmy Carter, who have declared that the country practices apartheid. The Times has saved Israel from that embarrassment, and in this article describes it as a liberal democracy (a fiction about a society that has declared that Jews have the “exclusive right of self-determination” in the land, including higher property and language rights, and which confiscates more and more Palestinian land in Jerusalem and the West Bank so as to “Judaize” the land).
In ticking off all the Israeli Jewish entrepreneurs who are getting cold feet, the Times never mentions the brave western artists who have refused the stage in Israel, including Roger Waters, Lana Del Rey, Sally Rooney, and Brian Eno, because of the treatment of Palestinians.
For 18 brave years Palestinians have been calling for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. That Palestinian call has been treated by the U.S. mainstream press with dishonor– it’s been labeled antisemitic by Jewish organizations, and more than half of U.S. states have acted to legally punish those who call for BDS.
Now it is true that some of these new Jewish calls for economic punishment cite crimes against Palestinians. Note these statements by Sen. Bernie Sanders, Americans for Peace Now, and the anti-occupation Jewish youth group IfNotNow.
Of course it would be nice if these folks would go further, and support BDS. I think they will someday, and the judicial coup is helping them along– and so it is progress when American Jews turn against the Israeli government, no matter the cause.
Philip Weiss is senior editor of Mondoweiss.net and founded the site in 2005-06