In defence of boycott

Emotions run high when we debate Palestine.  They also run high when Irish republicans and socialists with different perspectives on republicanism and socialism debate anything!  That is probably understandable.  Many have invested greatly in their respective struggles and many have suffered greatly as a result.

The situation in Palestine appals most progressive thinkers including Irish republicans and socialists.  What to do about it however, has often led to disagreement (even among the Palestinians themselves!).  We cannot physically defend the Palestinians or end the Israeli Occupation even if we were prepared to or wanted to invest in doing that.  We do not have the military or physical power.  Probably only the USA and the Security Council could do that and even then we might argue about what the result might be.

In recent years, most Palestine campaigners have come around to the notion that the best approach from the global community is the boycott of Israel.  This involves attempting to build a campaign aimed at isolating and excluding Israel from normal global activities – cultural, sporting, economic, academic, research and indeed political – until such times as that state agrees to abide by UN resolutions on Palestine, UN Human Rights and Humanitarian Law and UN International Law. .  The hope is that as an excluded pariah state, the Israeli people may begin to feel the impacts of the world’s hostility to Israel’s actions and policies and put pressure on their Government for change.  This was the point of the boycotts during the Great Hunger in Ireland in the mid-19th century, when landlords and bailiffs were boycotted by local communities.  It was also the type of campaign which successfully forced Apartheid South Africa to the negotiation table with the ANC. It is a tactic, however, not a principle, and not everyone agrees with it.  It is difficult for decent human beings to isolate and exclude other human beings.  However, for many of us boycott is the lesser of two evils – the other is to allow Israel to continue to operate in the world as a normal acceptable state.

Some, including the UK Government and the EU have argued that the way forward is not boycott but dialogue with Israel.  The view is that by maintaining links persuasion can be used (by one friend on another, etc.).  For many Palestinians and activists however, maintaining relations with Israel has not improved the plight of Palestine but improved and reinforced the control of Palestine by Israel.  Without global opprobrium it is suggested, Israel will do nothing to change its gradual takeover of all Palestine land.

The tactic of boycott is now almost universally endorsed by all Palestinian campaigners and most of Palestinian society.  It allows the global community to play its part in righting the wrongs it created and reproduced historically (and currently) in that region of the world.  It also enables Palestinians to believe that there may be hope of a new dawn via non-violent resistance.  We know that boycott is a tactic, not a principle.  Not everyone will support it.  That doesn’t mean we should reject their support on other levels or drive their support away.  My own view is that we need to win friends and influence people, not turn potential friends away.   The only reason we employ boycott against Israel is because Israel has consistently ignored UN resolutions and attempts by its ‘friends’ to encourage it to end its illegal (internationally) occupation and its ongoing oppression of the Palestinian people.  However, for boycott to work, we need as many people/groups as possible supporting it.  Otherwise it is the boycotters who end up isolated and excluded not the oppressors.

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About Féilim Ó hAdhmaill

Dr. Féilim Ó hAdhmaill is a Lecturer in Social Policy in the School of Applied Social Studies, University College Cork, Ireland. His subject areas are Comparative Social Policy; Conflict Transformation and Peace Building; Community Development and he is Programme Director for the Masters in Voluntary and Community Sector Management. University profile http://research.ucc.ie/profiles/A012/fohadhmaill For information on the Masters in Voluntary and Community Sector Management http://www.ucc.ie/en/cke75/ He has a long background working in community and voluntary sector and as a political activist in the North of Ireland. He is a former republican prisoner who spent seven and a half years in prison. He was released from jail in August 2000 under the Good Friday Agreement. He has lectured in social policy at Queens University Belfast and Ulster University and have been a lecturer in University College Cork since 2006.
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