Bibi’s boycott: Will 2014 be the year that Israel divorces the world?

apartheidby Bradley Burston
Ha’aretz / Israel

One week. Just one cold, dark, miserable week in December, but more than long enough to understand the reason why boycotts against Israel may be gaining momentum.

The reason is Israel.

The reason is that if Israel’s government were actively striving to encourage the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, fuel it, expand its impact, accelerate its growth, it could not do a better job than the one it is doing right now.

On second thought, maybe it is. Maybe that’s the strategy.

Maybe Iran is not the enemy that Benjamin Netanyahu hoped it would turn out to be. Nor Mahmoud Abbas. Nor, certainly, Barack Obama.

Maybe what’s needed is a new enemy, one which is everywhere, can be blamed for everything, can be accused of anything, and can even be used for fundraising.

Maybe 2014 will be the year that Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israel makes itself so unlikable, so unsympathetic, so intentionally anti-democratic – champion only of settlers, tycoons, and the Orthodox and Born Again Christian hard right – that boycotts will simply come naturally.

Maybe this will be the year that Israel divorces the world. Divorces even the majority of Jews in it – non-Orthodox, anti-settlement, pro-tolerance and human rights.

If Israel were actively trying to support a worldwide boycott against it, could it possibly do a better job than it’s doing right now?

How else to explain all this? How else to explain a week in which Benjamin Netanyahu’s explanation for why he snubbed memorial ceremonies for Nelson Mandela (the trip would cost too much) was worse than the snub itself. Especially when it freed Netanyahu and his cabinet to do the following:

1) Worsen ties with the EU, and enrage visiting Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and his government, by refusing to allow a cargo security scanner donated by the Netherlands to be used for one of its main goals: facilitating export of goods from Gaza to the West Bank in order to help alleviate poverty in the Strip.

2) Kill proposed gay rights legislation that would have banned discrimination based on sexual orientation. A poll later showed that 70 percent of Israelis support equal rights for gays.

3) Pass a rush-order law allowing the government to jail African asylum seekers for up to a year without trial, thus spurring 150 of the migrants – some of them barefoot, many of them Sudanese refugees already jailed for up to two years without trial – to begin a protest march in the freezing cold from the Negev to Jerusalem. When they arrived Tuesday for a peaceful demonstration outside the Prime Minister’s Office, police dragged, shoved, and carried them onto buses bound back to the detention camp. Netanyahu, meanwhile, took the occasion to hail the rule of law and condemn the asylum seekers as “illegal infiltrators.”

4) State that “pressing business” kept the prime minister from an expected landmark appearance before an international convention of Reform Judaism in San Diego – only to have the pressing business include cabinet consideration of purchasing an airliner for the use of Netanyahu and Israel’s president, as well as building a new prime ministerial residence that reportedly would cost some 650 million shekels ($186 million).

5) Quietly revive and advance a supposedly defunct plan that would have entailed expulsion of some 30,000 Bedouin citizens of Israel from their current homes in the Negev. One of the stewards of the bill will be Likud MK Miri Regev, who last year called Sudanese refugees “a cancer” in Israeli society, only to later apologize – to cancer sufferers – for the analogy.

6) Pass a bill to curb donations to left-wing non-profit organizations over the direct and explicit objections of the Deputy Attorney General, who called the law unconstitutional and indefensible in court, and the Attorney General, who said the bill harmed “free discourse in Israel, which is one of the key democratic anchors of the state,” and was reminiscent of policies “in a number of states that it’s doubtful Israel wants to be lumped together with.”

7) Ignore the implications of a study on poverty in Israel, which showed that nearly one in eight children in Israel are forced to resort to picking through garbage cans in order to eat.

And all this, as it continues to expand settlement construction at the expense of all else.

Make no mistake. Whatever gains BDS scores this coming year, this will be Bibi’s boycott. This will be Israel’s doing.

At this point, the boycott movement is nearly the only concrete achievement the Netanyahu government can point to. It seems determined to miss no opportunity to kick the world in the teeth, even as it relates to thousands of its most disadvantaged residents by kicking them when they are down.

Netanyahu may extol the rights of gays and the wonders of Israeli democracy. But the prime minister knows the truth as well as anyone.

If he can continue to win by picturing Israel as nothing more than the innocent victim of irrational hate, the only loser will be Israel, and all who live here.

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Bradley Burston is a Haaretz columnist and Senior Editor of Haaretz.com which publishes his blog, “A Special Place in Hell.”

During the first Palestinian uprising, Burston served as Gaza correspondent for the Jerusalem Post, and was the paper’s military correspondent in the 1991 Gulf War.

In the mid-1990s he covered Israeli-Arab peace talks for Reuters. In 2006, he received the Eliav-Sartawi Award for Mideast Journalism, presented at the United Nations.

A native of Los Angeles, Burston moved to Israel after graduation from Berkeley. He was part of a group which established Kibbutz Gezer, between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Burston served in the IDF as a combat medic, later studying medicine in Be’er Sheva for two years before turning to journalism. He is married and has two daughters.