Shahar Azani
JBS Senior Vice President & Former Israeli Diplomat . A Jew.

My New Year Resolution: Say No to Boycott!

Ecclesiastes tells us (1;9)

What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.

And yet, despite these ancient words of wisdom, we, as human beings, insist to strive continuously for new beginnings: hoping, dreaming, and yearning for something different and new. Unwilling to accept a pre-ordained fate. What are New Year Resolutions all about, if not that?! A hope for a better tomorrow.

The same dreams we have for ourselves, we share for our societies as well. The world seems to be going through one of its most trying periods. World Order, as much as there was one, seems to have shaken, and turmoil is all around us. The Middle East continues to burn, with innocent people killed every day, as pawns on the battlefield between different powers, both integral to the region as well as external ones. Christianity is under attack in its place of birth; as whole communities of Christians are being erased from the face of the Earth and tens of thousands of others are fleeing the Middle East to seek refuge elsewhere. Anywhere.

What is our power to influence this reality as individuals, in the face of such a dark picture? We do not sign peace treaties in our daily lives, nor do we launch army forces to war on our way to the grocery store. So, could we really affect a change? Make a real difference in this world? If there is one thing I had learnt in the course of my life and my experience with Israel (especially that as a diplomat serving in East Africa), it is that there is an unequivocal clear-cut answer to this question – YES, YES and YES. WE choose how to engage with the world around us and WE have the power to create our own path with the choices we make! No one else but us.

This is why I was so disappointed to read the L.A Times on January 8 and find an opinion piece by a UCLA Professor of English, calling to boycott Israeli schools and institutions, as if this is the right thing to do. Here we are, opening yet another year, hoping that this will be the one in which we will be able to make a real difference and bring about a positive change, and wake up to see that for some in media and academia – what has been done will be done again as there is nothing new under the sun.

The Boycott Movement against Israel is nothing new. It represents a continuous effort by the extremist few who know (and some others who join them unknowingly of their true intentions), to build walls between peoples at a time when bridges are so direly needed. They will use half-truths and sometimes utter lies, hiding reality and obscure obvious human complexities, to depict a non-existing black and white scenario in an area filled with so much natural gray. They do not aspire for a two state solution between Israel and the Palestinians, but rather envision the complete destruction of the Jewish state, and they do not make a secret of it.

Take that article from the LA Times, for instance, which laments the state of the Arab educational system in Israel. Yet, the same piece seems to neglect telling the reader – anywhere – that only a couple of weeks ago (weeks, not years) the Government of this same State of Israel (which they would like to boycott) unanimously approved a five-year plan to invest 15 billion NIS in the development of Arab municipalities in the fields of education, transportation, employment and housing. Among other things the plans calls for: 40 percent of the State of Israel’s public transportation budget will be used in the Arab sector, as well as 40 percent of the budget allocated to transportation infrastructure in municipalities, including an extensive and in-depth investment in education in the Arab sector, focusing on training educators, educational achievements, and informal education – in both basic and higher education.

Was that fact hidden from the eyes of the writer, and indeed those who chose to publish the article? Did they not know of this development, so recent in Israel, pertaining to this exact issue? One has to wonder. Moreover, dealing with the same issue of education in Israel, an analysis published in Israeli newspaper Haaretz at the beginning of the recent school year in Israel stated clearly that the social and economic class is the main influence on the level on education AND NOT the sector to which you belong. Henceforth, as the situation is in many other societies, affluent families who have more money will tend to invest more in their children’s education, thus creating a gap between different parts of the population. By the way, the same analysis found that on average, not surprisingly, Arab students tend to do better than most of the Jewish Ultra Orthodox students as well as lower-middle class Jewish students. This is not to say that Israel is perfect and above any and every criticism, but it is also not the epitome of all evil in the world. It is and should be treated just like everyone else. No more and no less.

There is a reason why the Boycott Movement has not been successful so far and why we must make sure this continues to be the case. Israel and the Palestinians are neighbours. There is no ocean between us, and our lives are intertwined, no matter what we say or do. Creating an abyss of suspicion and fear between Israelis and Palestinians will serve no purpose other than repeating last years’ mistakes and disasters. We can and should choose a different path.

What is the bottom line, then? Lets quit with simplicities, half-truths and lies in our public discourse. Let us choose a path of investment, rather than that of divestment. Lets us be wise enough to build bridges and not walls.

This is my resolution, and it should also be yours.

About the Author
Speaker, Author, JBS Senior Vice President. Formerly Israel's Consul for Media Affairs in NY and diplomat at Israel's Foreign Ministry. Thankful for every day. Hopeful for the future.
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