Nandy’s call is music to the BDS movement’s ears

Lisa Nandy at the Jewish Labour hustings (Marc Morris Photography via Jewish News)
Lisa Nandy at the Jewish Labour hustings (Marc Morris Photography via Jewish News)

Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy’s call for a ban on settlement goods if Israel proceeds with extending sovereignty/annexation in the West Bank is not OK.

I believe Nandy herself is a genuine two-stater who does not realise that what she is calling for intrinsically delegitimises Israel.

There are many passionate Zionists who oppose any move towards annexation and believe it endangers the two-state solution and the values Israel was founded on.

I would argue that you can hold fast to that position and use a range of tactics to criticise and put pressure on Israel without crossing the line into calling for the UK to take punitive economic measures against Israel, even if these are targeted against settlement goods.

The Board of Deputies and Jewish Leadership Council are right to view even targeted sanctions as a red line that should not be crossed.

The first thing to understand is that the measures Nandy is calling for may be targeted at the settlements but they are intended as a punishment for Israel’s government for whatever steps it might take. A state taking punitive economic measures such as banning any form of trade with another state constitutes economic sanctions. Sanctions are actually the final and most extreme component of the escalatory series of economic measures called for by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.

It’s disappointing that time and again when confronted with the question of how to get Israel to take a different approach, politicians and campaigners instinctively reach for the punitive economic measures promoted by the BDS campaign, rather than showing more imagination and looking for positive incentives that might get both Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.

The response is “but this is different, it only affects the settlements”.

In reality this narrow boycott of or sanction against settlement goods is seen as the first stage, the foot in the door, of the BDS campaign, the culmination of which is intended to be a full consumer, cultural and academic boycott and state sanctions against Israel on both sides of the Green Line, with the aim of destroying the viability and morale of Israel as a Jewish state.

The anti-Israel BDS campaign thus shares a tactic and a measurement of success with the smaller group of people, often Zionists, who don’t want to boycott Israel itself but do want to boycott settlement goods.

This means that when Nandy calls for a ban on settlement goods it isn’t just greeted as a victory by people who specifically dislike annexation or settlements, it is trumpeted by the BDS movement as a first stage victory for BDS and a stepping stone on the path to delegitimisation of Israel and an eventual one state solution i.e. Israel ceasing to exist.

It also means that the practical manifestations of a settlement BDS campaign are very difficult to tell apart from the manifestations of a general anti-Israel boycott, and are ugly and unpleasant.

The boycott of SodaStream was a settlement produce boycott because SodaStream’s factory was in Ma’ale Adumim. Its main practical manifestation was a weekly demonstration outside SodaStream’s EcoStream shop in Brighton which didn’t limit itself to anti-settlement messages but also featured anti-Israel messaging. These demonstrations caused a huge amount of distress to Brighton’s small Jewish Community.

The end result of the campaign was that Palestinian workers lost their jobs when the factory was relocated to the Negev.

BDS campaigners celebrated when the factory was relocated to the Negev but Palestinian workers lost their jobs.

The boycott of environmental services contractor Veolia is a settlement produce boycott because Veolia is, in the boycotters’ words, “complicit in war crimes” because it has a stake in building the Jerusalem tram, which both Jews and Arabs can use to travel across Jerusalem from western areas that were always Israeli to eastern areas of the city that are considered settlements. The demonstrators outside my town hall when this boycott was due to be debated did not confine themselves to criticism of settlements.

The boycott of Ahava is a settlement produce boycott because the beauty produce company uses minerals from the banks of the Dead Sea in an area that was not part of Israel before 1967. The practical manifestation of this boycott was an Israeli-owned shop being driven out of business in central London by regular demonstrations that looked and sounded like they were opposed to Israel as a whole, not just settlements, and which many Jewish people have told me they found distressingly similar to the picket lines outside Jewish shops in Germany in the 1930s.

The attempts in NUS to ban Coca-Cola products from student unions were because the company’s Israeli franchisee has bottling plants in the settlements.

The problem is that all settlement boycotts look very much like Israel boycotts. They are supported, promoted, and largely led by people who do not support a two-state solution. If you go on a settlement boycott picket lines you would find yourself surrounded by people from PSC (Palestine Solidarity Campaign), a group which does not support a two-state solution.

What would Nandy’s policy look like if implemented? It would for instance involve UK customs officers scrutinising Israeli wine, most of which ends up in Kosher supermarkets for a Jewish market, and banning entry into the UK of those bottles that can be identified as coming from say, the Judean Hills, or presumably given their status in international law, the Golan Heights.

The use of boycotts, divestment and sanctions as a tactic in regard to Israel is designed to have a very specific resonance with the main historic 20th Century boycott campaign, which was against apartheid South Africa. By using the tactic that was used against apartheid, the BDS movement seeks to create an intellectual parallel between Israel and apartheid.

The organisation I am Director of, We Believe in Israel, is open to any friend of Israel, however critical or not they are of current Israeli policies, as long as they support Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and the two-state solution. We have people we work with and who are on our mailing list who dislike the Netanyahu government, who believe settlements are illegal, and who want Israel to retreat to precisely the pre-1967 Green Line as a border when two states are created.

But we have a very firm view about when criticism becomes delegitimisation.

Any form of boycott, divestment and sanctions does constitute delegitimisation because it reinforces the false narrative that Israel is analogous with apartheid South Africa.

Boycott is an extreme tactic of last resort that has traditionally been used against international pariah regimes who epitomise evil – currently the UK has import sanctions against countries such as North Korea and Syria – not as a way of influencing the policy of an allied democracy. As such its use implicitly delegitimises Israel.

We could not expect the current strong diplomatic, security and trade relationship between the UK and Israel, which benefits the UK economy and our security so much, to continue to prosper if the UK imposed sanctions, however targeted, on Israel.

Friends of Israel who are looking for ways to criticise and put pressure on its government over annexation urgently need to find ways of doing so that avoid falling into the trap of using the same delegitimising tactics that Israel’s most hardcore enemies use.

About the Author
Luke Akehurst has been the Director of We Believe in Israel since 2011. We Believe in Israel is a broad coalition of over 19,000 supporters of Israel. Outside of work he was a Councillor in Hackney in East London for 12 years, has stood for Parliament twice and serves on the Labour Party National Executive Committee. He was previously an award-winning Director at global PR company Weber Shandwick.