The mouse that squeaked: Reykjavík’s Israel boycott

Reykjavík offers great views, if not great world-views
Reykjavík offers great views, if not great world-views

So Reykjavík’s city council is boycotting Israel. That’s a stupid decision guaranteed to help nobody — in particular, not the Palestinians. If anything it’s likely to fuel the flames of conflict even more.

It was likewise a stupid decision when Leicester city council voted to boycott Israel, and when Britain’s National Union of Students did, and so on and so on.

But although Reykjavík, Leicester and the NUS are undoubtedly dominant global powers, Israel can in fact cope without their business. Its economy will just about scrape by, even without Icelandic investment.

This is an important backdrop that should inform Israel advocates’ reaction to news of the boycott: if Israel will be fine either way, the stakes are immediately lower. Our response becomes solely about argument and persuasion, not about survival and our children’s future.

No need, then, to follow the advice contained in this comment that I found on Facebook:

Declare Iceland a Jew-hating zone and give them 24 hours before we nuke Reykjavík.

And, of course, the very reason that we oppose blanket boycotts of entire nations is that they’re intrinsically discriminatory and racist, so with regard to the Facebook suggestion that we:


…well, it seems to fall somewhat foul of Rabbi Hillel’s golden rule — quite apart from the fact that holding all Icelanders responsible for the actions of a few councillors in one particular city seems unfair.

If we support a boycott of the whole of Iceland just because some Icelanders did something we disagree with, how is that different to said Icelanders calling for a boycott of the whole of Israel just because some Israelis did something they disagree with?

The same point goes for the authors of racist comebacks such as:

What good ever came out of Iceland?


Iceland, a country of losers with even less brain than one can fathom

No! Naughty! If anyone said anything of the sort about Israel (imagine if a Church of England priest, say, tweeted: “Israel is a country of losers with even less brain than one can fathom”) we would all be utterly, and rightly, outraged. So let’s at least try to rise above it when the boot’s on the other foot.

And finally, just like how Reykjavík’s boycott is daft in that it won’t achieve anything because Israel doesn’t depend on its meagre trade with Iceland, the comment:

As a user of Icelandair, I will now never use them again. Shame, as I liked the Blue Lagoon, but we need to fight back.

…is equally daft. That particular ‘fightback’ is unlikely to have the Icelandic Minister for Tourism quaking in her shoes.

I don’t know whether the Reykjavíkian councillors who took the decision heard any counter-arguments, but if they were of the calibre of the online comments I’ve quoted, they wouldn’t have made any difference anyway.

So instead of us all grimly refusing to take our holidays in the amazing and beautiful country that contains Reykjavík (that‘ll teach ’em!!) what should we be saying to its council to argue back?

  1. It’s not your fight. Your job is to provide municipal services, including schools and recycling, to 120,000 residents. Solving the Middle East conflict is not one of your responsibilities — for which you should be thankful! — so don’t waste your time and money on it.
  2. It’s more complicated than you think. As with most conflicts, there’s more than one side. Pressurising Israel without doing anything to address the Palestinians is only going to make things more confused.
  3. Don’t create more victims. A blanket boycott of Israel affects every single Israeli person and business, even those that — like you, and quite rightly — have concerns over their country’s treatment of the Palestinians. Israel’s great strength is its democracy. Indiscriminately boycotting everyone including those who agree with you is, quite simply, nuts.

Those are three points. Just three, just a tiny fraction of the myriad sensible arguments against boycotts, divestment and sanctions.

We should use them more, partly because they’re pretty damn persuasive, and partly because anything raising the tone of the online debate about Israel can only be a positive development.

This article is written in a personal capacity.

About the Author
Gabriel Webber is a rabbinic student at Leo Baeck College, London
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