Read a letter exchange between Robert Pollin, co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts, and Naomi on the question of one-sided boycotts.
Robert Pollin:I strongly oppose Naomi Klein’s proposal to begin boycotts and divestment initiatives against Israel, similar to the approach used against South Africa in the apartheid era [“Lookout,” Jan. 26]. Klein anticipates four objections to her proposal and offers responses. But her list ignores the most important and obvious objection: it is entirely one-sided both in blaming Israel for the horrible cycle of violence in the region and in meting out punishment.
I agree entirely that the Israeli occupation is brutal. But Hamas is also brutal. To date, the only thing preventing Hamas from being less lethal than Israel in the damage it inflicts is its limited resources. Hamas is deliberately firing rockets into Israel with the aim of killing and terrorizing civilians. Should Iran, for example, succeed in supplying Hamas with more effective weapons, Hamas will become more successful in killing and terrorizing Israeli citizens. Rockets are beginning to land only twenty miles south of Tel Aviv.
The toll on Palestinian civilians of the current Israeli attack on Gaza is horrible. But let’s also recognize that Hamas is deliberately using civilians as human shields. The bomb that hit the home of Hamas leader Nazar Rayyan in Jabaliya tragically killed his wives and children as well as himself. Why was Rayyan exposing his family to such danger?
I agree with Klein that economic levers probably have the best chance of dramatically shifting the status quo (even while, given the history and emotions involved, economic initiatives could never offer a sufficient solution on their own). But instead of a one-sided boycott to punish Israel, why not pursue a positive agenda of economic development that would benefit both sides? Consider, for example, a development aid package on the order of $10 bil-lion, spread over two to four years, with funds supplied on an equitable basis from the United States, the European Union and the Arab oil-exporting countries. This amount would be enough to:
The amount of money I’m suggesting seems large, of course. But $10 billion is only about 7 percent of what the United States spent in Iraq in 2007 and 5 percent of Saudi Arabia’s $194 billion in oil revenues in 2008. In short, the amount is modest in comparison with the opportunities it will create to contribute to an equitable and lasting peace in the region.
- Robert Pollin, co-director, Political Economy Research Institute University of Massachusetts
Naomi Klein Replies:
Robert Pollin believes that the biggest problem with the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) strategy is that it targets only one side in the conflict. For Pollin, this is a conflict between equally guilty parties deserving of equal punishment. It is not. Israel is the party that displaced hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in 1948, annexed more of their land in 1967 and continues to occupy the land today. Occupiers and occupied people do not share the same responsibilities, which is why the duties and responsibilities of an occupying power are laid out in the Geneva Conventions—laws Israel violates with impunity.
Even if I were to accept Pollin’s argument that any sanction should punish both sides equally, we face a rather large problem. How does Professor Pollin propose that we punish Gazans more than they are being punished already? In case he has failed to notice, there is already a fierce campaign of boycotts and sanctions under way, and it is completely one-sided. I am referring, of course, to Israel’s brutal eighteen-month siege of Gaza, launched to teach Gazans a lesson for voting for Hamas in US-backed elections. As a direct result of this siege, Gazans have been deprived of lifesaving medicines, cooking fuel and paper—not to mention food. This is far more than a mere boycott; it’s “collective punishment,” as described by Richard Falk, United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. By contrast, the kind of legal boycott being called for by the BDS campaign would deprive Tel Aviv of some international concerts and, if it really got going, would cost Israel some foreign investment. It would not starve and sicken an entire people. In this context of actual one-sided punishment inflicted on Palestinians, sanctioned by the so-called civilized world, to complain of one-sided boycotts against Israel is, frankly, obscene.
As for the proposed $10 billion for a redevelopment/relocation fund, there is no doubt that if a just peace agreement is ever to be reached, a generous peace dividend will be required to make it work. But before we start handing out rewards for a nonexistent peace, Israel first has to decide that endless war is too costly. And that’s what the BDS strategy is for: to help Israel come to that eminently reasonable conclusion.
- Naomi Klein