The New York Times today published a great article calling for an end to the Arab boycott of Israel. That in itself is excellent news. What is even more gratifying and certainly most surprising is that the article is written by Ed Husain, a Muslim man, albeit an American who is a senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.
I recently visited Israel and the West Bank for the first time. I am Muslim and in Muslim communities around the world to visit Israel is to support “the Zionist entity” and therefore risk social isolation. Not only is this mind-set outdated, it is self-defeating.
The Arab League began its boycott of Zionist goods back in 1945 and later created a Central Boycott Office to ensure minimal Arab contact with Israel. In reality, the Gulf states and others circumvent this policy, but the Arab and Muslim masses have yet to break free from the mind-set of boycotting all things Israeli.
A prominent cleric, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, in addition to justifying suicide bombings against Israelis, regularly upholds his fatwas urging Muslims to avoid contact with Israel from his Al Jazeera podium. Recent attempts by European Marxist academics to boycott Israel have given support to this counterproductive attitude.
Many people condemn Israeli settlements and call for an economic boycott of their produce, but I saw that it was Arab builders, plumbers, taxi drivers and other workers who maintained Israeli lifestyles. Separatism in the Holy Land has not worked and it is time to end it. How much longer will we punish Palestinians to create a free Palestine?
I abandoned Muslim groupthink and went to Israel because there is a new momentum in the region. Egypt’s former grand mufti, Ali Gomaa, and the prominent scholar Habib Ali al-Jifri, broke ranks with Qaradawi and went to Jerusalem last April. They justified their visit on scriptural grounds, citing the Prophet Muhammad’s encouragement for believers to visit the Holy Land. Their trip was facilitated by Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal of Jordan, the principal religious adviser to King Abdullah II.
… Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for all his faults, is correct in identifying a wider strain of intolerance of Israel. The nations of the Arab Spring cannot be serious about wanting democracy when they are banning their citizens from visiting Muslim (and Jewish and Christian) holy sites.
The voice of the Palestinian imams who want to see an end to the boycott needs to be amplified.
Without a shift in attitudes, Israel’s security concerns will never be allayed. Humanizing Israel to Arabs — by bringing together America’s Muslim allies, by addressing anti-Semitism in school textbooks and in sermons at mosques, by permitting Arab citizens to visit and trade with Israel — are requisite first steps.
To be credible in Muslim eyes, any peace agreement requires backing from major Sunni powers, including Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt. With Islamist organizations of various hues in power in Ankara, Tunis, Gaza, Cairo and on the rise in Libya, Yemen, Syria and Jordan, the West cannot continue to ignore religious dimensions to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Unless we tame the Islamist tiger, a decade from now we will look back and lament.
Ed Husain very astutely points out the self-defeating result of the Arab boycott and how it turns into a vicious circle of anti-Israel hatred which in turn exacerbates Israel’s security concerns (a subject that I have addressed before). He is to be commended for his courage in going against the stream in Muslim society, and also for possibly risking his physical safety.
Husain’s article is very timely indeed considering that Israel Apartheid Week (IAW) is upon us once more. In fact there seems to be so much Israeli Apartheid that the week has inflated to almost a whole month (from February 25th in Europe to March 17th in south Africa. And no, I won’t provide a link for those dates. I don’t want to bring more traffic to those bigots). It won’t be long before IAW will last the whole year long.
In relation to this subject, David Hirsh of Engage Online (the British anti-racist site fighting anti-Semitism), wrote a wonderfully pointed refusal to an invitation to debate whether Israel is an apartheid state or not. (h/t Harry’s Place). Hirsh accurately calls Israel Apartheid Week “Don’t buy from the Jews week” and writes:
I was invited to debate the question “Is Israel an Apartheid State” by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign at a university in England as part of “Israel Apartheid Week”. The email mentioned that I had previously represented a pro-Israel state position. I replied as follows:
You have been mis-informed. I did not present “pro-Israel” views in Birmingham. I presented an anti-nationalist and pro-peace position. I am an anti-racist, and therefore am reluctant to participate in your Don’t buy from the Jews week. I am saddened to be invited to an event of this kind on a university campus. […] efforts to educate students in Leicester to believe that Israelis, uniquely, are racists who deserve to be excluded from the global community of arts, sports, academia and trade, are entirely counter-productive to that goal.
When Hirsh was reassured by the PSC that there had been a misunderstanding and that the PSC are not racist, he replied:
No, this is not a misunderstanding. The Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s primary focus is not constructive solidarity with democratic Palestinians, it is to make propaganda in Britain for an exclusion of Israelis from the global community. There is nothing new about the drive to exclude Jews from the community. The point of characterising Israel as “apartheid” is to make a thought-free path to the boycott conclusion; it isn’t an open effort to do comparative analysis or illuminative analogy. Israel is the only state which you say is “apartheid” and it is the only state which you want to boycott; Israelis are the only people who you want collectively to punish for the actions of their state. PSC does not aim to open a dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians but to exclude Israelis from having their voices heard by boycotting them. PSC supports antisemitic organisations like Hamas, which seek to destroy Israel and to kill Israelis. PSC is for war against Israel, not for peace between Israel and Palestine. Perhaps if there is a misunderstanding here it is that you misunderstand the aims and the culture of the PSC, the organisation to which you are affiliated.
I received no further response.
A perfect example proving that the boycott is counter-productive occurred when it was announced this week that SodaStream, an Israeli company that has been the target of a vicious propaganda and boycott campaign, reported a huge jump in sales this year:
It has been a break out year for SodaStream, a fact that can be reflected in a 51% increase in full year revenue, to 436.3 million, reported by the company last month. The numbers were positive all-around in fact: fourth-quarter revenue increased 55% to $132.9 million, and the company sees 2013 revenue and adjusted net income improving by 25 percent, with half of the sales growth coming from the U.S.
Not bad for a company that has been demonized by such anti-Israel organizations as CodePink and the BDS movement — this despite the fact that it employs 500 West Bank Arabs and 400 Palestinian Arabs living in east Jerusalem.
Common sense, not to mention common decency, would tell these people that the anti-Israel boycott has long been ineffective, and as shown here, is even counter-productive. But Israel’s haters do not like the facts to get in the way of their prejudice.
And to all you supporters of Israel, I say “Buycott, not boycott“.