Boycott Israel: How and Why

This is a brief post about boycott tactics aimed at putting pressure on Israel to end its occupation of the Palestinian territories (the West Bank and Gaza).

Boycotts are a non-violent means of protest. Wikipedia defines

“A boycott [as] an act of voluntarily abstaining from using, buying, or dealing with a person, organization, or country as an expression of protest, usually for social or political reasons.”

Boycott of Galo Wine

What is the point of boycotting Israel? At the present, given that most people in Canada and the US don’t know much about the Israel/Palestine conflict nor do they care much about it, the main point is to use boycott tactics to help educate people. When asked to boycott some Israeli product or business, the first question people will ask is why? The answer should help inform people about what is going on.

Therefore one should choose targets whose actions people are likely to disagree with or disapprove of. For example companies that support the occupation and help expand the settlements, which means stealing Palestinian land and delaying or preventing the formation of a Palestinian state.

Beyond educating people, another positive effect of boycotts over here (that is outside Israel), is that they generate solidarity and engage people emotionally, even if they are almost entirely symbolic. So one should target the worst offenders because these will be the cases that affect people’s emotions most strongly.

The second goal is to put pressure on companies to change their behavior. The fear of a boycott can cause a company to cease the behavior that led to the boycott. In this case it makes sense to focus on the worst offender or on one company in particular. Because this will put them at a competitive disadvantage and will provide the most incentive for the company to change their ways. This is another reason not to boycott indiscriminately.

The final goal is to put pressure on Israeli society to end the occupation. I list this last, because to me this is the most difficult outcome to achieve. A purely symbolic boycott will never achieve such a goal, although it can help to educate people at home (here in Canada and the US). A boycott that causes single digit losses in market share will not lead to this goal either, although it can cause companies to change their behavior. Only a sustained and general boycott that cripples the Israeli economy will lead to this result directly. And so one should not spend much time focusing on this because it is still a far off goal. If we are lucky the conflict will end before things ever get this far.

But again we should focus on the worst offenders, because this is the way to have the most positive effect on the Israeli public. If we boycott all of Israel, then there is no way for Israelis to agree with the boycott. If Israelis who are opposed to the occupation are directly targeted then it is much more difficult for even them to support the boycott and by extension its goals. If only the worst violators are targeted then it becomes easier to support change within Israel. Of course this assumes that there are enough Israelis that oppose the occupation.

My main point is that one should be careful in choosing targets for boycott, because the goal of boycotts should be to educate people about what is going on, to put pressure on companies to stop or change their negatives behavior and finally to put pressure on Israeli society to end the occupation. I have listed these three broad goals in what I consider to be their order of importance.

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