PPI supports a selective, targeted boycott of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, not at Israel as a whole. The conception of a selective boycott first adopted by PPI called for a boycott of goods produced by the settlements. This has subsequently been advocated by Peter Beinart and is widely discussed in American peace circles. PPI also supports extension of the boycott to those Israeli firms that have branches (such as banks) or direct participation in the economy of the settlements, as was formerly the case with SodaStream. The economy of the settlements and of the West Bank is too intertwined with the Israeli economy as a whole for it to be possible to limit the boycott to products of the settlements.
The movement for total BDS has considerable wind behind its sails and we appreciate such achievements as the closure of the SodaStream factory in the West Bank and the withdrawal, by PGGM, a Netherlands pension-fund company, of funds from Israeli banks that have branches in the West Bank or finance construction in the settlements. But the campaign for BDS also presents serious problems and can only be pursued selectively. The most problematic aspect is the academic and cultural boycott. This targets the sector of Israeli society that is most critical of the occupation and most open to joining a movement against it. It hardly makes sense to target those groups in Israel who endorse our program. Various artists have refused to perform in Israel in protest over its occupation policies, and in Israel writers like David Grossman, A.B. Yehoshuah and Amos Oz have supported artists who refuse to perform in the West Bank. We follow the lead of the Israeli peace movement and left in such cases. But we do not support a general boycott of Israeli academics and cultural workers. We believe that critical views are promoted by contact between Israeli and international academics, and between international artists and Israeli audiences. We want to encourage such dialogue.
A second, and more fundamental, problem of total BDS is its support, implicitly or, in some cases, explicitly, for a one-state solution, meaning, for us, an end to a Jewish state. Our view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that it is a conflict between two national groups, both of whom enjoy equally the right of national self-determination in a state of their own. The BDS mission statement further calls for the right of return for Palestinian refugees, rather than a negotiated agreement, such as a mix of return and compensation.
The academic and cultural boycott suggests that the BDS movement does not regard the Israeli peace movement and left as allies, since they are for compromise, not for an end to the Israeli state. Because BDS is seen, in Israel, as an attack on Israel’s existence, there is very little support for it. PPI does not regard a one-state solution in Israel-Palestine as feasible and we take the right of Israel to exist as a given. We support those who struggle to keep Israel’s character as both a Jewish and a democratic state.
Support for total BDS is understandable. It speaks to widespread international frustration with Israel’s failure to negotiate in good faith with the Palestinians, and the continuation of a brutal occupation that has gone on far too long. But to the extent that it reflects the view that a Jewish state cannot be at the same time a democratic state for all its citizens, we reject it.
The main aim of PPI is to support the Israeli left and peace movement. This requires contact with Israel, which total BDS would cut off. We hope that others who want to see the Israeli left and peace movement strengthened will support a selective boycott of Israel’s aggressive occupation and illegal settlement movement, and will find ways to support progressive Israeli efforts, whether through PPI or otherwise.