Saturday, July 16, 2011

Balaam's curse 2011

For many years, the Gush Shalom movement (of which, it must be disclosed,  the present writer is the spokesperson) was alone in calling for a boycott of settlement products – the products coming from Israeli settlements in Occupied Territory, designed to serve as an obstacle to peace and to prevent the Palestinians from establishing their state. From 1997 to 2011 the movement's volunteers made the constant effort, with a tiny budget and limited resources, of moving between supermarket shelves and checking the small print on each product. Occasionally an  activist on a motorcycle went to the settlement industrial areas themselves and carefully noted down the names of all the plants seen. And the data were compiled systematically and published online and distributed at the annual rallies in memory of Yitzhak Rabin, early in  November every year. "Do not buy the products of the settlements – every penny for the settlements is a penny against peace" was inscribed in large characters on the cover of these booklets.

Many in the Israeli Left did not really like this activity. Very many times we heard such things like: "I am against the settlements, sure, but to boycott them is really a radical step." Peace Now carefully refrained from declaring a boycott of settlement products. At most, some of its activists sometimes disclosed that privately they were avoiding purchase of settlement products. Absolutely nothing beyond that.

For many years the settler leaders claimed that the boycott did not matter, that it did it not bother them at all, that their manufacturing plants were booming and thriving, and that their sympathizers were actually using the boycott list as a positive guide of things to buy. But it seems that somehow the boycott did touch them and deeply disturb them and punctuate their sleep. The fact is that Knesset Member Ze'ev Elkin, himself a settler and head of the "Eretz Ysrael Lobby" in the Knesset initiated a bill to outlaw this boycott, and pushed and pressed and struggled with all his might until it was inscribed in black and white on the statutes of the State of Israel.

Ze'ev Elkin and his settler friends expected that they would achieve their goal and erase the settlement boycott from the spectrum of political expression and activity in Israel. After all, Gush Shalom simply would not be in a position to continue the settlement boycott  campaign – a movement which is far from overflowing with money, which has no funding from any foreign government nor a millionaire supporter such as the settler patron Irving Moskowitz, and  subsisting on quite modest donations from private citizens. Rightly could Elkin assume that Gush Shalom could not risk to be flooded with  lawsuits under the new law, whereby any company based in a settlement could sue and demand unlimited damages from anyone boycotting them, without having to prove any harm caused to them by the same boycott.

But the unexpected happened. Precisely since Ze'ev Elkin managed to bend the Knesset to his will by disproportionate pressure, the drive for a boycott of the settlements is on an unprecedented rise, flourishing and jumping up as it never did before. From the moment when results of the  Knesset vote were published, Peace Now started collecting signatures on the petition entitled: "Prosecute me - I'm boycotting the products of the settlements!" and parliamentarians read out a list of products to be boycotted on the Knesset floor, and the Meretz Youths entered supermarkets and stuck warning labels on settlement products displayed for sale. And day by day there is a lengthening list of public figures and  columnists proclaiming that despite - and precisely because of – Elkin's Law they would from now on boycott settlement products and call upon  others to do the same.

It would suffice to quote the words of Etgar Keret, in yesterday's Yediot Ahronot: "When elected officials enact violent legislation which violates the individual's basic rights, it is nothing less than a civic duty to break it. Had my country enacted a law prohibiting men from kissing in public, I would look on the street for the first man who does not reek of cigarettes or garlic and give him a passionate kiss. When our country chooses to prosecute and persecute people because they are trying to influence in democratic ways the future of the country where they live, then I must use this forum to call for a boycott of the settlements. "

And a few pages later in  the same paper appears the article of Meir Shalev: "By the weekend, when my column appears, quite a lot of good people already preceded me in expressing shame, disgust and apprehension at the anti-boycott law, another piece of legislative folly and injustice, courtesy of the Israeli right-wing.

I can tell you that from now on every visit to my grocery store will take much more time. If in the past I was looking at the packages of products in order to find how many calories and what harmful chemicals I might gorge myself on, from now on I will also look for the place of production. Following the publication of this law, I'm not going to continue giving any support to the settlements beyond what they get from the taxes I have no choice but to pay. By the way, I think that for this it might be possible to claim compensations from MK Elkin under his own law – since it was that law which caused me and others to undertake such a strict boycott.

Uri Elitzur, a sober rightist, expressed on the pages of "Makor Rishon" his fear that this law would not be much enforced. "It is, after all, left to the discretion of the judge, and allow me to guess that judges would not be very welcoming to settlers who claim damages without proving a damage. And anyway, the law first needs to get through the Supreme Court. It could be assumed that even if they don't overturn it altogether, the judges would send the law into a long obstacle course going back and forth between Knesset and Attorney General and judges..." 

In fact, at least the religious among the initiators and backers of this law could have foreseen the consequences. Just two days before pushing this law through the Knesset, they have read at their synagogues the Biblical story of Balaam the evil magician and prophet who wanted and tried with all his might to curse, only to have his curse become a blessing...