April 7, 2022 | The Algemeiner

Israel Is Not Russia, and Palestinians Are Not Ukraine

April 7, 2022 | The Algemeiner

Israel Is Not Russia, and Palestinians Are Not Ukraine

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine set off an immediate wave of boycotts and sanctions targeting Moscow. These swift and comprehensive economic punishments have left the frustrated activists of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign asking why they have failed to inspire similar actions against Israel.

According to them, the answer is discrimination. BDS leader Omar Barghouti denounced “the West’s blatant hypocrisy.” Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the “double standard” that prevents the West from holding Israel accountable for its “ethnic cleansing.” Coverage in The New York TimesThe Guardianand Politico has reinforced this line of thinking.

But the two calls for boycotts are being made in radically different conflicts, with radically different goals, and on behalf of sides employing radically different means.

The ambiguity of the US-led sanctions regime against Russia leaves room for a range of interim settlements, staged concessions, and partial easing of specific sanctions along the way.

If Russia were to withdraw from all Ukrainian territory occupied since 2014, sanctions could be lifted entirely. But many of the most crippling sanctions could be lifted even if Russia were to hold on to Crimea and areas east of the Line of Control, from the 2015 cease-fire agreement. There are many things Russia could realistically do to relax sanctions or even eliminate them entirely, which is what makes the sanctions such a tempting lever to pressure Moscow.

Somewhat surprisingly, the BDS movement’s demands of Israel are clearly stated. There are three, and the third one demands that Israel absorb millions of Palestinians, a likely death blow to the Jewish state.

Needless to say, this isn’t an effective lever with which to pressure Israel, which is why policy-makers in America, Europe, and Asia, even those keen to pressure Israel, keep their distance from BDS. BDS supporters have gone to great lengths to present their campaign as a social justice movement. But the realization of BDS’s goals would necessarily mean the dispossession of the world’s largest Jewish community, and would almost certainly lead to ethnic cleansing, massacre, or both.

This is why BDS is attractive to those who detest Israel and wish to see any kind of cultural or economic interaction with it blocked. Nothing is new about this wish. The Arab boycott of Israel predates BDS by decades; in fact, it predates Israel by three years. The boycott used the word “Jews” — not a Jewish state — just months after the fall of the Third Reich and 12 years after the Nazis launched their “Do not buy from Jews” campaign. BDS has struggled to overcome its antisemitic legacy and association with the Nazis.

When the Arab boycott of Israel began to fall apart in the early 1990s, groups of western NGOs conceived of a new boycott of Israel with similar aims of strangling Israel economically, except instead of being policed by repressive Arab governments, it would be pushed by pure-hearted human rights activists. The strategy was formalized at an NGO conference in Durban in 2001 — four years before the supposed “call by Palestinian civil society” for BDS.

It’s not just different ends that produce different responses. It’s also different means. The 11 Israelis murdered recently are a reminder of the terrorism that Israel faces. Ukrainians have not pursued their cause by blowing up Russian buses or cafes. They have not hijacked Russian airplanes or murdered the Russian Olympic team. They have not taken hostage and murdered pupils at Russian primary schools.

Unlike Palestinians, Ukrainians do not pay their people to murder Russian children.

Nor have they been reluctant to sit at the negotiating table and reach a diplomatic settlement with their Russian neighbors. On the contrary, Ukraine engaged for eight years with Russia in diplomatic negotiations, and even now — with the whole world backing them — have signaled repeatedly their willingness to compromise on core issues such as neutrality, Crimea, and the final status of the two breakaway regions in the east.

The contrast with the Palestinians is telling. Three times since 2000, the PA has refused to make a peace deal with Israel — one that would grant them an independent state for the first time in history — if the price of such a deal were a formal reconciliation with the existence of Israel as their neighbor. This continues a century-long history of Palestinian-Arab diplomacy that has always preferred rejection and war, to the alternative of compromise, peace, and nation-building.

One commentator recently framed BDS as “a direct response to the failure of the international system to deliver justice.” This is a rather implausible way of repackaging the Palestinian preference for rejectionism and suicidal violence.

The same commentator laments the gap between the efforts to impose economic sanctions on Russia and the effort to impose them on Israel, and weirdly points out some of the comical excesses of anti-Russian actions, all of which have occurred at the margins and with little impact. He cites banning Russian cats from competitions, spilling Russian vodka, and canceling dead Russian poets.

But these stories, however silly, offer an accidental window into the difference of the situation in Israel and Ukraine, also.

Diaspora Jews don’t worry about comical misapplications of boycotts every time there is a new round of Israeli-Palestinian violence. Instead, they worry about actual attacks on their schools, markets, and synagogues.

This qualitatively different form of spillover (no Russians in America or elsewhere fear for their personal safety), reveals much about the radically different natures of the two conflicts. And that is why calls for sanctions on Israel will never command the kind of consensus that exists today for punitive actions against Russia.

Shany Mor is an adjunct fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, where David May is a senior research analyst. Follow them on Twitter @ShMMor and @DavidSamuelMay. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan think tank focused on foreign policy and national security issues. 

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Issues:

Israel Lawfare Palestinian Politics Russia Sanctions and Illicit Finance