Interview with Israeli activist Ofer Neiman, of the group, Boycott from Within, conducted by Melinda Tuhus
Against a backdrop of growing international condemnation of Israel for its violent repression of both Palestinians and their supporters, most Israelis have rallied behind their government. The vast majority of Israelis supported both the invasion of Gaza 18 months ago and accepted their government's explanation of why nine Turkish activists were killed by Israeli soldiers aboard the Gaza Freedom Flotilla on May 31st as they tried to break Israel's Gaza blockade.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says his government is only trying to stop rockets from being fired from Hamas-controlled Gaza, aimed at nearby Israeli towns. But Israeli control of the land, sea and air space around Gaza, as well as its 43-year occupation of the West Bank, have repeatedly been condemned by the United Nations as violations of international law.
A small group of Israeli activists have launched a campaign called Boycott from Within, working in solidarity with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions -- or BDS Campaign, launched several years ago by a broad cross-section of Palestinian non-governmental organizations. It's a non-violent campaign whose goal is to force Israel to withdraw from occupied Palestinian territories.
Israeli activist Ofer Neiman is one of the leaders of the Boycott from Within campaign. Between The Lines' Melinda Tuhus spoke with Neiman by phone in Jerusalem, where he talked about his group's efforts to raise awareness of the BDS campaign within Israel, how the campaign is perceived in the country, and what impact it's having.
OFER NEIMAN:There are Israelis -- not just a few -- who think this is equivalent to treason. I disagree. First of all, it's a non-violent campaign. It's very important to emphasize this. You know, Israel has been imposing much more strict measures of boycott and sanctions on the Palestinian population. Ours in not a violent campaign. Israel's blockade is a violent campaign of sanctions. And another thing about BDS is that it gives a voice to people all over the world. Someone living in the States can join this initiative and can be active. I think it's very important because many people all over the world -- especially American citizens who are fed up with American policies, including Obama's policies in the Middle East -- now they do something; there's a global campaign, and people can join this campaign.
BETWEEN THE LINES: You know, boycotting goods, especially those made by Israel in the occupied West Bank, isn't nearly as controversial as the academic sanctions part of your work. You've said it's not aimed at individuals academics, or at stopping publication of their work, but that it's more systemic. Can you give some examples of what you mean by that?
OFER NEIMAN: Tel Aviv University, they have a center for strategic studies inside the university, and they have all sorts of academic experts, or so-called experts, issuing policy papers. And some of these policy papers include recommendations to commit acts that from our point of view here, are war crimes or oppresive or violations of human rights. Haifa University, they have a special program for IDF (Israel Defense Forces) officers, which makes it easier for IDF officers to obtain their academic degree. These are just a few examples of cooperation between Israeli universities and the Israeli military establishment.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Ofer Neiman, critics of BDS charge there should be more, not less, cultural cross-pollination, in order to keep Israel from becoming more and more captive to the most right-wing ideologies. But the cultural boycott seems to be really taking off, with several international celebrities canceling concerts in the past few months. Your comments?
OFER NEIMAN: Yeah, I think we're seeing a snowball effect, because more and more artists are cancelling, and then there's a picket line, and in that case it's more difficult for artists to cross that picket line. Recently, we've had some cancellations by Carlos Santana, the Pixies-- Gil Scott Heron would be another example, the guy who wrote the song, "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised." So, we're seeing more cancellations. Sometimes people are not very explicit about it -- they just say they have to cancel for security reasons -- but the real reasons are quite obvious. Some people have explicit things about that; one should also mention Elvis Costello -- he wrote a very nice message about it and put it on his website. Right now, more and more artists are seeing what happens when artists do come to Israel. It's very likely they will perform to a crowd waving Israeli flags, and that means when they come to Israel, they take sides. So there's a picket line, and someone crossing that line is making a statement. So obviously, many artists are reluctant to do that; they'd prefer to stay at home and refrain from performing in Israel.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Can you clarify the goals of the BDS campaign, including the work from inside Israel?
OFER NEIMAN: The campaign's focus is on the occupation, but at least the Palestinian call for academic and cultural sanctions, they're also talking about other important issues, like the refugee problem and the treatment of Israeli Arabs -- Palestinians who are Israeli citizens. None of these calls is trying to impose a certain solution -- a one-state solution or a two-state solution -- but it's important to clarify that it's not only about the occupation. This campaign is a result of Israeli policy, because if Israel had accepted the Saudi Initiative -- which is not just a Saudi initiative, it's an initiative by the Arab League, a comprehensive peace initiative based on the two-state solution and the '67 borders, then there would be no BDS campaign.
Melinda Tuhus is a producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on more than 50 radio stations and in RealAudio and MP3 on our website at http://www.btlonline.org. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines for the week ending July 9, 2010. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Melinda Tuhus and Anna Manzo.
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