Mid-portion below; whole debate here: http://www.inthesetimes.com/article/4311/to_boycott_israel...or_not/
Naomi, Helen Suzman, a white South African who was a leader of the anti-apartheid movement, who died this past January, argued that economic sanctions against South Africa during apartheid had hurt the entire population, particularly the poor. Would not the same thing happen in the occupied territories?
NK: It is true that in South Africa it did hurt the entire population. And the call for sanctions was consciously made despite that fact. And that is why it is so extraordinary, that there has been such a widespread call from Palestinians despite the fact that they will also suffer under BDS.
But we can’t compare the kind of suffering Gazans are facing under the Israeli blockade and embargo to what Israelis would suffer if a BDS campaign were to get off the ground. We’re talking about people in Gaza lacking life-saving medicine, cooking oil and food, versus Israel losing some foreign investment, and not having concerts and some academic conferences. These are not in the same league.
AW: Naomi, you said you see them as complementary strategies, but in the real world, people have to decide what to put their energies into. Do we think that if the Presbyterian church is trying to put its energies into boycotts this time, not just of Caterpillar but of all Israeli society, that that’s going to be workable alongside of, and at the same time as, mobilizing Israeli and Palestinian voices simultaneously in those churches, and then those churches lobbying Congress on these solutions? I don’t believe it.
NK: That is what happened with South Africa. The BDS strategy personalizes the dispute. You follow the money at your own school, your own shopping habits, your own government, and extraordinarily lively debates ensue that are not just about the boycott strategy but are about why the boycott is happening. That’s happening right now at Hampshire College.
The boycott starts the debate, it brings teeth to it so you’re not just signing yet another statement that can be ignored. Or bringing together like-minded people to listen to another speaker or dialogue.
And that’s the dynamic that BDS promises. Just as in South Africa, where you had a lot of industry saying to the apartheid regime, “We can’t live with this any longer,” we would have that dynamic within Israel.
AW: But there is a huge difference between South Africa and Israel. In South Africa, the U.S. government was not pouring billions of dollars into the country. Whereas, in the case of Israel, the U.S. government is. That support seems to me to be far more the point.
The likelihood of Israelis saying, “Wait a minute, this is a serious problem,” is going to be much greater if the Obama administration says: “Here’s the deal. There’s going to be an emergency peace conference in the Middle East. It’s going to come out with a Palestinian state that’s really independent, not chopped up in little bits, and there will be a peace treaty with all the Arab states.” I can see the possibility of a whole new American outlook making peace in the Middle East.
NK: Once again, the question is how do we get to the point where the Obama administration feels the need to get tough and say, “Here’s the deal.” I don’t believe that mere dialogue will bring us there. I’m arguing that BDS is a fantastic movement-building tool precisely because it is a conversation starter; it ignites the debate. It makes the conflict personal in the same way as the amazing grassroots movement we had in the ’80s against South Africa did in the United States. It is only once those debates are raging that there will be the kind of bottom-up pressure on Obama that could lead to a real shift in U.S. policy.