EU Vs. BDS: The Politics Of Israel Sanctions

This past Monday, the European Union’s Foreign Affairs Council reaffirmed a November requirement that Israel label products made in the settlements differently from those made in Israel. On Tuesday, the State Department spokesman John Kirby unexpectedly reinforced the E.U. position, saying that “construction, planning, and retroactive legalization of settlements” is illegitimate, and that the U.S. does “not view labelling the origin of products as being from the settlements as a boycott of Israel.”

The E.U.’s action, and the Obama Administration’s concurrence, might seem unremarkable. Their opposition to settlements is long-standing. The E.U. labelling requirement, which would apply to little more than one percent of the fourteen billion dollars in goods and services Israel exports to the E.U., is a practical matter, since settlement products were never subject to a free-trade agreement between the two. E.U. ministers, too, were careful to insist that they don’t consider their action “a boycott of Israel, which the E.U. opposes”; there is an obvious difference between opposing the Israeli government’s policies and opposing the state’s existence.

Predictably, though, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to the November resolution with indignation. “The E.U. decided to mark only [goods made by] Israel, and we are unwilling to accept the fact that E.U. labels the side being attacked by terror.” His justice minister, the Jewish Home Party member Ayelet Shaked, called Brussels “anti-Israel and anti-Jewish.” Most senior opposition leaders have toed the government line. The Labor Party leader, Isaac Herzog, conjured a parallel between the E.U.’s decision and the U.N.’s 1974 “Zionism is Racism” resolution, which his father, Chaim Herzog, Israel’s U.N. ambassador at the time, famously denounced. Yair Lapid, another opposition leader, accused the E.U. of “capitulating to the worst elements of jihad”; labelling “is a direct continuation of the boycott movement against Israel, which is anti-Semitic and misguided,” he said.

The near unison reflects growing dread of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (B.D.S.) movement targeting Israel, which is separate from any E.U. measures, but is often considered part of a mounting threat of isolation. Formally, the B.D.S. movement began with a 2005 Palestinian campaign—endorsed by more than a hundred and seventy Palestinian civil-society organizations—to encourage public condemnation in the West of the occupation, the settlements, and, arguably, their ideological roots. Leaders of the B.D.S. movement have also called for “full equality” for Palestinian citizens in Israel proper and endorsed the demand for a Palestinian right of return. Omar Barghouti, a founder of the movement, insists that B.D.S. does not threaten Israel’s survival but rather its “unjust order.” Given the ambiguity of the movement’s demands, this is a reassurance that few Israelis can take comfort in.

Read on at The New Yorker