The election of Donald Trump as president was met as an encouraging omen by far-right movements around the world, no less so than in Israel, where some ultranationalists viewed the election as an invitation to indulge some of their long-sought objectives. One day after Trump’s win, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, the leader of the right-wing Jewish Home party said, “The era of the Palestinian state is over.”
That ebullient reaction on the Israeli right may well be justified. In May, Trump told the Daily Mail that Israel should “keep moving forward” with settlement construction. Last month, one of Trump’s advisers, Jason Greenblatt, confirmed to an Israeli radio station that Trump did not view Israeli settlement construction, which the State Department has frequently described as illegitimate, as particularly harmful to the prospects of peace. And last week, Trump announced that David Friedman, who has a history of pro-settlement activism, will be his ambassador to Israel. According to a report by Haaretz in June, Friedman has helped raise millions of dollars for the settlement of Beit El in the occupied West Bank. (He has also said that supporters of J Street, an American Jewish advocacy group that opposes the occupation, are “far worse than kapos” — the Jews who helped the Nazis run concentration camps.)
So what can progressives — Jews and non-Jews, Israelis and non-Israelis — do to keep pressure on hawks in the Knesset now that the incoming U.S. administration is so clearly on their side? The best way to fight the expansion of settlements would be to boycott goods and services made there.
As a dual citizen of the United States and Israel who is deeply committed to the vitality and security of Israel, I unequivocally oppose the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, which calls for opponents of the occupation to cut all ties between Israel and the rest of the world. It seeks to isolate Israel and punish Israelis of almost all political persuasions, regardless of their views of the occupation. But in the face of that movement’s challenge to my progressive values and a right-wing government in Israel whose actions undermine the two-state solution — and now, a right-wing government about to take power in Washington that agrees wholeheartedly with Israel’s — I can’t simply oppose the boycott movement and leave it at that.
So in early October, I joined dozens of intellectuals, activists and writers in signing an open letter circulated by Partners for Progressive Israel calling for a targeted boycott of all “goods and services” that originate in Israeli settlements in the occupied territories. The goal is to prevent the settlements from becoming centers of industry in the West Bank, because economic growth there will bolster larger, more entrenched communities. These communities grow at the expense of a two-state solution.
A targeted boycott of the settlements is necessary because the settlements themselves are inexorably and directly linked to the violence and human rights abuses of the military occupation; wherever Israeli civilians build their communities, the army must follow to provide security to those communities. The network of roads that connect these settlements to Israel proper and one another are often prohibited to Palestinian use.
The Palestinian village Nabi Saleh is a case in point. Every Friday, villagers march against the occupation, and every Friday, the army prevents the demonstration from reaching the road. To intervene, the army uses stun grenades and tear gas. Palestinian demonstrators hurl rocks at Israeli troops. Sometimes, Palestinians are killed during these clashes. The primary objective of suppressing these demonstrations, however, is not to prevent Palestinians from protesting occupation, but to prevent the demonstration from approaching the settlement of Halamish, located across the street from Nabi Saleh.
Those who boycott Israel are as horrified by this situation as I am. The approach they have taken, however, is wrong. Boycotting all of Israel implicitly dismisses the efforts of patriotic Israelis such as Avi Buskila, the director of Peace Now, who work every day to end the occupation. For Israelis who oppose the occupation, the social and political price is often high. On Oct. 14, Hagai El-Ad, the director of the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, spoke in front of a special session of the U.N. Security Council and called on the international community to act against the occupation. Danny Danon, the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, called El-Ad’s presentation to the Security Council “diplomatic terrorism.” David Bitan, a Likud party member of the Knesset and the chairman of the governing coalition, called for El-Ad’s citizenship to be revoked.
By boycotting the settlements, Americans would be sending a message of solidarity to progressive Israeli groups such as B’Tselem, Gush Shalom and Peace Now — as well as to Palestinians who suffer the humiliations of the occupation every day.
In the Trump administration, everyone working to end the occupation will need more support, not less. Instead of boycotting Israel, progressives should continue to stand with those Israelis who are on the front lines against their government and the settlement movement.