the Disillusioned kid: Sanctioning Israel
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Sunday, July 18, 2004

Sanctioning Israel

Last Monday, the Guardian published an article by Gerald Kaufman making the case for sanctions against Israel in order to bring about an end to the occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. He argues that the situation is comparable with Apartheid South Africa against which sanctions are considered to have been successful. The article has reignited the debate within the activist community (such as it is) over whether we should campaign for the imposition of sanctions against the country. In case anyone's interested, what follows is my contribution to the debate.
I've been wondering about the question of sanctions against Israel for a while and remain unconvinced that they are a tactic which we should adopt. Kaufman's article, while interesting, does not engage in the differences between the South African situation and the Israeli occupation. There are similarities to be sure, but also differences.
The most important difference is that while in South Africa representatives of the country's population, in the form of ANC leaders were calling for sanctions. There is to my knowledge no such support within the Israeli community. Sanctions are a blunt instrument, they hit the population hard, often with limited effect on those in power, witness the regime imposed on Iraq during the 90s which led to widespread malnutrition, the breakdown of the water system and contributed to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children. Kaufman notes that in Israel "unemployment is at record heights, destitution is hitting large numbers of the Israeli under class", sanctions would only exacerbate this.
It is also important to keep in mind the likely perception of any sanctions regime amongst the Israeli population. If it is perceived as an attack on Israel by an anti-semitic international community this will play into the hands of the right-wing, confirming much of what they have said for years and could serve as a justification for a consolidation of the occupation. At the very least it can be expected to encourage the Israeli population to rally around their leaders, just as would the population of any country which felt embattled.
I wonder if a better strategy would be to continue to educate people on the realities of the conflict (the recent book 'Bad News From Israel' reveals just how little most people know) while seeking to engage with progressive sections of the Israeli community (Gush Shalom etc). It is to be hoped that with some credible international support these groups might be able to increase their political influence (the Israeli left was once one of the largest and strongest in the world) and ultimately bring about 'regime change' in Israel. This may not be an unrealistic hope. There are various reports that the Israeli peace movement has been rejuvenated in light of the Gaza withdrawal plan and a demonstration in support of withdrawal in May attracted anything between 100-250,000 depending on who's figures you believe.
I would stress that none of this is intended as an argument against seeking to impose a ban on arms sales to the country (perhaps even the whole region, as I think John Pilger has suggested in the past) which seems an entirely sensible course of action.

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