Against the Occupation – Time for Individual Sanctions in Israel


As Naftali Bennett and others push for the unilateral annexation of large parts of the West Bank to Israel, I saw no reason not to add my support to this letter, which I’m attaching here. Strong words, they got sent around on the listserv run by the Scholars for Israel and Palestine group associated with the “Third Narrative.” The co-signers identify themselves for Israel and against the occupation. An alternative to boycotting the entire country, the letter supports the idea of leveling personal sanctions against four individuals inside and outside the current government identified as key actors responsible for promoting, in violation of international law, the construction of settlements in the occupied West Bank. Couched in the language of political emergency and liberal Zionism, it suggests that Israel stands today on the brink between a more democratic future and an apartheid one-state “nation state of the Jewish people.” I’m not sure I would have joined a similar call outside this kind of framework. The co-signers are university colleagues who have all come out in no uncertain terms in support of a 2 state solution and in opposition to BDS, especially against calls for the academic boycott of Israel. After the elections in March, the point of this letter might be moot, or it might be more necessary than ever.



About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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22 Responses to Against the Occupation – Time for Individual Sanctions in Israel

  1. nitzanl says:

    Looks to me like a decision not to decide or rather to position oneself on the right side without real consequences. What does it even mean to boycott four individuals if you let their support system continue harmless? Can you ignore a whole government that keeps financing (Likkud and Labor alike, Yesh Atid, Kadima, etc) the settlement movement and hang it on “radicals” within those parties?Did you accept Arrafat’s rhetoric, at the time, that it was “radicals elements” within his movement who were violent but not himself? Honestly, it just seems dishonest to me. Better to support nothing than support such phony statements.

    • zjb says:

      Sorry, but I don’t think it’s a phony statement. The proposal takes its inspiration from steps taken by the US and EU to sanction mid-level Russian government people in response to the Crimea-Ukraine mess. The idea is to go after low hanging fruit. Certainly, it’s not about letting anyone off the hook. I see it as a first step towards putting pressure and onus on the system by identifying and isolating 4 leaders deeply invested in promoting the occupation at the ground level. As for consequences, for Israelis there is the possible consequence of legal action taken against them, now that it is a felony according to Israeli law to support this kind of action against individual Israelis. As for the American signatories, I’ll keep you posted if I get unduly hassled at Ben Gurion in January. I doubt this will happen, but certainly I gave it a quick thought before putting my name to the letter. If none of this works, I’ll gladly pursue the “nihilist” track of doing nothing. I think if any government actually acted on the proposal that it would cause an enormous shock in Israel. Look, it’s not that I think that’s likely to happen, and I’m not holding my breath, but who knows what happens next in the EU? Do you?

      • nitzanl says:

        Zack,you can’t be serious. I don’t recall Feiglin or any of the other three on this list ordering the extension of the settlements and financing it in billions, nor ordering the killing of hundreds of women and children or of censuring democracy. Next to Netanyahu, Livni, Yeelon, Lapid etc. the four names you mention look like peace-loving individuals. How could anyone reading Foucault still hang on such a narrow understanding of ideology versus the mechanism that makes it work? And re the Russian example, exactly my point– hurt the people in charge where it hurts them most. In Putin’s case, it’s his close corrupted aids. In Netanyahu/Lapid or the neo-Liberal economy, it’s what makes it finance and arm this occupation and oppression.

      • zjb says:

        What’s narrow is not the understanding of ideology versus mechanism, about which we agree. What’s narrow is the practical tactic, with its practical focus on what’s immediately doable, particularly around the status of settlements whose violation of international law is most obvious to more people than the Gaza war(s). Indeed, I won’t be surprised to see the EU start imposing visa restrictions if the next government is actually led by Netanyahu. So, no, about this, I’m being quite serious. As always, best.

  2. nitzanl says:

    p.s: not to mention that in real world terms, boycotting radicals only helps to strengthen them.

  3. Hannah says:

    Interesting idea, Zach.
    But when you say that the Palestinian state will “flourish”, what should make us think that it will be different from “blossoming” Gaza? They are having billions of Euros\Dollars from Europe and the US. Do they invest it for their own civilians’ good?
    And if you are maybe wrong, and giving the Palestinians a state is only a small mistake (but hey, it’s a very purist and heroic one!!), will you send your children to die here with us, fighting to protect a ‘shrinked’ Israel?
    Zach, a “state” means “an army”. In the small area of the East bank (of the Mediterranean), there is no room for two armies; this neighborhood is too small, and even one army is probably too much. Palestinian Authority? yes. Army? no. Now, we have a problem. As long as we have ISIS eastern of Israel, we cannot afford to have an demilitarized Palestinian state. So in any case if you want something for the Palestinians, take care of ISIS (did you all ready suggest boycotting John-Jihad?). The only probable consequence of a militarized PA is a total bloodshed. If that’s what you want – fine. However, most Israelis want to live in peace. The most possible and a c h i e v a b l e peace.
    Right now, the main obstacle for peace is the Palestinian unwillingness to give up the refugees issue. It’s clear that Israel is responsible to support them financially, but to allow them to enter Israel? to take responsibility for a problem that UNRA is causing and sustaining? (Where else do you find fourth-generation refugees?!) – simply no.

    • zjb says:

      Hannah: As always in these kinds of arguments, my only response would be to say, that yes, you’re probably right. A Palestinian state is too dangerous, so it’s time to give everyone in the West Bank the right to vote for their own representatives in the Knesset. That’s where the logic goes.

  4. Hannah says:

    Unless you are giving the Palestinians autonomy (demilitarized!) in their properties. Quite similar to the status of American Indians. OK? Authority – yes. Army – no. Don’t worry – Israel will still protect them from their brothers\cousins (ISIS). But would they give up fighting Israel to enjoy a peaceful life?

  5. Zeev Tammuz says:

    I dont understand what the point of such a boycott would be? These people have no dependence on any one or anything outside of Israel. It would only fortify them in their extreme views and push them to be more extreme as is the atmosphere in Israel (Nobody can tell us what to do because we are Jews and we have suffered more than anyone) If it was in the interest of the American Government to make a change here it could do it quite easily (actually in the present atmosphere maybe it is to late) by cutting aid to Israel. this country would slip into extreme fascism and anarchy and them maybe out of this vacuum something can change. Otherwise we have what Benet and his friend want, A continuous war against the Jew Haters all around us.

    • zjb says:

      Largely symbolic, the point as I signed on to it was to identify and to isolate key mid-level figures behind the settlement project as a way to put pressure on the entire system in a graduated way.

  6. Zeev Tammuz says:

    the eternal optimist

  7. Michael says:

    So what you are proposing with this boycott is in fact a thought police. Israeli politicians whom you do not like are thus not allowed to speak up. The legal status of Judea and Samaria is disputable at best. And unless you sign letters to boycott Chinese, Turkish, Moroccan, Spanish, British and so on and on public figures for the respective illegal annexations of Tibet, Northern Cyprus, Western Sahara, Ceuta and Melilla and Gibraltar, you and your co-signers are unfairly biased against the Jewish State (yes, you know what anti-Jewish bias is called).

    • zjb says:

      Well, that’s pretty uncivil. The legal status of the West Bank is actually undisputed except according to rightwing Israelis and Jews. The international consensus is pretty much clear that these are occupied territories, and most Israelis, according to the polls, would prefer to see the creation of a two state solution. The call to personally sanction these 4 individuals is a symbolic gesture. As seen by the signatories, their offense is not in the exercise of free speech, but by actively promoting settlement activities in clear violation of international law. This is not a bias against the Jewish state idea as much as a recognition that as a modern phenomenon it depends upon democratic principles and international law. I really don’t want to do it, but if you insist on insinuating that I am an anti-Semite, I will block you from the Comments.

      • Michael says:

        The point I am making is that the State of Israel is measured according to a unique standard, not applied to any other perceived violator of international law. The “international community” and people like you and your co-signers are dead silent against grave offenders like Sudan and North Korea, not to mention zero calls for boycot on PA officials glorifying anti-Jewish violence. I think that this shows that if the actions of Israel would be done by non-Jews they would receive little, if any attention.

        I’m not saying you are actively and awarely anti-Semitic (anti-Jewish, actually). But your actions and opinions make me wonder about why the most vile anti-Israel propaganda is made by Jews.

        It seems you just don’t wish to recognize that Israel receives an absurd amount of attention and that its actions are scrutinized to the full, rendering the rest of the world free as a bird to wreck any and all civil liberties and human rights. The Israel-focus has made you and your friends lose track of who’s the real bad guys, and where your attention can really make a change.

      • zjb says:

        I am fully aware of the disproportionate attention received by Israel, and have actively argued against BDS, so I think you’re taking my own remarks, and remarks by my colleagues and co-signers way out of context. Re: countries like North Korea or Syria, or Iran, and even Russia, they are already subject to sanctions, bans, and boycotts, None of these countries are seriously held up as democracies, nor do they pretend to be. Israel is “different.” You can”t have your cake and eat it. Either Israel complies with international standards as defined by the western democracies or it stands in non-compliance and bear consequences.

      • Michael says:

        What – like Spain that occupies parts of Africa? Or Britain that occupies the Malvinas? Or perhaps like France, that still has colonies around the world? Territorial disputes are nothing strange to democracies. Claiming that Israel is different is absolute nonsense in this light. Seriously – who are those enlightened countries that can claim moral superiority? Britain, who mercilessly tortured IRA suspects? Or USA, that bombs houses half a world away on a daily basis? Or perhaps Spain, that has had its share of dirty wars? Wait, I know, Sweden! The country that sells weapons to anyone offering a good price, including the dirtiest dictators!

        Seriously, if you can name a country that is in its right to set moral standards, we can move on. But I doubt you’ll find one. Claiming high moral ground is easy, and it great for your self-esteem. Do try to come with better arguments, though.

      • Michael says:

        Just by looking at the Wiki page on “settlements” you can find a reference to Julius Stone, “the author of 27 books on jurisprudence and international law, and is hailed by his official biography at the Julius Stone Institute of Jurisprudence as one of the premier legal theorists.”

        Stone’s view is that Israeli settlements in the West Bank are legal under international law, and do not constitute a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention (Article 49(6)). He stated:

        “Irony would…be pushed to the absurdity of claiming that Article 49(6), designed to prevent repetition of Nazi-type genocidal policies of rendering Nazi metropolitan territories judenrein, has now come to mean that…the West Bank…must be made judenrein and must be so maintained, if necessary by the use of force by the government of Israel against its own inhabitants. Common sense as well as correct historical and functional context excludes so tyrannical a reading of Article 49(6.)”

        I share Stone’s vision here as I find his arguments rather compelling. I’m sure you are familiar with this view and I would be curious to know your objections to it.

      • zjb says:

        I have no idea who Stone is or the institute with which he’s associated. But you can find scientists who also argue against the consensus re: global warming. They remain a more or less marginalized minority, I wonder about Stone.

      • Michael says:

        I also have no idea who he is, but his ideas sound very reasonable. Instead of making irrelevant references to global warming, I’d appreciate if you could address the arguments presented.

        By the way, just a few centuries ago there was a consensus that the world is flat. And a consensus that Jews were sons of Satan. And that stones can not fall from the sky. And that homosexuality is a crime. Just because a majority of people believes in something doesn’t always make it right.

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