My Argument for an Economic and Cultural Boycott of Israel

I drove the highway today for quite a long distance with my son and the dog. At such occasions, we tune the radio or the CD to my son's music, Pink Floyd, led Zeppelin, Iron Maiden, etc...We don't have the usual fight between parents and children when it comes to deciding for the music in the car, I let him choose mainly because:
- When he was younger, I was able to make him appreciate other kinds of music including classical, at a time most of his friends were mocking him because he wasn't listening to the latest trends.
- I like his music.
One thing I used to listen to when driving is french pop, specially Renaud. As he found an old Renaud CD in the car, my son wanted to please me by playing it. Renaud was very popular in France in the eighties and, despite disappearing from the artisitque scene for few years, he is a national icon. He is not a great vocalist but his poem-songs are real gems, well written and accompanied by a great music. Renaud wrote most of his songs, a sizeable part of them are political.
In Trivial Pursuit, 1988, he says:
A History Question first: Where is Palestine ?
Under which Starry Boots ? Under which Barbed Wires ? Under which Field of Ruins ?
A Litterary Question: Who Wrote that People Are Born Free and Equal ? Free Only within the Herd and Equal only in Front of their Executioners.
In Dans Ton Sac (In Your Handbag), an inventory of his girfriend's handbag searching for clues of her love for him,1991, he says:
I didn't touch your cigarettes
Your Rothmans, I savagely boycott

I Tell Myself

South African Tobacco Pollutes the Hands too.

With the word 'Hands' Renaud was not alluding to how the hands look, but to what the hands do and he was suggesting that smoking South African cigarettes was making him accomplice of the south African Apartheid. He was referring to an act. Not to act against this Apartheid and not to boycott it is to be an accomplice ! Not to act is to leave the action for someone else and to endorse the action of this someone else, becoming accomplice of it.

While listening to Renaud I was, at the same time, thinking about my argument for a boycott against Israel. In fact I had already commited to two petitions for a boycott against Israel and I was pressed to lay such an argument by blogger Behemoth who is against a boycott. I will reproduce our exchange at the end of this post.

And so my starting point for a boycott has to do, as in Renaud's song, with individual conscience and individual action as a moral statement !

However, this isn't enough, I still have to produce counterarguments for the No-Boycott. Before that I want to make things clear: this is not about scoring points, one party against another. I feel this is time for everybody, boycott or no-boycott, for moral questioning and moral justification and this is why I am writing such a post.

Argument One against a Boycott: It is counterproductive in many aspects, it encourages the black market, touches the weakest parts of society, isolates people so they turn to nastier business...

My Answer: It is true that boycotts produce such effects. However, the results of a boycott on a state and a population are a matter of context. The south African context for example didn't produce such effects because the two populations were totally separated so the effects of the boycott were mostly felt by the people who advocated the apartheid ! Companies didn't have to lay down workers from the weakest part of society because these were low paid workers. A Boycott on Israeli goods will not affect the weakest part of society because this part is either the palestinians who are already boycotted by Israel and dying from this boycott and the Israeli Arabs who are already discriminated. May be a boycott can affect other weak parts of the Israeli society, recent Ethiopian and East European immigrants. That, however, still have to be proven. My solution is: lets boycott and evaluate the effects and if the effects are disastrous so we can still reverse the boycott.

As for the black market, this effect is produced only if the boycott is institutional, if it is done by institutions and enforced by a law. When the boycott is done on an individual basis it does not produce such effects.

The nastier business: Should I refrain from boycotting Israel because this state may turn to nastier business as a result of the boycott ? I don't think so. Once again, the context is important: Israel is the 12th most important arms and weapons dealer in the world. Moreover, Renaud was asking in which field of ruins Palestine was in 1988. We are in 2006, not only Palestine is a field of ruins but also Iraq and Lebanon. If this war on lebanon was to persist, Syria and Iran will become also Fields of Ruins. We are dealing here with the first military power in the region, USrael, and the first in the world, by extension...

Argument Two against a Boycott: some poeple are against a boycott by principle. I am also against a boycott, by principle. However, sometimes we have to do moral choices and sometimes these choices are very difficult. This is where a rational and moral evaluation, not only emotional, should be part of the deliberative process.

Choice A: No-boycott. Israel's actions are brutal, wrecking an entire region, killing civilians and children, producing many sufferings and hindering the peace process for a long time to come and there is no solution in sight to exit from this nightmare because there is no superior power to stop Israel and because Isarel does not have the moral capacity to evaluate its actions.
Choice B: Boycott. Not only I am undertaking an action to counter what I am witnessing and my action is right because what I am witnessing is wrong, but also, outside the fact that my action is right by itself, outside any consequentialist evaluation, it may have positive outcome for those who are being subjected to wrongful actions, the least of them helping them feel supported, and thus can counterbalance these wrongful actions.

Decision based on rational deliberation: what counts in a rational deliberation are the premices and their value, true or false. It is wrong to not undertake action basing our decision on a future and an unverifiable premice (the effect of the boycott) while we can undertake such an action basing our decision on present and verifiable premices; Israel's wrongful actions.

Decision based on moral deliberation. Within the moral deliberative process are three components: intention, which can be good or bad, anticipation of action and how to do it, which can be wright or wrong, and finally anticipation of consequence which can be good or bad. The deliberative process includes all three components but what counts most and what can be evaluated not only by me but also by an outsider, while staying in the sphere of my personal responsibility, is definitely my own action. Consequences leave the personal sphere and, most of the time, cannot be accounted for on a personal, individual basis, unless they exist within a person to person relationship or in a well delineated and hierarchical web of relations.

In Choice A, despite witnessing horrors, I refrain from a boycott because I think it is bad. Am I witnessing the effects of a boycott ? No. I am simply stipulating that a boycott might be bad and I am not basing my moral decision on the horrors I am witnessing but on the negative effects my potential actions may produce. This is Consequentialism, a moral theory derived from Utilitarianism which presupposes that consequences are all what matter. And while our moral imperative incites us to act, taking into account only consequences might sometimes lead to not undertake action paralysing us and inhibiting any pratical issue to in our moral dilemma.

An action is an indicator of Who I Am morally, in other words, Who I Am is What I Do and what I don't do. So if I don't act in front of a horror I am witnessing, I am accomplice of this horror. Holocaust writer Primo Levi based his argument for a collective and an individual responsibility of Germans in the holocaust on such a premice.

In choice B, I undertake an action basing my decision on what I am witnessing and not on what I am anticipating. And if harm, I did not anticipate, will result from my action, I will have to reevaluate my action on the basis of the current premices. This is why choice B is better because it leads, not only to act against wrong, but to a real time evaluation of action, while choice A, no-boycott, no-action, will leave you at the same place, only a witness and never a protagonist or a causative agent of your destiny and that of your fellow human beings. Not participating actively in political and social issues leads to the collective deresponsibilisation of humanity and results in the citizen's retreat from the political process and the hijacking of this process by few opportunists who don't refrain from acting in their own interest at the expanse of ours.

I produce here the exchange on the boycott taken from my comment section yesterday. My comments were edited for typing errors. I have written a conclusion at the end of the exchange.

Behemoth101 said...
Sophia,Once again, your posts inspire direct action.However, I think we should revisit the boycotting of Israeli goods thing. As well you know, embargos and major shifts in sectors harm the lower economic classes more than anyone else. One only has to look at the effects of the Iraqi embargos (thousands dead), the Indian (spots, not feathers) homespun movement, outsourcing in America (I swear I'm not a Luddite), and the damage to Palestinian businesses/livelihoods caused by Israeli blockading of roadways and controlling customs. A full-on boycott of Israeli goods may end up taking away what little business Palestinian workers have. I implore you to reconsider this statement.
1:33 PM

Sophia said...
Behemoth,I see that we differ on this one. Although you raise a good point (weak elements of society) and you mention some devastating boycotts, the boycott of Israeli goods we are calling for is different in many aspects:This is not a UN enforced boycott where if you don't follow you risk being subjected to sanctions.This boycott will not touch the weak elements of society because: 1) unemployemnt in the Palestinian territories is already high, estimates were 60% for 2002 and they must have risen since with the near completion of the wall and the siege Israel is excercising on the territories. 2)As for Israeli Arabs, the weakest elements of the Israeli society, they are already discriminated and their access to jobs is difficult. There was one good study and a book published in 1999 I think on this subject. Other weak elements of the Israeli society, Russian and Ehtiopian immigrants might be touched but again only in a full scale boycott enforced by international resolutions.This takes us to the nature of the boycott we are calling: it is an act of conscience against the actions of the Isareli state and actually the only moral (and not effective I think) deterrent capable of halting some of Israel's harshest policies and stances on the international level by only...hurting its image.So this kind of boycott is very much like the boycott against the south African Apartheid and I am surprised you did not mention this rather succesful one because, in my opinion, it is a model to follow.Israel has gone out of control and I am morally comfortable advocating this boycott because it has nothing to do with the boycotts you mentioned in your argument. Also, my position is to advocate a boycott and to evaluate the consequences. If there should be negative consequences for the weakest part of the population, well documented, my position can shift.But I would not surrender to an argument which presupposes negative consequences because I think the weakeness in this argument is to let Israel with no constraints as to both its image and its economy, knowing very well the documented outcome of its present actions while basing our decision, not to boycott, on ignorance and an undocumented presupposed outcome. This kind of thinking carry the risk of morally protecting the actions of the state of Israel on the basis of ignorance while morally refrainig from taking action on the basis of our full knowledge of what to sanction !
3:54 PM

Behemoth101 said...
Sophia,Your heart is in the right place. (Domek asr!) Let's assume for a moment that you are correct that weaker elements of society will remain unaffected by such an action (but also assuming it is effective ala South African apartheid boycott).Understanding world marketplace activity, you are in fact creating perverse incentives for Israel by not buying its goods. Because the unsold goods/services for the Western countries will have to find secondary markets, Israel may turn to other, nastier activities in order to keep its economy from a recession. Arms dealing is one such activity. Perhaps the resultant economic pain will drive even more Zionists mad ("why does the world hate us so much?!") and they may act in aggression ala Japan in Pearl Harbor (after America froze their bank accounts, in effect declaring "economic war") or France extortion of German production leading to WW2. I know my imagination is running wild here, but it's worth considering.Furthermore, creating world market inefficiencies against any one country (as evil as certain ones are) causes repercussions at home. You indirectly harm Canada's economy by boycotting Israel, thus making your money worth less, thus making it harder for you to afford to send, say, charity to relieve Lebanon. Eliminating world markets is the economic equivalent of cutting off your nose to spite your face."But I would not surrender to an argument which presupposes negative consequencesIs it not equally wrong to assume affirmative consequences?Again, I don't mean to seem hostile on this subject. You are free to do what you want - I only wanted to alert you to any possible unintended consequences. If you feel these are not outweighed by the moral benefits to you personally, then by all means.bonne soiree w behki ma3keh ba3dein!
4:47 PM

Sophia said...
Behemoth,I think you are plainly wrong.''Israel may turn to other, nastier activities in order to keep its economy from a recession. Arms dealing is one such activity.'' Let me laugh ! Israel is already turning to nasty activities and zionists could not be more harmful. Israel is the 12th largest arms provider in the world ! I think your argument buys plainly into zionist propaganda ! The one thing zionists are afraid from is a boycott because they know it is the beginning of the end ! I want to reiterate my argument here once and for all and I am asking you may be to mail me if you want to further the discussion but I wanted this post to be on Lebanon and Canada only.My argument for the boycott and against the anti-boycott as you stated is the following;I feel morally obliged to take action against well documented immoral actions by Israel and I feel it is immoral to not take action based on an undocumented uintended consequences.The essence of moral action is knowledge and so with the knowledge we have of Israel's actions we must act accordingly !P.S. I am removing this discussion and publishing it as a separate post tomorrow.
4:59 PM

Behemoth101 said...
Very well. I admire your resolve, but remain unconvinced by it.I also disagree that I've bought into any "Zionist propaganda" just for believing mass market inefficiencies are inherently bad no matter what the reason.I wish you the best of luck with your moral imperative.
5:06 PM

Sophia said...
Behemoth,I think I understand your concern. I will prepare a post on this based on our exchange because it is the first time I have a direct exchange with someone sincere on this matter. If you want to copy this exchange, to reflect on it, you are welcome. I may not post it before this evening or before tomorrow and your further comments will be most welcome.
7:54 AM
Behemoth101 said...
Most graciously, I will mirror your commentary once it is written.

Conclusion: I think Behemoth's concern is not to add suffering to the already existing one in that region. I think I have adressed this concern in my arguments. Taking a decision on the basis of the current premices without prejudging of negative actions does not exclude a reevaluation of the decision and the actions that derive from it.

Up to now I have signed two appeals for a boycott:

The one launched by Mark from Ireland

This one launched by an online magazine editor from Dubai

Finkelstein on Why an Economic Boycott of Israel is Justified


Dr Victorino de la Vega said...

Hi there,

Read this article by Gary Brecher on the Lebanese-Israeli war

Powerful stuff

Sophia said...

Thanks for the link. Interesting and funny ! I have heard before that they have a very specific way of doing journalism in Russia since the perestroika. Hilarious and unbridled, and this is a clear example I think of local influence on a western writer.

Behemoth101 said...

Finkelstein sees an economic boycott as a cure-all for the evils of Israel -- yet fails to persuasively demonstrate a logical connection between the consequences of the boycott and the embaressment of Israel's inhumane policies.

Boycotts require a certain degree of homogeneity by the agents and an absence of a secondary market for the boycotted party in order to be effective.

As it were, Israel's critics are quite heterogeneous, and Israel has many available secondary markets. Furthermore, Israel is no stranger of "mislabeling" products to overcome such obstacles. I recall a certain kibbutznik telling me stories about repackaging Korean oranges for international export.

Sophia said...

You are right. There are many ways to counter a boycott. However, even if a boycott does not succeed at this level, it has the remianing effect of hurting Israel's image. That alone can justify a boycott.

Richard said...


In my view, you've managed to put to use exactly the right mix of both head and heart here. And for what it's worth, you've arrived at the same conclusion[s] as myself. But I think you already know that.

Incidentally, it seems we have several things in common -- Uri Avnery for example.

Dr Victorino de la Vega said...

Hi Sophie, Tejano Central,

Surreal twist in the latest thread on my blog (re: “President Bushmert’s Media Blitz and the Age of the Missing Leash”).

A bigoted pro-Israeli commenter is convinced I’m just a “self-hating Jew” (whatever that means) from some liberal “Left Coast Kibbutz”!!

The man even wrote a satiric poem, whereby he addresses the issue of boycotting Israel- a cause dear to Sophie's "utopian socialist" heart! ;)) to use ol' Karl's pique célèbre:

“He’s pretty sure that AIPAC
Will get a surface clean.
But that you shouldn’t buy it,
if you know what I mean.”

Wolfie said...

I'm on the same page as behemoth on this one.

Most Israeli goods available in the UK are vegetables such as peppers and herbs, these are grown using the labour of poorly paid Arab Israelis and thus by boycotting them I'm sure they would be the first to loose their jobs. It wouldn't give the desired result and hurting a whole economy is a complex task unlikely to provide a satisfactory outcome.

Mind you, you wouldn't catch me dead in Marks and Spencer.

Sophia said...

My heart is not 'Utopian socialist'. I think you have misjudged either socialists, either myself.

I think a whole economy is quite a complexe thing and results of a boycott are speculation. The recovery also in an economy can sometimes be surprising under a boycott. So presupposing only negative outcome cannot constitute a safe basis for a rational and moral decision while the outcome of irsaeli actions are quite obvious and enduring.

I don't knoe what is your background but I guess you did study economy as well as behemoth. Mainstream Economic and managment theories are quite unanimous in that regard and opposed to any boycott.

Sophia said...

We have dissenting voices here as to the boycott and this is a good thing. However, it seems that you and I are on the same wavelenght on this one.

Wolfie said...

I'm a derivatives risk analyst.

Just took a look at the CLU/MTM figures for Israel YTD. Looks like investment has been leaving the country steadily over the last year or two but suddenly bounced up a bit in July!?

Dr Victorino de la Vega said...

Sophie mia,

Easy! “Dissent” is a BIG word, its home with workers’ blood littered
I’m not putting down utopianism, « scientific socialism » and the Pravda
For the latter is ‘my second favorite organ’ as Miles Monroe once uttered
Still I’m afraid of top-heavy concepts, living in a baseless world, with nada

At least we’re talking.

A good thing in itself.

When other are bombing.

Sophia said...


You have to be a little charitable here. What are CLU, MTM and YTD ?

I guess C is for commerce, T for Trade but that's as far as I can guess.

Sophia said...


I am a scientific realist and a moral essentialist ! None of them would fit in any political program !

Dr Victorino de la Vega said...

Year To Date

For the rest I don't know

I also worked in finance in my young days

On a different "asset class" as they say!

It's always the same old story...Komrade Karl was right!

Wolfie said...

Sorry about that, most inconsiderate.

CLU = Credit Limit Utilisation, max trade that could be lost should counterparty default (based on 95% confidence level).

MTM = Mark to Market, The current value of derivative transactions based on market prices.

With all that noise over Intel and Motorola investing in Israel it still looks like the smart money is bailing-out. Its a client state through and through.

Sophia said...

Thanks Wolfie,

I'll have to check what these words mean actually but this is a good starting point.

Behemoth101 said...

Sophia, your criticisms of another's (I won't say who's) blog/comments is again unnecessary, paranoid, and a hasty misjudgement of genuine intentions. Just because a few people ganged up and refuted an idea espoused in your blog doesn't mean there is an imperative for you to generate a movement based on affirming your ideas. No one is forcing you to do anything.

That being said, the argument still exists uncountered: a boycott of Israeli goods is an absurd idea, for moral reasons or not. Case in point: Do you boycott AOL instant messager? There is no way to effectively or completely show your economic disapproval of Israel - that is unless you could find a way to convince the US gov to stop giving Israeli tribute which totals a whopping 4% of Israeli GDP... and I don't think any of us have that kind of lobbying power.

In other words, your acts of defiance against Israel would be more pragmatically spent in other conduits.

Anonymous said...

At least we’re talking.

A good thing in itself.

Sophia said...

I allow criticism on this blog but never insults ! If you don't behave I will be forced to remove your link from my blogroll and never engage in a discussion with you again, as I did with someone else with shom you seem at least to share lack of politeness and tact !

Anonymous said...

Can you see those stats for each post or do you have something like tracksy and try to match the time tracksy shows with the time of the post?

By the way, why did you feel it was important to point out that the poster is from Israel (as I am, I'll save you the search for my stats)? All he said was that it's good we're talking.

Dr Victorino de la Vega said...


Sophia said...


I showed your IP adress but after a careful check it wasn't your comment. It was another Anonymous comment. Sorry for this !

As for the comment itself, I didn't appreciate. 'At least we are talking' seemed to me like if it was impossible to talk about this issue when we differ. I have never had a problem with people who differ with me on issues. However, I have problem with people who are agressive and impolite.

I sincerely apologize to you on this one and I am going to remove your IP adress from the comment section !

Behemoth101 said...

Sophia, this is hardly the occasion to be frustrated over an "insult."

Let's re-examine for a second what I said.

I called your argument paranoid, not you. A rational person like you or I is capable of making paranoid arguments - there is a bit of a sharp dichotomy there. You should feel no need for hostility or censorship.

I am sorry if I led you to believe I was using invective - I'm merely engaging in a debate, and I find no qualification in your negative appraisal of certain of our blogging peers.

D'autre part, il faudrait bien noter que l'acte de prendre les critiques "personnellement" c'est une tactique employee par votre peuple favorite: les Israeliens.

tisba3akhi alla khair.

Sophia said...

Back from a soirée with friends I found your comment. I accept your justification even if I don't agree with the fact that I have no right to be judgmental.
I am not politically correct and I despise relativism.
As for taking something personal, there was more to what you said than just the fact that my argument was paranoid.

Anyway, I wish you a good day !

Cosmic Duck said...

A consumer boycott is not a bad idea. That's one of the ways we as individuals can react to the atrocities committed against civilians in Lebanon. Otherwise, its hard to influence our governments' policies, i.e. it's a long wait for the next election, and who pays attention when we demonstrate in the streets? But as consumers we may have some power.

Sophia said...


Exactly. It is a matter of what is morally possible to do against atrocities within the individual sphere.

Behemoth101 said...

Sophia, please accept my apologies for what I said to you.

You know, I proved you right the other day inadvertently - I got into an argument with my girlfriend in an attempt to persuade her to no longer drive an SUV - seeing as she votes with the gas pump for more "strategic" occupations to keep "our way of life" every time she pays for that wretched guzzler's gasoline...

You are right. The way we spend our money reflects what we support. It's time I did what I said. An Israeli boycott is in order.

Sophia said...

Everybody is entitled to his own opinion. Thanks anyway for the apologies. I appreciate.
As for the boycott, I already told you that I fully undertsand your position. You lived in Israel and you have may be friends there and your perspective can be completely different !
Be in peace !

Behemoth101 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Behemoth101 said...

Again, you misunderstand me, Sophia, and in doing so, you misrepresent my whole outlook.

I never said how long I was in Israel - for the record I was a tourist there for little more than two weeks. I know Israelis because, well, I'm exposed to some and I met a few over there.

I was brought up being sympathetic to Zionism, but that has changed. I do not "default" to Zionism anymore on issues. Similarly, my "default" is also not to any anti-Zionist group or other group. My default is to my morals, which guide me in the decision-making process on whose side to choose.

I seriously doubt you "completely understand" anything about me and I resent being cast as someone inherently sympathetic to Israel because of who I am.

This is the very idea I am trying to repulse. That a person born a Jew HAS TO be a Zionist or a like-minded sympathizer.

Sophia said...

By representing you as someone who understand Israelis I am not misrepresenting you. I understood very well that you lived for a short time in Israel and, from your posts, I understand that you were exposed a lot to zioinist indoctrination but that you are not an indoctrinated person.

I am fully convinced that you are not sympathetic to zionism. And I understand now that your previous position against the boycott is not one of sympathy but of a general humanitarian principle !

We will keep the discussion so I will be able to correct my perception !

It is hard to make an opinion of someone in a short time based only on a very limited exchange. Many bloiggers for example think I am a leftist and I am not. it is contrary to my principles to espouse a whole ready made ideology !

Behemoth101 said...

Presuppositions and categorization are some of the things bloggers have to struggle with as they reach a target audience.

In the words of Annie (or Jay Z): It's a hard knock life, for us!

Since March 29th 2006