Calls to Boycott Stores with Israeli-Arab Employees Make a Mockey of Anti-BDS Laws

Cross-posted from Mondoweiss.

Haaretz reports that settlers from Yitzhar have been canvassing Israeli businesses in Jerusalem to determine which ones employ Arab-Israelis, so that the names of these companies can be put into a public directory.

The project, which Haaretz says is called “Hebrew Labor,” is being spearheaded by the grandson of far-right rabbi Meir Kahane, whose political movement, Kach, has been banned in Israel (the “Jewish Defense Leagues” are spiritual Kahanist successors).

The Israeli police arrested Kahane’s grandson on the suspicion that he was conducting surveillance for terrorist attacks, and he has since been released. He and his cohorts — Haaretz estimates less than two dozen people are involved with “Hebrew Labor,” almost all of them young men from Yitzhar — have actually been in Jerusalem for a while under a sort of restraining order: they received legal papers ordering them to remain in the city pending a decision by the government to allow them to return to Yitzhar and its environs because they are suspected of plotting price taggings. [The term coined for settlers for the price that Israeli security forces and Palestinians would pay for actions against settlements. -- Ed.]

Presumably, this action is partly an admission of weakness by the police that they cannot expect to successfully enforce Israeli law in the settlement. Yitzhar, situated between Nablus and Ariel, is a hotspot of price tagging activity (it’s yeshiva was forced to close over student and faculty involvement in price taggings) and violent clashes with Palestinian residents nearby — residents of Yitzhar and nearby Palestinian towns have reportedly engaged in acts of assault and arson against each other’s communities. These actions have only escalated since the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, seen as an act of appeasement among rightists, and have increasingly come to target Israelis whose perceived lack of commitment to the settlements (the IDF) or outright opposition to them (Peace Now) is seen as a threat.

The Yitzhar settlers’ actions were praised by the Prevention of Assimilation in the Holy Land group, which has gained notoriety for opposing racial mixing between Israeli women and Arab men and urging landlords to not rent properties to Israeli-Arabs.

The Haaretz story implies that Hebrew Labor will be encouraging Israelis to boycott stores with Israeli-Arab employees. The “irony” of all this, of course, is that this past summer, Likud members argued that boycotts (against Israel, the settlements, or those perpetrating the occupation) are inherently undemocratic in order to justify the passage of the “anti-BDS” (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) law:

It’s a principle of democracy that you don’t shun a public you disagree with by harming their livelihood. A boycott on a certain sector is not the proper manifestation of freedom of expression. It is an aggressive move meant to force a sector that thinks a different way to capitulate. Boycotts are aggressive and wrong.

Paul Mutter is a graduate student at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at NYU and a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus.