When I wrote last week about Ben and Jerry’s decision to stop selling its ice cream in “Occupied Palestinian Territory”–whatever that encompasses–my focus was on why it is ultimately unsustainable for those who oppose Ben and Jerry’s to highlight the Green Line when convenient and erase it when convenient. But I also made clear that I do not support boycotting settlements or settlers without going extensively into the reasons why. Following my own logic, respecting the Green Line could mean celebrating that Ben and Jerry’s is not embracing BDS and boycotting Israel and is rather adhering to the distinction between Israel and the West Bank that I believe is important to maintain and respect, so I’ll lay out why I am not prepared to follow down the Ben and Jerry’s path.
First, as many have pointed out, any settlement boycott that applies only to the West Bank raises questions of targeting Israel with a double standard. I don’t know if Ben and Jerry’s sells ice cream in Tibet or Crimea or Western Sahara, and even if it does, it is legitimate for people to care about some issues more than others. I don’t find it to be automatically antisemitic that someone is more emotionally invested in what happens to Palestinians than what happens to Uighurs any more than I find it out of bounds to focus on Hamas shooting rockets at Ashkelon while Syria kills its citizens with barrel bombs. But I have yet to see a settlement boycott that encompasses all disputed territories around the world rather than just Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and that makes it harder for me to embrace. If Ben and Jerry’s or any other company wanted to make this about a broad principle rather than about Israel only, it would be wiser to formulate a global policy and institute it where applicable.
Second, given that the position of the international community is that the permanent status of the West Bank should be negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians, boycotting only the Israeli Jews who live in the West Bank but not the Palestinians who live in the West Bank creates a policy inconsistency. Israel and the Palestinians are not equivalent here; it is Israel that is militarily occupying the territory, and Israelis who live in Area C–where all settlements are located–have rights as Israeli citizens that Palestinians living in Area C can only dream about. I understand and respect the argument for not wanting to contribute to the occupation of the West Bank, but if the ultimate point is to get to a negotiated solution, then a policy of not doing business in the territory that is supposed to be subject to that negotiation should apply across the board. I am certainly not in favor of boycotting West Bank Palestinians, who deal with enormous burdens and inequity as it is, and rather than boycott anyone, I’d prefer to push for better and more equalized treatment of Palestinians in Area C living under direct and complete Israeli control than for worse treatment of the Israelis living there.
Third, given decades of Israeli government policy irrespective of which party was in power of promoting West Bank settlements and providing incentives for people to move there, I don’t like the idea of punishing the people who live there who sensibly responded to government policies. Refusing to sell ice cream to Israelis in the West Bank does nothing to alter or even protest the actions of Israeli governments that approved settlement planning and construction, purposely made it cheaper for people to move there, and turned a military occupation that had a strong security rationale behind it into a broad project of moving a civilian population into the West Bank. I have always maintained that the problem is not settlers but settlements, and taking punitive action against civilians who responded to government incentives and encouragement does not seem to me a just or appropriate measure. Many on the left of the political spectrum recoil against policies, such as broad sanctions on Iran, implemented to punish governments that instead amount to collective punishment of a population due to government actions, and the idea of boycotting settlers when the real issue is state policy is similar.
Fourth, I have argued that a one-size-fits-all approach to settlements makes for bad policy, and that applies here as well. I don’t think that Modi’in Illit is the equivalent of Itamar, and I don’t think that Itamar is the equivalent of Eviatar. Quality of life settlements in large blocs that abut the Green Line and that the Palestinians are willing to cede to Israel as part of a land swap adjustment when borders are negotiated are not the same as ideologically-driven settlements deep inside the West Bank that are designed to destroy Palestinian contiguity. There are plenty of settlements that are legal under Israeli law, went through a full planning and permitting process, and are not sitting on any privately owned Palestinian land that are nonetheless objectionable, and they are qualitatively different than wildcat outposts that are designed to destroy Palestinian contiguity and are in complete violation of Israeli law for good measure. I would have less discomfort with a differentiated settlement boycott policy than I do with one that paints everything with the same broad brush.
Lastly, given the history of boycotts against Jews, I am loath to endorse that as an approach. This is obviously an emotional argument rather than a policy one, but it is one to which I am sensitive. Comparing Ben and Jerry’s to Nazis is outrageous, and anyone who does it should be shamed and hounded for what is a form of Holocaust denial. Denying Half Baked to the denizens of Alon Shvut is not the Nuremberg Laws or Kristallnacht, no matter how many people in your Facebook feed appear to think otherwise. Still, that does not negate the fact that there is a long and ugly history of boycotting Jews and restricting their economic activities, and the same way that we are sensitive to how specific historical injustices impact actions we take today, boycotting Jews touches a nerve for me.
None of this changes that I do not view the Ben and Jerry’s move as antisemitic, that treating it as such is a mistake, and that it is myopic to equate settlement boycotts with full-blown BDS. I understand why people support what Ben and Jerry’s is doing, but for the reasons I laid out, I am not there.