In his trip to South Africa last week, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas told reporters something interesting: He opposes efforts to boycott Israel.
“No, we do not support the boycott of Israel,” he said. “We have relations with Israel, we have mutual recognition of Israel.”
He did, however, call for a boycott of goods made by Israelis in the West Bank: “But we ask everyone to boycott the products of the settlements. Because the settlements are in our territories. It is illegal.”
This is a sensible position for a Palestinian leader to take. Abbas’s Palestinian Authority is in the midst of negotiations with Israel, and the two sides have worked cooperatively to build the Palestinian economy. (As much as I disagree with his calls “to boycott the products of the settlements,” it’s understandable that a Palestinian leader would want to pressure Israel’s West Bank holdings.)
Anti-Israel activists are not, however, the most sensible bunch. Omar Barghouti, the founder of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, which supports boycotting Israel, told Electronic Intifada that Abbas’s statement “shows how aloof he is from his own people’s aspirations for freedom, justice and equality, and how oblivious he is to our struggle for their inalienable rights.” Barghouti, on the other hand, is so dedicated to the cause, so finely attuned to Palestinians’ aspirations . . . that he has studied philosophy at Tel Aviv University. Just last week, the American Studies Association voted to boycott Israeli academic institutions.
In his book Palestine Betrayed, historian Efraim Karsh relays how the Arab League initiated a boycott on Jewish goods from Palestine in 1945. “Asked whether it had considered the boycott’s possible impact on the wellbeing of the 70,000 Arabs working in Jewish industries in Palestine,” Karsh writes, “the League’s first secretary-general, the veteran Egyptian politician Abdel Rahman Azzam, sarcastically replied: ‘I guess the Zionists will be most pleased when 70,000 Arabs are forced to leave Palestine.’” It’s not hard to see the resemblance between the work of Barghouti and his useful idiots at the American Studies Association and the Arab League’s callous indifference to the needs of actual Palestinians 68 years ago.