Justice Minister Tzipi Livni is the Israeli cabinet minister with the task of finding a way back to peace talks. At the moment, she is one more frustrated negotiator.
Livni was so frustrated that she kicked off the month of July with a speech in which she said that if negotiations with the Palestinians don’t start up again soon, Israel will face a worldwide economic boycott. The Jerusalem Post reported on her speech:
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni warned Monday at an accountants’ conference in Eilat that lack of progress on the Palestinian track could lead to a potential disaster for Israeli exports.
“Europe is boycotting goods,” said Livni, head of Israel’s negotiating team with the Palestinians. “True, it starts with settlement [goods], but their problem is with Israel, which is seen as a colonialist country. Therefore, it won’t stop at the settlements, but [will spread] to all of Israel,” she said.
This is not what we expect to hear from an Israeli minister. Nor it is usual for a minister to address the youth of her country with this reminder:
During her Eilat speech, Livni said she was impressed that youth in the country protested against the government decision to export natural gas.
“I appreciate the fact that they care and are thinking about the future, and obligating us to think about the future,” she said. “But the time has come for the same youth to ask, to what kind of state do they want to leave the gas reserves? To a Jewish democratic Israel? Or to a binational Arab state? Or to an apartheid state? It is impossible to deal with economic issues and to ignore the important diplomatic issues related to two states for two peoples.”
Colonialist country? Apartheid state? These are terms rarely attached to Israel by loyal supporters of the government. No wonder the political party, Bayit Yehudi, which is linked to Livni’s Hatnua Party in an “uneasy alliance” in the Netanyahu coalition, was quick to respond with an attack on Livni:
“The policy of sowing fear of boycotts is detached from reality. The Israeli economy is innovative and ground-breaking. The entire world comes here to learn from us, and business people are amazed at Israeli technology and innovations. We advise Livni and her friends not to panic.”
Political realists who follow the shenanigans of Israel’s right-wing government suggest that Livni may be involved in a strategy to jump start the negotiations. She may also be playing the “good cop” to signal potential European boycotters that Israel does have a few reasonable leaders.
That, however, is an unrealistic rejection of hope in a time of darkness. If Livni, a major Israeli cabinet figure, recognizes the growing danger of a worldwide boycott, the least we can do is take her at her word and see what she and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry are trying to work out.
She acknowledged that Israel is its own worst enemy when it refuses to see the impact of boycotts on Israel. It is in this sense that Livni (right) has a much stronger grasp of what is best for Israel than those U.S. religious leaders who still believe in the superiority of interfaith exchanges over working for justice.
Ha’aretz columnist Gideon Levy sees the value in Livni’s recognition of the power of boycotts. He gives her a strong endorsement:
“Anyone who really fears for the future of the country needs to be in favor at this point of boycotting it economically.”
Levy, however, does not believe an indifferent Israeli public will be receptive to Livni’s warning:
As long as Israelis don’t pay a price for the occupation, or at least don’t make the connection between cause and effect, they have no incentive to bring it to an end.
And why should the average resident of Tel Aviv be bothered by what is happening in the West Bank city of Jenin or Rafah in the Gaza Strip? Those places are far away and not particularly interesting. As long as the arrogance and self-victimization continue among the Chosen People, the most chosen in the world, always the only victim, the world’s explicit stance won’t change a thing.
Turning the light of realism on that indifferent public, Levy adds:
It’s anti-Semitism, we say. The whole world’s against us and we are not the ones responsible for its attitude toward us. . . . Most Israeli public opinion is divorced from reality − the reality in the territories and abroad.
Israeli’s right wing media, like its counterparts in the U.S., promotes the public’s “divorce from reality” by calling actions supporting Palestinian justice as anti-semitic attacks on Jews.
To the Times of Israel, opposition to Israeli self-absorbed policies are seen as ongoing battles in a theater of war.
This recent Times story was explicit: From the war in Iraq to the battle against Israel boycotters. In that piece, war strategy is transferred to a political strategy, designed to defend Israel from criticism.
Can an idea honed on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan prove effective in defending against assaults on Israel’s legitimacy in North America? David Dabscheck, deputy managing director of the Israel Action Network [IAN], thinks so.
In 2005, Palestinian civil society issued a call for a campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights. A truly global movement against Israeli Apartheid is rapidly emerging in response to this call.
The idea, in the words of General Stanley McChrystal — commander of the US Joint Special Operations Command — that “it takes a network to defeat a network” played a central role in his concept for fighting insurgents in the Middle East . . . .
“It became clear to me and to many others that, to defeat a networked enemy, we had to become a network ourselves,” McChrystal recalled in Foreign Policy, “We had to figure out a way to retain our… levels of knowledge, speed, precision, and unity of effort that only a network could provide.”
The two-year old Israel Action Network figured it needed to form a network to combat its own enemy network.
“We realized we were facing a different type of challenge,” reflected Dabscheck. “We faced a decentralized challenge originating from different groups. If this is a network challenge,” he said, echoing McChrystal, “it takes a network to defeat.”
Dabscheck is wrong, of course. There is no war between networks. The boycott strategy has won. It is the only pressure that works. Gideon Levy explains:
A boycott is the least of all evils, and it could produce historic benefits. It is the least violent of the options and the one least likely to result in bloodshed. It would be painful like the others, but the others would be worse.
On the assumption that the current status quo cannot continue forever, it is the most reasonable option to convince Israel to change. Its effectiveness has already been proven. More and more Israelis have become concerned recently about the threat of the boycott. When Justice Minister Tzipi Livni warns about it spreading and calls as a result for the diplomatic deadlock to be broken, she provides proof of the need for a boycott. She and others are therefore joining the boycott, divestment and sanction movement. . . . .
Not a bad outcome for a non-violent movement which began when “In 2005, Palestinian civil society issued a call for a campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights. A truly global movement against Israeli Apartheid is rapidly emerging in response to this call”.
The picture at top of John Kerry with Justice Minister Tzipi Livni was taken in Rome. It is from The Times of London. The picture is by Kerry Miaden Antonov/Reuters. The picture of Tzipi Livni is from AFP/Getty.