The Irish Senate has voted narrowly in favor of a bill that would make it a criminal offense for Irish persons and companies anywhere to import or sell items, or provide services, produced in West Bank “settlements,” as defined by the bill. The offense would be punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to €250,000.
Should the bill become law, its economic impact on Israel’s economy would be negligible, since Israel’s total annual exports are over €51 billion while the value of settlement-made products imported into Ireland is estimated at less than €1 million (one five-hundredth of a percent). Yet its passage would constitute a damaging reversal for Israel’s international standing, particularly in Europe, as Ireland would become the first EU member-state to advance from labeling products made in Israeli settlements – pursuant to the EU’s guidelines issued in 2015 – to the criminalization of trade in such products.
Furthermore, as noted in an editorial published in the Irish Times a week after the bill was first tabled by Independent Senator Frances Black, the measure constitutes a “propaganda victory” for its instigators and would serve as a “confirmation” of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.
Despite Black’s assertion that her bill is necessary to uphold human rights and international law, BDS, to be sure, is concerned neither with rights nor with the law. Its founders and spokespeople openly admit that their aim is to eradicate any autonomous Jewish presence in the Middle East. Its activists speak with unvarnished racism and have on occasion taken to placing pig’s heads in kosher sections of supermarkets to register their support for human rights and international law. French President Emmanuel Macron has called BDS “antisemitic” as have numerous senior diplomats and political leaders, including Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley.
GIVEN THE toxicity of the BDS brand, it is not difficult to see why the initiators of the bill have avoided affirming that they are acting in line with the aims and tactics of BDS, and at the behest of its activists in groups like the Irish Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
But the endgame of the Irish bill’s supporters is clear. The aim was first enunciated at the 2001 UN Conference against Racism held in Durban, South Africa, which became notorious for its placards venerating Hitler and its circulating copies of the Secret Protocols of the Elders of Zion, in what the late US democratic congressman Tom Lantos called, “the most sickening display of hate for Jews seen since the Nazi period.” Lantos was the only Holocaust survivor to become a member of Congress.
At the NGO Forum of the conference, a declaration was adopted that called for the launch of an international solidarity movement to target Western governments and the organs of civil society in order to bring about “the full cessation of all links (diplomatic, economic, social, aid, military cooperation and training) between all states and Israel.” In other words, bringing the state to its knees to achieve what Yasser Arafat called “peace through Israel’s destruction.”
Yet a dose of realpolitik and trial and error has taught anti-Israel activists that their ultimate victory can only be attained through the long road of incremental gains and steady momentum. Following the failed attempt in 2011 to bring a full boycott of Israel to a local government in Sydney, Australia, its lead activists lamented that over-enthusiasm caused them to neglect to prepare the Australian public to accept a boycott of Israel by gradually phasing in anti-Israel measures.
One activist subsequently wrote of the importance of “building momentum.” The campaign then shifted to low-hanging fruit – what they call, “targeted divestment” from Israeli companies in industries such as defense. And, of course, labeling and then boycotting anything produced by Israelis living over the 1949 armistice lines.
A handbook for student campaigns against Israel titled, “Divest Now!” makes the tactic of phased BDS explicit, calling targeted boycotts and limited divestment “a stepping stone toward a broad, comprehensive boycott of Israel.” A spokesman for the Palestine Solidarity Campaign admitted that: “A limited demand for boycott… lays the foundation for the future comprehensive BDS call.”
The Irish bill must be viewed through this prism. Indeed, it is the obvious progression from the first “stepping stone” towards a comprehensive boycott of Israel, which came in the form of the EU’s guidelines for member states to label Israeli settlement produce in 2015.
In explaining the directives on labeling settlement produce, the EU asserted that such special labeling for was necessary to “give consumers the possibility to make an informed choice.” Having adopted the EU’s labeling guidelines, the Irish Parliament is set to withdraw the right of consumers to choose to buy or not buy products made by Israelis living in the West Bank by jailing those who bring such products into their country.
It is not difficult to anticipate where things will go from here. Anti-Israel activists consider Israeli academic institutions and their scholars to be “complicit” in what it views as Israel’s crimes. They argue that artists and entertainers who choose to perform for Israeli audiences are part of a “propaganda campaign to improve the image of the country abroad.” Celebrities like Golden State Warriors basketball player Draymond Green, who travel to Israel, are similarly accused of “complicity” and “whitewashing.” The theme is an obvious one. Anyone or anything that bears even the most remote relationship with Israel is a fair target for boycott, harassment or criminalization.
Irish Senator Black can litter her explanatory op-ed in the Irish Times with cascading references to “injustice” and “international law,” but these are malleable terms, not universal ones. A leading figure in the BDS campaign, the academic As’ad Abukhalil, claimed that: “Justice for Palestinians is incompatible with the existence of the State of Israel.” Now poised to advance further down the road towards a complete boycott, Ireland has shown that it is ready to join BDS’s pursuit of “justice.”