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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: April 2, 2009 @ 10:21 am

    Chomsky and the campaign to boycott Israel

    Deaglán de Bréadún

    Covering the debate about a proposed boycott of Israel at the Labour Party conference in Mullingar at the weekend (click here) one got the distinct feeling that, if the pro-boycott people had been better organised, they would have got their motions through. The boycott campaign may be  gaining some momentum even in the US, to judge from this TV report.

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    Since that’s from the Al Jazeera English network, it might be looked at askance by those who hold pro-Israeli views. But let’s go back to the Mullingar conference where the pro-boycott motions were “referred back” and a call for an inquiry into events at the turn of the year in Gaza was adopted instead. The debate was held first thing on Sunday morning – hardly a prime slot.

    With some exceptions such as Ivana Bacik, those in favour of the boycott came across as half-hearted and/or disorganised, which is a strange frame of mind on an issue that arouses such deep and abiding passions.

    Joanna Tuffy TD, a regular and  eloquent commentator on this blog, opposes a boycott in principle. Michael D. Higgins, Labour’s  Foreign Affairs Spokesman sees it as a question of tactics. He gave priority to the drive for an international war-crimes inquiry over the conflict in Gaza.

    Senator Bacik supports the pre-boycott stance of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign. Proinsias De Rossa MEP spoke against a boycott but, interestingly, said he would never fly El Al, for example.

    Three years ago, prominent left-wing academic Noam Chomsky came to Ireland and was greeted like a rock-star. It was standing-room only at the O’Reilly Hall in UCD and at an Amnesty International lecture in the RDS (Yours Truly chaired the UCD event, at the request of the organisers.)

    But Michael D. Higgins noted at the weekend that Chomsky is opposed to an academic boycott. In an interview in 2004 he  was opposed to any kind of sanctions along the lines used against South Africa in the apartheid era: “In fact, I’ve been strongly against it in the case of Israel. For a number of reasons. For one thing, even in the case of South Africa, I think sanctions are a very questionable tactic. In the case of South Africa, I think they were [ultimately] legitimate because it was clear that the large majority of the population of South Africa was in favor of it. Sanctions hurt the population. You don’t impose them unless the population is asking for them. That’s the moral issue. So, the first point in the case of Israel is that: Is the population asking for it? Well, obviously not“. (For full text of interview, click here.)

    This did not come up during Chomsky’s Irish visit. I guess the issue wasn’t at the forefront of debate as it is now. I wonder if Chomsky came back, would he get the same welcome?

    Incidentally, the reporter on the Al Jazeera clip is Josh Rushing, a former officer in the US Marines whom I met when he was a US military spokesman at the press centre of Centcom headquarters in Qatar in 2003, during the lead-up to the Iraq War. If you would like to read his story, click here.

    • Will says:

      >>I wonder if Chomsky came back, >>would he get the same welcome?

      I think Chomsky would get an even *greater* welcome than two years ago.
      Firstly, Chomsky is “the greatest intellectual alive” and he is without peer.

      Crucially, the chickens that Chomsky warned about have come home to roost with the current economic crisis.
      Re-reading Chomsky’s critique of neo-liberal capitalism from 15 years ago he now seems very prescient indeed. I believe he was the one who coined the term “casino capitalism” back then to describe how western economies had moved from a manufacturing base to financial speculation on the international money markets.

      Chomsky came to Ireland when the largely illusory Celtic Tiger was in full roar. Now that the whole edifice of the global economy has collapsed, people will want to listen to a prophetic voice who will suggest a more sane, humane and rational approach to living on a planet with finite resources.

      What would further boost Chomsky’s appeal is his in-depth understanding of the Middle East and crucially the role the US plays.
      Israel’s latest orgy of violence was criminal in its cruel and wanton destruction but it did make “ordinary people” even more politically-aware.

      Deliberately massacring the long suffering people of Gaza, using white phosphorous, cluster bombs, targeting UN Schools and using disgusting “Flechette” bombs which are aimed at killing civilians put Israel beyond the pale.

      It is important to remember, that Israel’s violent law-breaking is funded by the US. Israel obtains the latest American weapons and get full diplomatic and political support from the US.

      The military-industrial complex that Eisenhower famously warned about along with weapons manufacturers, oil companies, the Israeli lobby, neoconservatives and Christian Zionists all have a huge, disproportionate and nefarious influence in Washington.
      What’s more, the Senate voted 100-0 in support of Israeli actions in Gaza and 318-2 in the Congress.

      I don’t see Obama reversing 50 years of US foreign policy in the oil-rich Middle East just yet whilst the US economy is floundering and it is still reliant on oil.

      For this reason, Chomsky is quite correct that people should focus their attention on the US, rather than its imperial stooge, Israel and as a tactic boycotting Israel is of questionable merit.

      However, there is a very compelling moral case for boycotting a country that is in flagrant breach of UN Resolutions, Human Rights Acts and Geneva conventions and of course there is the apartheid-like structure to its country.

    • robespierre says:

      Deaglán,

      Boycotts are economic warfare. Israel is not our enemy. They are our democratic ally in the region and the majority of the people of Israel are moderate. This can be seen from the content in the press and media. They are surrounded by dictatorships or states like Lebanon that have shadow terrorist governments within their borders.

      When the Arab OPEC states cease funding terrorism across the world and the West stops propping up corrupt dictatorships like that in Egypt maybe the situation can normalise. Israel should return to the pre-1967 borders, they should cease all land-grabbing, they should be forced to take the wall down, they should also be forced to leave the roads open.

      In other words, Israel and Palestine need civilianisation. There is an internationally-accepted means of doing this and that is Chapter 7 article 51 intervention in the United Nations Charter. The illegal wars in Lebanon and in Gaza where war-crimes undoubtedly happened gave the UN Security Council the pretext to send an international force into Israel to repeal the power and land-gains.

      The cordon sanitaire enforced by the wall and troops needs to be tackled but as you know the hypocrisies of the international political system make both peaceful intervention in Israel and the grubby practice of supporting dictatorships in the region both run back to Washington and the US will not allow either situation to be changed.

      Economic sanctions on Israel would be an embarrassing failure that would further destabilise the region. They have never worked – Ireland under De Valera, Iran under Khomeini and Zimbabwe under Mugabe. The civilian population always suffers disproportionately.

      This is merely more evidence of how clueless the Labour Party is. As we can see from the leader’s speech last weekend, they are cynical and opportunistic on domestic matters and have proposed no clever ideas (the blueshirts are to their credit trying) and they are led by foggy idealism and a scant concern for the people they purport to protect when looking overseas. Not very true to their Fabian roots.

      Have they considered the 8% of the Israeli population that are Hebrew-speaking Palestinians who would be just as affected by this as Jews and Gentiles in the state itself?

    • Conor Reidy says:

      Dr. Rory Miller wrote an interesting article on the wrongs, hypocrisy and general pointless nature of an economic boycott on Israel in 2005 in Magill Magazine. Available online at the Israeli Embassy website: (fourth article, half way down the page)

      http://url.ie/1ej9

    • Dave says:

      It always seems to me to be the case in the Israel-Palestine debate that people choose their team, accept that side’s evidence and discard the rest. Chomsky has set the precedent, I think.

      I’m sure he’d be hailed as a hero if he returned to Ireland, but that’s often the case with people who tell people what they want to hear.

    • Joanna Tuffy says:

      Robespierre,

      The motions calling for boycotts were not passed. The motion passed is here for your information:
      http://www.labour.ie/conference2009/motions/detail/1237912179781474/

      Deaglán,

      That is interesting about Chomsky. More recent interviews with him on the conflict are available on his website http://www.chomsky.info
      His reasoning is quite complex but there is logic to it if you agree with his overall outlook on international affairs. I appreciate your kind comment above.

      Dave,

      Surely from the above Chomsky didn’t set the precedent for what you describe.

    • Eoin Lynch says:

      This is absolutely typical of left-wing hypocrisy. They are in complete opposition to any sanctions against the tyrannical and anti-Semitic regimes in Tehran and Gaza but support one against an open, pluralistic, modern democracy.

    • Jonathan says:

      I just wonder how such a boycott would work. People forget that Israel produces quite a lot more than basil and oranges. Israel is a major world producer of hi-tech goods, computer hardware and components, medical devices, pharmaceuticals, the list goes on. Very often the Israeli origins of items are not disclosed (for understandable reasons). I wonder if somebody would refuse a particular type of medication if they knew the active ingredient was made in Israel.

    • What a laugh, Left-wing cheerleaders for Hamas! The terrorist tool of Iran. The naive irish people will understand Israel is a democratic state which has the right to defend its citizens against terrorist attacks. Micheál Martin’s words mean nothing, a failed Irish politician who never condemned the killing of an Israeli child but who chooses to defend Iran’s terror and Islamic Fascism. Israel will not roll over and be f***ed by Islamic terrorists

    • Ramblin Jack says:

      Hooray for Israel against Hamas terrorists.

    • Ramblin Jack says:

      France has Le Pen, Ireland has Hamas fan clubs and Ó Snodaigh. Israel will not kiss the feet of the terrorists funded and controlled by Iran and supported by the naive and delusional who believe Islamic fundamentalists will bring economic growth, human and women’s rights when they are prepared to use their own people as human shields/martyrs.

    • Israel is a democratic legitimate state where human liberal rights including women’s rights and minority rights are guaranteed. Israel has defended itself for the last decade against ceaseless rocket attacks by Hamas et al from Gaza, and only for the fact that it cares enough to build air-raid shelters more of its citizens would have been killed. Israel has the right to defend itself and its defence policy will not be dictated by Micheál Martin of Ireland who seems to love Hamas terrorists.

    • Hip Hip Hoorah for Israel. Let Irish women,or gays or Christians live in Saudi or Iran or any fundamentalist Islamic regime and they might sooner realise the benefits of western-style liberal democracy! Israel will not roll over because Ó Snodaigh, Martin, Ahern and all the other hypocrites see fit to hand out their pompous and self-righteous platitudes

    • O Snodaigh the great lover of human rights,what a laugh,A man who represents a party with the worst record of human rights abuses in recent irish history hands out lessons in morality to the jewish people by calling their policys the same as the most evil political force namely the Nazi party who murdered 6 million jewish people.O Snodaigh is an imbecile,as is anyone who seriously compares the holocaust “shoah” to the occurrences in Gaza.Israel does not give a damn what Michael Martin thinks either and why should they?

    • This is the reality. No boycott of Israeli goods will be introduced: fact. Obama will continue to support Israel even if overtures are made to the Arabs, fact, Israel has the right to defend its citizens: FACT

    • IrishWhiskey says:

      It took a while for the anti apartheid boycott to take hold. I think people are getting fed up with Israel’s recent behaviour (read Ha’aretz’s report on Israeli border guards and the comments). There is plenty of land for Israel (a multicultural country, with a 20% Arab underclass) and Palestine. Israel does not need to steal more land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem when there is enough land inside Israel’s recognised borders.
      I’d suspend the EU-Israel Association Agreement and also Israel’s participation in Eurovision and UEFA until its obligations were met regarding international law.
      Also, can someone explain why tea, coffee, paper and glass are not allowed into Gaza and why their fishermen are routinely harassed?


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