11 January 2009

Ironies of Boycotts

“All wars are useless … and sometimes in films we tend to
glorify them by making all those great characters and
they show you it's all about bravery and brotherhood of
man. And I don't believe in that.”
~ Ari Folman

Israeli filmmaker Ari Folman has just released Waltz With Bashir, an animated film that takes up the matter of Israeli military culpability in the massacre of Palestinians at the Sabra and Chatila refugee camps during Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon. Folman was serving in the IDF at the time and while the Israelis themselves did not take part in the massacre, they provided 'technical support' for those who did. I came across this short and not terribly well done interview with Folman from last week's New York Times Magazine which reminded me of this much more interesting interview I heard with him on npr a couple of weeks ago.

I have posted here about the ambiguities of John Berger's condemnation of the Israeli attack of Gaza and his call for boycott. Here are my questions: Does marshaling our purchasing power amplify our voices? Or does it depoliticize and moralize them? In the past week or so Naomi Klein too has published in several prominent venues - e.g., [1] [2] - a call to boycott Israel. Klein advances a fairly straightforward argument on what, I think, is an incredibly complex issue. Should we be avoiding Folman's film (for instance)? Or are our efforts more usefully directed at our own government which mindless supports Israeli actions - including abstaining last week on the U.N Security Council resolution calling for an immediate halt to the ongoing invasion of Gaza? Perhaps we might make contact with the many Israelis who dissent from their government's war and whose voices are, as I've said here and here, remain largely inaudible in coverage of the invasion? The latter strategies would shift us and our actions from the category of consumer to that of citizen.

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6 Comments:

Blogger Stan B. said...

As long as our own house remains in such blind disarray, it's going to be hard to influence anyone else's. Perhaps we, along with other countries, can have greater influence on the incoming administration- so far, their silence has, indeed, been deafening.

11 January, 2009 12:34  
Blogger Public Squalor said...

You're absolutely right. Organized pressure to force U.S. government officials to do the right thing makes far more sense. Boycotts are rarely successful and they encourage us to confuse consumer influence with political agency.

- peace

11 January, 2009 14:08  
Blogger Mark Curran said...

...with all due respect...two words, one country...South Africa...coming from Ireland where the word originated via the protest against a Captain Boycott...it indeed can have a role to play...hence the existence of the word...

12 January, 2009 12:04  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

Mark,

.... all due respect, one counterexample - Cuba.

The case for the effectiveness of boycotts is hardly simple. I would argue that the presence of mobilized domestic opposition was significantly more important in the demise of South Africa than the (hardly perfect) boycott of their economy. At a minimum the two worked in tandem and there is no analogous opposition in Israel even if there are significant numbers of Israelis who oppose the government policy.

12 January, 2009 15:52  
Blogger Mark Curran said...

Jim...didn't mean to sound flippant! But Cuba is at present a singular isolated US undertaking...the popular movement (80+% support) at the time in South Africa,the ANC called for a boycott which the majority of countries embraced...it was viewed as the 'last weapon' available...at the time, even if it meant hurting the people it was supposed to support...the rationale being it was better short term pain for long term change...with the present situation in Israel and Gaza, if Israel repeatedly and consistantly ignores UN resolutions and International law (as the SA government had also done)...such a call to boycott could be become justifed I would argue...regardless of the short term cultural implications...

13 January, 2009 05:12  
Blogger Dawei_in_Beijing said...

A boycott of Israel will never work because Hamas is a far cry from the ANC. Most of the govts around the world rightly view them as nothing but an Islamic terrorist organization, Arab countries included. Hamas will never gain legitimacy outside of radical leftist organizations, who romanticize them as a "resistance movement."

I bet Israel will cease its Gaza offensive before Obama takes office. They won't want to anger the incoming administration by presenting them with a hot conflict. Then, in a couple of weeks, this whole thing will be a forgotten blip, just like the 2006 debacle with Hezbollah. These mini conflicts are a dime a dozen, in the Middle East. The media is hyping this up as a "crisis." This is hardly worth waking up from a nap for most of these folks.

13 January, 2009 13:13  

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