by Lars Akerhaug, Oslo
Boycott of Israel as a strategy to strengthen the liberation struggle and the anti-Zionist bloc
Oslo: 1993. Official Norway celebrates as …‘the Oslo-channel´ is declared as the "turning point in relations between the PLO and Israel". The support of the Palestinian liberation struggle is diminished to some few groups of the Palestine Committee. Except for these voices, few if any mention the traps and lacking of the agreement. Norway uses the opportunity to extend its influence over the oppressed countries of the world through …‘peace negotiations´ and …‘development aid´.
Occupied Palestine: 1993-2000: Palestinians soon discover that the …‘peace agreement´ was rather a …‘peace trap´. In return of putting down the armed struggle and confining Palestinian demands for sovereign rule to the West Bank and Gaza the Palestinians gets up to 248% increase in settlements and increased Zionist interference through checkpoints and other means of population control, without the means to put up defensive measures. In Arabic the word …‘Oslo´ becomes a foul word, more than a word of …‘peace´.
Oslo: 2001. Few, if any, would boast of the …‘Oslo-channel´ as anything but a joke. The Palestinian uprising 28th of September puts a final end to years of humiliation. February 15th, the same day as the butcher from Sabra and Shatilla, Ariel Sharon is elected as president, a diverse crowd gathers to officially launch the …‘Boycott Israel Campaign". Spanning from the revolutionary left through anti-imperialist organizations, immigrant unions and mosques to the established trade unions and political parties in Parliament the call for a boycott of Israeli goods struck a cord. But also, the campaign proved successful in bringing in lots of youth activists to the solidarity movement. However, from the beginning there was also disagreement in approach inside the movement. There were two basic questions: Should we confine ourselves to just call for a consumer boycott or call for a total break of relations with the Zionist state? And should the campaign be run as a bureaucratic top-level bloc or by activist groups?
The answer was neither nor, but something in between to both questions. Officially, the boycott action did not adopt slogans for anything but a consumers´ boycott, however, activist groups connected to the campaign also raised slogans for the government and academics to stop relations with Israel. Also outside of the official campaign the anti-imperialist Palestine Committee and revolutionary groups pushed more aggressive demands for total de-normalizations with Zionism. So in effect the popular demand for a boycott of Israel became stronger, even if internal contradictions existed. However, it was the battles of Jenin and Nablus and the attacks on Chairman Arafat who decisively hurled the boycott demand up as a public issue.
The battle of Jenin: Rise and fall of the boycott movement
Following the bloody month of April which showed the brutality of the Zionist occupation forces, but also the heroic struggle of the Palestinian people and its militants, there was a wave of demonstrations and public protests. It all culminated into the 1st of may in Oslo, where Gerd Liv Valla the leader of the General Trade Union (led by the social democrats) and former minister of justice called for a boycott of Israeli goods with the attendance of thousand of people and a high media profile. The news even spread to occupied Palestine and the Zionist media itself. Her stand was together with celebrities like at that time University Principal Kaare Norum and former National Football manager Egil Drillo Olsen. The slogan for boycott became the most common outcry for action against the Zionist atrocities. Maybe most importantly still was the action by the transport workers who one morning blocked the transport of vegetables to the shops. This action, unlike the speeches and statements by the celebrities was an independent working class action and showed that a popular struggle to actually block Norwegian relations with the Zionist enemy is possible.
However, the `Road Map to Peace`, which came in a time where the world opinion became rapidly more anti-israeli delivered a suffering blow to the pro-palestinian movement. Even if the core of it did not take too much effect by the dissaray of the Road Map, and denounced it as yet another American-Zionist ploy, it did set back the popular support from independent social movements. Maybe one could even pose that the movement had become to broad, and thus unable to tackle such difficulties properly. From 2003 and forward the public slogan has, except for some single actions and a few public debates not been a public issue. However, as the situation grows rapidly worse, there are many good reasons for why the slogan should be taken up again. Why?
Is boycott useful?
There are many typical interventions against boycott as a strategy for supporting the Palestinian freedom struggle. If we leave aside the most obvious ones, like those advocating dialogue and not confrontation with Zionism, a few yet remain. First of all, it is clear that boycott in itself will not be a strategy to reduce the economical power of the Zionist Entity. The main export of Israel today is not vegetables or other easily identified products, but rather security and information technology, much less identifiable. And also there is no secret that the entity is also largely dependent on economical aid from the US. Even if Sharon`s strategy of outsourcing the occupation of Gaza to Egypt and expand economically into Jordan is also aimed at freeing Israel from the womb of the US, it is clear that for many years to come this will sill be the situation.
Also, from a revolutionary perspective, we do not believe that individual action is sufficient. Mass mobilizing, and not moral individual action is the method for real political change. However, we believe that the slogan of boycott should be seen in a much larger context than the economical. The slogan is rather aimed at mobilizing people under a call which is both radical and simple to approach. People do not need to take a political stand to all questions, they simply need to denounce Israeli atrocities and call for action. Secondly, by introducing the slogan you open public awareness to other questions. If people agree that boycott is a correct slogan, and maybe also that the refugees has the right to return, the road is not far before people also support the one-state solution and the anti-zionist bloc of the pro-Palestinian solidarity movement.
Also the slogan of boycott is helpful for the Palestinian liberation struggle. The political hegemony of Zionism is dependent on its subscribers feeling of `belonging` to the occident, not the orient. Zionism is a classic, and emphatic endorsement of orientalism. So the feeling of not `belonging` to the west would deliver serious blows to the Zionist establishment and further the conflicts inside the Jewish state. In this way it is also a boost to the liberation struggle. The situation today is in a deadlock, and only either international isolation of Zionism and/or a fall of the reactionary Arab regimes has the potential to change the relations of power in the middle east.
This is why boycott of Israel, together with a support for the rights of refugees inside and outside Occupied Palestine, and a clear and vocative support for the Iraqi resistance should be among the pillars of the international solidarity work for the Arab nation. However, we need to be tactic in our approach. Consumers boycott is maybe not the most effective slogan. Rather, to focus on questions like academic relations with Zionist academies, weapons` trade and also to single out national companies profiting from Zionist atrocities could be as effective or more than only a consumers` boycott. Few Zionists will take care if we don`t by their avocados. Many more if we don`t welcome their professors, and don`t let them present the `nice side of the coin` of their brutal entity.