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Naomi Klein Shows You Can Boycott Israel Without Cutting Off Dialogue Over Palestine

An interview with Klein and Israeli publisher Yael Lerer on why boycotting Israel will pressure the country to live up to international law.

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More recently, the Yes Men wrote a really thoughtful letter to the Jerusalem Film Festival explaining why they decided to pull their new film, The Yes Men Save the World, from the festival.

And now there is some talk of organizing a pro-BDS film festival in Ramallah, once again to boycott normalcy but to still get these films out there.

Surasky: I just read a criticism of BDS that said, "You're not calling for a boycott of North Korea, or the United States for that matter because of Afghanistan or Iraq. So, that makes this anti-Semitic." How do you address this criticism?

Klein: I've heard that too, but I'm not calling for a boycott of anyone. I am respecting a call for a boycott that has been made by hundreds of Palestinian groups.

I believe in the principle that people under oppressed circumstances have a right to self-determination. That's at the heart of this struggle. This is a nonviolent tactic that has been selected by a broad range of civil society groups.

Iraqis, so far as I know, have not called for BDS tactics against the United States, though it would certainly be their right. And yet some people act as if I sort of made it up in my bedroom like, "who should I boycott today? Eenie-meenie-miney-mo, North Korea, Zimbabwe, Burma, Israel!"

Once again, the only reason this can happen is because Palestinian voices are so effectively marginalized in the Western press.

By the way, most of the examples that are trotted out in these debates are examples where there are very clear state sanctions against these countries. So we're not dealing with impunity as we are with Israel.

In this case, you need a grassroots project to fill in where governments have completely abdicated their responsibility to exert pressure on behalf of international law.

Lerer: But not only that -- these countries don't have these film festivals, and Madonna is not going to have a concert in North Korea.

The problem here is that the international community treats Israel like it was a normal, European, Western state. And this is the basis of the boycott call -- the special relationship that Israeli universities have with European universities and with universities in the United States, which universities in Zimbabwe don't have.

I do believe that Israel could not continue the occupation for one single day without the support of the United States and the European Union. The Western community supports the occupation. Like Naomi was saying, not doing something is the active thing.

Surasky: Some say, "This is not going to help. Israelis see themselves under siege, we Jews see ourselves under siege. It's actually going to make Israelis less open to peace."

Klein: It's inevitable that, at least in the short term, it's going to feed this Israeli feeling of being under siege.

It's not rational, because in fact, what we're dealing with is a context where Israel has been rewarded. If we look at these key years since the election of Hamas, when the siege on Gaza became utterly brutal and just undeniably illegal, trade with Israel has actually increased dramatically. There have been new special agreements launched with the European Union and Israel, with Latin America. Last year, Israeli exports to Canada went up 45 percent.

Even though Israel is being rewarded for this criminality and is getting away with just extraordinary violence, the feeling among many Israelis of being under siege is increasing.

The question is, do we just cater to this irrationality? Because if we just cater to it, that means we do nothing, we voluntarily surrender the most effective tools in the nonviolent arsenal.