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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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Few global-justice campaigns are more polarizing, even explosive, than the effort to use international boycotts, divestment and sanctions to pressure Israel to end its 42-year occupation of the Palestinian territories.

Just ask Neve Gordon.

Recently, Gordon, head of the political science department at Ben-Gurion University and a longtime peace activist, published a wrenching op-ed in the Los Angeles Times endorsing the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS).

After initially opposing the tactic, he became convinced, he wrote, that outside pressure "is the only way that Israel can be saved from itself."

He was braced for a backlash, but nothing like what he has faced over the past few weeks -- members of the Israeli Knesset from a range of political parties called for his immediate sacking, the education minister called his article "repugnant," and his university president threw him under the bus saying, "Academic personalities who feel this way are invited to look for an academic and personal home elsewhere." She then hinted that his statement might have been an act of treason.

Clearly, BDS, part of the so-called South Africa strategy, crosses a line in the sand for many who believe that putting economic pressure on Israel is necessarily anti-Jewish.

But for proponents, BDS is a proven, nonviolent tactic that can pressure Israel to abide by international law, making an impact where various government efforts have failed and failed miserably.

Although Palestinian Civil Society made the BDS call in 2005, it gained momentum after Israel's brutal assault on Gaza this past December and January.

Now it is undeniably growing, particularly in the arts world. Respected writers such as John Berger, Eduardo Galeano and Adrienne Rich have all endorsed it; and Israeli film festivals have faced a string of boycotts.

Most recently, the Toronto International Film Festival's announcement of a special "city-to-city" celebration of Tel Aviv is threatening to turn the second most important film festival in the world (after Cannes) into a site of angry protests.

One of the most high-profile figures to endorse the call for BDS is Canadian author and activist Naomi Klein, who typically enjoys overflow crowds, extensive media coverage and brisk book sales when she goes on international book tours.

When it came to publishing her latest best-seller, The Shock Doctrine, in Hebrew and Arabic, Klein decided the political situation in Israel and Palestine called for an entirely different approach.

In opposition to Israel's occupation, she chose not to sign a traditional book deal with advances and royalties. Instead, she donated the book to Andalus, a publishing house that works actively against the occupation. It is the only Israeli publisher devoted exclusively to translating Arabic writing into Hebrew, something its founder Yael Lerer describes as "publishing as an act of resistance."

Klein and Lerer also set out to craft a book tour that would honor the Palestinian call for a cultural boycott of Israel while also showing that boycotts need not cut off much-needed communication and dialogue.

With this in mind, Klein and Lerer, used the tour to draw attention to the boycott and the Palestinian struggle and to spark an internal Israeli dialogue about boycott as a way to pressure Israel to live up to international law.

Last month in Tel Aviv, I sat down with Klein and Lerer to ask about the goals, meaning and nuts and bolts of implementing a cultural boycott, and also why Lerer, a Jewish Israeli, is telling the world, "Please, boycott me."

Here are some excerpts from that interview. -- Cecilie Surasky