The global campaign of boycotts, divestments and sanctions (BDS) targetting Israel is a threat to the Jewish state, but that campaign can be broken down into five types using the British government’s “threat levels” as a guide.
Those levels are Low, Moderate, Substantial, Severe and Critical.
The Low level BDS threat is the call on retailers to label goods as coming from Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. One may support or oppose such a call, but those who support it can hardly be labelled as “anti-Israel”. There are certainly people who don’t support a boycott of the Jewish state, but who wouldn’t necessarily want to buy goods made in the West Bank settlements.
The Moderate level BDS threat is the call to actually ban the import of such goods into one’s country.
Today’s statement by the British Trades Union Congress calling on the government to ban settlement goods based on a newly released legal finding puts the TUC firmly in this category.
The TUC makes it explicit what it is calling for (a ban on settlement goods) and what it is NOT calling for. The TUC puts its call for such a ban in the context of its support for “a sovereign Palestinian state that can live peacefully alongside a secure Israel” which is something that many of us — and most Israelis — would support. Note especially the use of the adjective “secure” to describe Israel.
The TUC’s statement today says very clearly that “the TUC does not support a ban against Israel” and later, “the TUC does not support a boycott of Israel”. This could not be clearer, could it?
The TUC wants a secure Israel living side by side with an independent Palestinian state (a two-state solution) and opposes the boycott of Israel.
Again, many of us could live with that, even if we might prefer to allow consumers to decide themselves whether they wish to purchase goods produced in the settlements, rather than have the government ban such goods.
The decision recently by the Co-operative supermarkets in the UK was at the third (Substantial) threat level — it called for a ban on goods produced by those who “profit from the occupation” which could mean any company that trades in Israel. The Co-operative’s decision was dangerous precisely because it went beyond settlement goods into a much broader category.
The fourth level of BDS — what we could categorize as “Severe” — is the call to boycott or ban all goods produced in Israel. This is a view already adopted by a number of unions in Europe and elsewhere.
The fifth level — the “Critical” threat — is the call to sever relations with the Israeli trade union movement. This is even worse than all the other levels because it basically says — we’re not against the illegal settlements in the West Bank, we’re not against the current right-wing Israeli government, we just oppose everything Israeli, even the most progressive things, even its Left and its labour movement.
This is the level of BDS where the most hard-line anti-Israel and even anti-Semitic sentiments are freely expressed.
The question facing those of us who oppose BDS while supporting a two-state solution is this:
Is there an inevitable progression through all five levels, especially for the trade unions? Does a union which supports labelling of settlement goods inevitably later move on to call for a boycott, and then a ban, of such goods? Does all of it lead in the end to a call for a boycott of all things Israeli, including the Israeli trade unions and Left?
The TUC, which has moved through the first two stages of this process, would say no. It is not calling for a boycott or ban of companies which “profit from the occupation” and not support a boycott of Israel or of its trade unions.
Not yet, anyway.
But the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, which is a powerful lobby inside the TUC, does see it this way, and cheerfully encourages unions and others to move through each of these levels, one after the other, seeing them as an inevitable progression toward support of their pro-Hamas, one-state vision of a Middle East without Jews.
The TUC will be holding its congress in Brighton in another two months and no doubt there will be those who will pressure it to move from from one level to the next — to call for a ban or boycott of companies which “profit from the occupation” and perhaps even for a boycott of all things Israeli.
In the British unions, at least, the progression from Low to Moderate, and then on Substantial and Severe BDS threats seems inevitable.
Unless a fight-back begins right now.