first Melbourne Jewish community org to call for boycotts

by tobybee

A week and a half ago the AJDS (Australian Jewish Democratic Society) issued a support for some boycotts of Israel, thus becoming the first Jewish community-affiliated organisation to do so. After spending, they say, 16 months discussing the approach (don’t ever accuse Jews of not having opinions or making quick decisions!), they have released the following call (taken from their website):

The AJDS is opposed to any Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign aimed at the breadth of Israeli economic, cultural or intellectual activity. However, the AJDS does support selected BDS actions designed to bring about an end to the Israeli occupation, blockade and settlement on Palestinian lands lying outside of the June 1967 Israeli borders. Such limited and focused BDS support might include boycotts of settlement products and divestment from military Research and Development (R&D) and boycott of industrial/military activities unrelated to Israel’s defence and security. It might also include selected sanctions or boycotts against specific Israeli academics openly supportive of the Occupation.

The AJDS will make any decisions on these matters on a case-by-case basis, and exercise its judgement as to the political/social cost-benefits of any such actions before granting specific endorsement or approval.

They further explain that they are opposed to the Palestinian call for BDS, adding that

“The AJDS is opposed to any Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign aimed at the breadth of Israeli economic, cultural or intellectual activity”. The AJDS only supports “selected BDS actions designed to bring about an end to the Israeli occupation, blockade and settlement on Palestinian lands lying outside of the June 1967 Israeli borders.”

Unlike the rejected Palestinian full BDS, the AJDS wants to concentrate on those who profit from this very occupation. An example given in the resolution is of boycotting “settlement products”. In this way the AJDS’s stance is similar to that taken recently by the National Council of Churches in Australia. Like the churches, the AJDS has not endorsed some of the other aims of the Palestinian BDS such as the Palestinian Right of Return.

While not reversing the AJDS’s long-term opposition to blanket academic boycotts, the AJDS envisages boycotting “specific Israeli academics openly supportive of the Occupation.” The organisation made it plain that nevertheless decision on any action would still need to be taken on a case-by-case basis.

So what do I think can we take from this?

That discussion is being opened up in Melbourne; that boundaries are being pushed; that the potentials for speech are being widened. and that small(er) changes are being made. What’s interesting I suppose is that what the AJDS called for is, in the end, relatively mild: they will decide on each particular case-by-case basis what should be boycotted, and then they are only really interested in boycotting products coming out of the Occupied Territories. Boycotts, in so many ways, are not that contentious: the number of Jews in Melbourne who still would not buy a German-made car is, I think, rather large. That is a boycott too. We exercise ‘power’ with our choices to buy (or not buy) products all the time. Of course, it’s the symbolism of the boycott which is at stake here. Which is why the AJDS has already come under opposition for its boycott call; and why the declarations of its marginality within the AJN, and presumably within the blogosphere, will only increase. Of course, if they really were so marginal and irrelevant, then there would be no need to say so. The increasing discourse which we are already seeing, and will continue to see, is testament to the disruptive force and potential of this call to boycott.

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