(September 18, 2015 / JNS) Dear Reykjavik City Council members,
You would think that your country, which routinely violates the international ban on commercial whaling—slaughtering 137 last year and turning its nose up at the very notion of endanger species—might not want to assume it has a “moral” role to play in something as long and complex as the Arab-Israeli conflict. But then again, can your presumption of being experts on the Middle East be chalked up to those endless Icelandic winter nights, punctuated by one of the world’s highest alcoholism rates?
When your city council decided to boycott Israel, you thought you might find some respite from being looked down upon as mere whale butchers. But all you did was show to the world that knowing how to violate an endangered species agreement does not really qualify one for entry into the fray of Middle Eastern politics.
The Israelis are calling it a volcanic eruption of hate, and that is most likely an apt description. Your city is not boycotting any other country—not those who kill gays for being gay, declare women to be second-class citizens, or exploit poor Pakistani children in cruel and dangerous work environments. Countries run by genocidal dictators, narco-tyrants, and erstwhile conquerors are exempted. Only Israel is to feel the cold of Reykjavik’s newly acquired moral policy.
Could it be that your city is less concerned about alleged social justice than a way to follow the wondrous example set by Nazi Germany in the 1930s and boycott Jews?
I know from my discussions with leftist clergy in America that they always say, “you have to start someplace.” But then why is it that after decades of advocating boycotting Israel, these men and women of God never seem to go anywhere else? No brutal, genocidal, psychopathic dictator engenders as much concern as a struggling democracy trying to stay alive while its neighbors call for its extinction and in each war threaten to feed the Jews to the fish.
If you want to do something positive about the Middle East situation and gain some insight into the problem, you might begin by looking at the Palestinian refugees in Syria, in the Yarmouk camp.
Yarmouk once housed 240,000 Palestinian refugees living in poverty and without hope. Despite the repeated concern for the Palestinians enunciated during regularly scheduled Israel-bashing sessions at the United Nations, no Arab state would resettle them or give them full citizenship.
The Icelanders might want to consider that in the same period, the Arab states of the Middle East expelled 900,000 Jews, all of whom were absorbed by Israel even though there were times when there was not sufficient food in the country to provide every Israeli with three meals a day.
In contrast, Palestinians were condemned by their own leaders and the Arab world to fester for generations in camps.
As the Free Syrian Army (FSA) threatens strongman Bashar al-Assad for control of Syria, the Palestinian refugees have been caught in the deadly crossfire. The camp itself is run by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine—General Command, which is simply a front group for the Syrian military. The FSA saw the camp as an appropriate target; the large number of civilians were not germane to their tactical calculus.
Most Palestinians fled, but somewhere around 18,000 remain and are starving to death. Israel would permit Palestinians in Syria—there are an estimated 500,000—to return to the territories under Palestinian Authority control if they would give up any claims to return to Israel. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has said that it is better for them to die in Syria than give up their “right” of return.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has taken the unprecedented step of letting the Palestinian refugees escape almost-certain death in Syria by resettling them in the Sinai Peninsula. Again, Abbas has said no.
This is the implacable enemy that Israel faces, one that would rather see its people slaughtered than give up a right to replace the Jewish state through resettlement in Israel proper that is never going to happen.
Israel did not blockade Gaza until war materials flowed in from the sea and rockets and missiles were launched from Gaza into Israel’s southern cities. Israel left Gaza on its own accord, trading land for peace—but getting rockets, missiles, and attack tunnels instead.
The unilateral evacuation from Gaza in 2005 was an experiment to see how the Palestinians would respond. As some predicted, they responded with an escalation of brutality, targeting Israeli civilians, and not with peace.
Leaders of Reykjavik, be advised that your boycott of Israeli-made products will neither weaken Israel nor advance the cause of the hapless Palestinians caught between gunfire in Syrian and Abbas’s intransigence in not letting them resettle someplace safe.
Maybe your city council might consider putting pressure on the Palestinians to rescue their own people. In the meantime, I, for one, hope that you will at least be consistent by also boycotting all the advances Israel has made in recent years in treating and detecting cancer and heart disease. In the latter pursuit, I wish you every success.
Abraham H. Miller; emeritus professor of political science, University of Cincinnati; senior fellow, Salomon Center for American Jewish Thought; @salomoncenter