February 24, 2003
With increasing frequency, Jewish individuals and organizations are being called upon to participate in boycotts and other economic measures intended to change the behavior of companies, institutions, media outlets and countries deemed to be hostile to Israel or other Jewish interests. In many communities, the grassroots boycott efforts have been specifically directed at newspapers and radio and television stations in order to protest the perceived bias in their coverage of the situation in the Middle East. These calls for boycotts rarely include alternative suggestions for action, such as contacting the entity’s decision-makers.
The use of email exacerbates this situation, as claims of inappropriate conduct are easily forwarded from one person to the next, often without adequate factual investigation. In addition, the Arab League boycott office has become more vocal – several Arab governments have called for official and unofficial boycotts of Israeli companies, companies doing business with Israel (secondary boycotts), and companies doing business with entities doing business with Israel (tertiary boycotts). With Israel’s actions against the Palestinian terror infrastructure, grassroots calls from Europe, the United States, and elsewhere for a boycott of Israel, Israeli universities, and Israeli academic, medical, and business interests have increased. In response, some Jewish organizations have called for boycotts and counter boycotts.
Traditionally, the Jewish community relations field has avoided the use of politically motivated boycotts and other economic measures, with the exception of certain very limited situations in which avenues of discourse have failed to change the most egregious practices. This opposition has been due, in part, to the fact that boycotts have been used against Israel, companies that do business with Israel, or companies with Jewish leadership. Moreover, boycotts open the door for retaliatory boycotts and deny the Jewish community the higher moral ground in opposing boycotts against Israel or Jewish interests. The Jewish community correctly objected to such boycotts and welcomed the involvement of the U.S. government investigating and sanctioning those companies engaged in boycotts at the behest of foreign governments.