The boycott movement has become big news in Israel. Last weekend an influential show, “Channel 2 News,” ran a long segment on the issue in prime time. One day later the topic appeared again, this time under banner headlines on the front page of Yedioth Ahronoth, the country’s largest newspaper.
As Larry Derfner, a journalist with the Israeli English-language online magazine 972, wrote, this unprecedented publicity brought “an impressive new level of mainstream exposure” to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement and served as a “wake-up call,” and “a wrench thrown into the national denial machine.”
The television program, he noted, was heavily promoted, ran for 16 minutes and was narrated by “top drawer reporter” Dana Weiss. Moreover, it “didn’t blame the boycott on anti-Semitism or Israel-bashing” but treated it as an “established, rapidly growing presence that sprang up because of Israel’s settlement policy and whose only remedy is that policy’s reversal.”
The print story ran under the following headline and subhead: “100 leaders of the economy warn of boycott on Israel: The world is losing its patience and the threat of sanctions is increasing. We must reach an agreement with the Palestinians.” It reported that a group of major Israeli businessmen warned Netanyahu of the threat to Israel’s economy last week before the World Economic Forum in Davos.
How has all this played out in the Times? One day after the Yedioth article, it published a piece by Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren titled “Israeli Settlers Use the Web to Push Back on Boycott,” which appeared in print only in The International New York Times and was available online on the Middle East page of the World section under the title Letter From the Middle East.
The story is built around the spunky defiance of a pair of settlers, two “American-born religious Jews raising four children high on a hilltop” inside the occupied West Bank. They run a website promoting settlement products as “an attempted antidote to the ‘Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions’ movement.”
The story acknowledges that the boycott movement has been gaining ground, and it quotes two Israeli ministers, Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid, who have sounded the alarm about the effects of the boycott. But the real focus of the story is the couple, Gedaliah and Elisheva Blum, and their determination.
“The Blums have not been deterred,” Rudoren writes. They are promoting settler art online, “from their modest home,” along with products by other “small businesses” run by settlers. They also get the last word in the story: “We saw a boycott, we see injustice, then you do something about it. Even if it’s just one little baby step.”
Rudoren refers to the occupation of the West Bank in an oblique fashion. It is “what most of the world envisions as the future Palestinian state.” The settlements are “generally viewed as illegal under international law,” and the occupied Palestinian (and Syrian) territories are land “the international community generally considers illegally occupied.” Readers could take all these claims as mere opinions, as one side in an abstract legal argument.
The story reports without comment that the Blums believe Israel should annex the West Bank, but it gives no sense of what this dispossession would mean to the indigenous Palestinians and no hint of the brutal methods already used to support the settlement enterprise—settler attacks on villagers and the demolitions of wells, cisterns, animal shelters, homes and schools in Palestinian communities.
It also provides no hint of the wake-up call now sounding in Israel, from its premier television news program to the front page of its leading newspaper. Times readers, unless they are fluent in Hebrew and follow alternative media like 972 Magazine, will have no clue.