We kiwi opponents of Israel's current aggression find ourselves in a tricky position. What, ethically and constructively, can we actually do from the other side of the world?
An Invercargill cafe owner caused a stir this week by evicting two Israeli women, and the two children with them, from his premises. I can't agree with what he did, but it's difficult not to sympathise with the guy's frustration. For decades, Palestinians have been appealing to Israel and the world for justice. Palestinian acts of violence are condemned; but often, nothing short of violence seems to draw the world's attention to Palestine's suffering.
And that's the sad irony. The same cafe owner might have distributed political pamphlets about Palestine, joined Amnesty International or written thoughtful letters to the editor. No one would have given a shit. You evict women and children from your cafe, people notice. The cafe owner is unrepentant, pointing out that Israel isn't showing much concern for women and children on the Gaza strip*.
Protesters around New Zealand are trying to do what the government will not: apply sanctions against Israel. As a feminist and person on the left, I can't agree with the Invercargill cafe owner's actions - but not because he targeted individuals. So long as sanctions or protest actions are ethical, I don't much care who is the target, man, woman or child.
Sanctions and protests must ultimately target Israel, not Israelis. Of course, it's individual Israelis who will cop the controversy - such as the Israeli chess master currently competing in Queenstown, and called on by John Minto to withdraw from his tournament - but protesters must be careful that their anger is directed, and seen to be directed, at the Israeli state and/or the military and economic structures which support it. Rakon?** Fair game. Israeli sportspeople? Fine. Israeli women and kids in a cafe? Not so good.
I'm not particularly bothered by the effects of sanctions on Israeli individuals. Sanctions do damage the careers of individual sportspeople and business people. That's tough - but being asked to leave a sporting tournament doesn't really rate against being maimed or killed by bombs and gunfire, in a place where most no longer have access to food, water, electricity or basic medical care.
Israel has dismissed the world's concerns about its treatment of Palestine by claiming anti-Semitism. It is crucial that we protesters neither allow anti-Semitism amongst our ranks, or be seen to tolerate it in any way. Individual Israelis - sporting, political or other high-profile figures - may be the vehicles through which we protest, but they can't be our ultimate targets. Aside from donating to humanitarian relief efforts in Palestine, kiwis can't do much for Palestinians that isn't symbolic. So our symbolism has to be unambiguous. We must be careful to be concerned with peace and justice, and to make this crystal clear. We can't afford to lapse into racism, or act in such a way that we can be accused of it; particularly when accusations of racism serve the purposes of Israeli aggression.
To use a sporting metaphor, we need to play the ball, not the man.
* Maia has written a fantastic piece on women, children and innocence in Gaza.
** Rakon Industries manufactures a component used in targeted bombs deployed by the Israeli military. Global Peace and Justice Auckland are holding a protest against Rakon on January 17, 3:00pm - 4:30pm, assembling outside Sylvia Park shopping centre on the Mt Wellington Highway.