Avnery starts by asking Tutu how effective the boycott was in bringing down the Apartheid regime, and Tutu tells that it was crucial. Which would be fine if we were still in 1993, asking for journalistic impressions. But we're not. By now, given the passage of time, the question needs to be answered not by asking a protagonist but by looking for hard evidence. I don't know the rules of South African archives, but if one could look at the deliberations of the decision makers of the time, for example, that would be helpful. Tutu wasn't one of them.
Mostly, however, Avnery explains that Israeli isn't South Africa, and a boycott won't work; he eventually says, in so many words, that it oughtn't be tried:
Neve Gordon and his partners in this effort have despaired of the Israelis. They have reached the conclusion that there is no chance of changing Israeli public opinion. According to them, no salvation will come from within. One must ignore the Israeli public and concentrate on mobilizing the world against the State of Israel. (Some of them believe anyhow that the State of Israel should be dismantled and replaced by a bi-national state.)I do not share either view - neither the despair of the Israeli people, to which I belong, nor the hope that the world will stand up and compel Israel to change its ways against its will. For this to happen, the boycott must gather worldwide momentum, the US must join it, the Israeli economy must collapse and the morale of the Israeli public must break.How long will this take? Twenty Years? Fifty years? Forever?
This is an essential part of the Avnery story: for all his (long) life-long contrarianism and insistence that the Palestinians will fall in our arms if only we'd be nice to them, still he remains an Israeli. He remembers escaping Nazi Germany as a child, and fighting for the newborn country as a young man. (Did you know he's the author of the anthem of the Samson's Jackals anthem, which is still played from time to time? Shuala-a-av shel Shimshon.... One of our first commando units, for those who don't recognize the name). I don't know if he can still be called a Zionist in any meaningful use of the term, but he's in no way an antisemite. He wishes the best for Israel, at least according to his rather unusual lights.
Don't belittle this. As any visit to the Guardian will demonstrate, many of Israel's critics blur the line, cross it regularly, or even hate Israel because it's Jewish, irrespective of its actions. Here, see how Mondoweiss responded to Avnery's article. Of course they were disappointed, but some of them consoled themselves with the thought that maybe it was inevitable:
I’m always perplexed by this attitude people have about Avnery. He’s a venerable
force, truly an inspiration. But he’s still a zionist, and zionism is racism. So
OF COURSE he doesn’t support sanctions. Of course he doesn’t support the idea
that Israel should abide by international law. Of course he believes that jews
are special, that Israel is special, that Israel should be permitted to act
outside the law in whatever way it likes, provided that it declares to be in the
racial interests of Jews. Of course he rejects the right of return. His entire
life of incredibly courageous political advocacy was dedicated not to human
rights, but to Jewish rights, and to zionism. He’s a racist in the way that
every advocate of zionism is a de facto racist, and he speaks to and for
racists, which is why people like Richard Witty declare “Avnery makes sense.”
I’m not saying that in a shallow, flaming way. We have to be able to make these
distinctions which allow us to see the whole spectrum of Jewish racism, which
includes the Israeli “left” and much of what passes for the “extreme left”, and
not just the hideous mess on the far right, which is so patently, horrifically
racist that it boggles the mind. Jewish exceptionalism is the problem. I am a
great fan of Avnery and think of him as something of a hero, but the fact
remains that Avnery, and Avnery’s zionism, are part of the problem. Zionism is
not going to produce the solutions and answers to Zionism – they are just going
to perpetuate zionism by iterating a superifically prettier version of this ugly
ideology: Something like “ethnic cleansing Lite.” (Comment 14, posted by
anamalous NYC, whoever that may be).
Interesting, isn't it. The vestiges of patriotism Avnery still has are what make me grudgingly accept that he's part of our discussion. The same vestiges are what make this fellow condemn him, in spite of admiring many of the things he's said over the years. I'd be fascinated to know which of us Avnery himself prefers. Yaacov the Zionist who disagrees with much of his positions, or Anamolous and his hatred. We already know the answer when posed to the Mondoweiss gang. They prefer the antisemites.