There has been a lot of activity lately about boycotting nations and their institutions in the Middle East. Within a week a British teacher's union voted to boycott Israeli academic institutions and the Ontario branch of Canada's largest union voted to boycott the nation of Israel, both on behalf of the Palestinians. These are not new, however. Over the past few years, there have been numerous calls and motions to boycott Israel, and its institutions, by churches, unions, and other organizations.
Meanwhile, the problems that exist between Israelis and Palestinians are as entrenched as ever. And, although there are far too many reasons why to delineate here, it may be at least in part because the boycott is weak and one-sided.
Last week, leaders of five indigenous nations went to Israel and presented the mayor of Jerusalem with a peace pipe as a blessing by the tribes to the people of the city during the anniversary of the unification of Jerusalem. Before that, leaders of other indigenous (also known as "First") nations went to Israel on a cultural exchange tour. And it's not only them. Uganda recently pronounced it has solid relations with Israel. Angola works closely with Israel. So do other African nations.
Muslim nations too are expanding their outreach. Azerbaijan, a Muslim nation, is planning a new embassy there. Last year, Pakistan and Israel had their first official diplomatic exchange. And Indonesia has given the go-ahead for its World Cup team to go to Israel for a competition, a historic precedent for the two nations.
I could go on, but the point is well made. As one door closes, several others open.
On the other hand, we also have divestment from Sudan over the Darfur issue. The Sudan Tribune tells us, "To protest ethnic violence in the Darfur region, at least six states, including Illinois, New Jersey and Oregon, have passed legislation or policies in the past year requiring state-employee pension funds to sell or re-evaluate holdings in companies with links to Sudan. Texas, California, New York and about a dozen other states are considering such legislation." University systems such as the University of California and Stanford University also have decided to divest from Sudan.
Yet, similar to the boycott against Israel, the boycott against Sudan is weak and one-sided. Earlier this month, the Chinese government hailed its ties to Sudan. (Notice how the Chinese government appreciates Sudan's support on such issues as human rights). Also there are regional plans to expand tourism to Sudan by surrounding nations.
So, what does this all mean in the long run? It means that such boycotts really translate to nothing more than ego and posturing by well-meaning people -- attempts to do something, even though the result is nothing. In the simplest of terms, the boycotts are useless and a waste of energy.
The problems found in Israel, Palestine, and Sudan are not unique to any of these groups. The whole region has problems with ethnic and religious strife, predicated upon the need to safeguard ones own rights at the expense of others.
Without providing yet even more links at this time, here's a partial list of what else you can find in the region over the past year in terms of conflict:
-- Continued stalemate between Algeria and Morocco, and the resultant squalid refugee camp in Tindouf;
-- Kurds brutalizing Arabs, Assyrians, and Turkmen in their attempt to rebound from forced Arabization procedures and cultural genocide;
-- A still-factionalized Lebanon, now at odds with Syria too;
-- Palestinians denied their civil rights in every single Arab League nation;
-- Street wars between Christian Copts and Muslim Arabs in Alexandria Egypt;
-- Sunnis and Shia massacring each other in Iraq;
-- Azeris rioting in Iran over being depicted as cockroaches in a government-run periodical;
-- Artillary fire between Kurds and Iranians along their northern border;
-- Fist fights between, and within, various Christian denominations in Jerusalem and directly inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher;
-- Group conflict between Christians and Druze in Israel over sexual relations;
-- Kurds denied their citizenship in Syria because of their ethnicity;
-- Kabylians in Algeria agitating for increased autonomy;
-- Western Sahara still unresolved;
-- Internal strife in Saudi Arabia and in Yemen;
-- and Chaldean churches bombed in Iraq.
Boycotting Israel, or Sudan, while these other problems persist, and while their victims go relatively untreated, is a ridiculous bandaid approach. It's topical and looks like something has been done on the surface, but, in practicality does nothing about disrupting the root causes of the problem. People in the region seem determined to conquer each other, or at least keep them at bay, in order to safeguard themselves. They are suspicious of letting other groups have power, and tend not to share power well either. Why?
Whatever the real reason, single-handed, and single-minded boycotts against single nations in the Middle East won't resolve anything except give the people doing so something to pat themselves on the back over, while counterproductively increasing anxiety in the targetted socieites.
The time has come for a comprehensive approach to heal the region, economically, socially, and spiritually. Only through providing global and unbiased partners to work in concert with all the people of the region, one in which there is some sort of social safety net that is independent of ethnicity, culture, or religion, will true healing begin. People of the region need ways to invest with each other, and in each other, to give all of them something to win together.
Everything else is nothing more than putting a little bandaid on top of an internal infection.