The Viking Boycott is over – sort of.
But the rash decision by Iceland’s capital city of Reykjavik to boycott goods made in Israel is a fascinating study of the psychology of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
It’s also very personal for me. I made my third visit to Iceland in August, love the country and its people, and just had an Icelandic friend as a house guest.
I also adore the city of Reykjavik, which is hip, cultured and edgy.
I’m not about to defend or condone the city council’s bone-headed boycott decision – later amended to confine the boycott to products made in the “occupied territories,” as if that somehow makes more sense.
But it’s an opportunity to puzzle over why otherwise smart and ethical people do stupid things when it comes to Israel.
After the boycott was first announced, I saw some disturbing posts that slammed Icelanders as primitive and violent.
Primitive? Iceland has five of the world’s biggest geothermal power stations, and there are plans to make the country 100 per cent free of fossil fuels. The capital is a bustling centre for music, design, fashion and visual arts.
Violent? With fewer than 150 people in prisons – and that includes people waiting to be charged – its incarceration rate is half that of Canada’s. And it has the third-lowest murder rate in the world.
The men are on the macho side – they’re proud of their Viking roots. And Icelanders do eat disgusting things like putrid shark. (Thank goodness keeping kosher has always allowed me to pass on this initiation ritual!)
In general, Icelanders are passionate about family, nature, the environment, great food and drink, and living life to the fullest – just like Israelis and Canadians.
And Icelanders have a social conscience. More than 11,000 families in Iceland have offered to take in Syrian refugees, even though the country’s official limit is 50 asylum-seekers per year.
Reykjavik’s annual gay pride parade attracts more than 100,000 people from around the world. Although most of the floats celebrate the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, a surprisingly large number deal with political oppression, with Russia as a very popular target.
This is a city that prides itself on identifying with the underdog. But, just like Canada’s now-defunct Queers Against Israeli Apartheid and other pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel movements within the “progressive” world, they have their facts wrong when it comes to Israel.
Although there are acts of violence against gays in Israel – most recently the murder of 16-year-old Shira Banki and the wounding of five others by a haredi Orthodox man at Jerusalem’s gay pride parade in August – Israel is the only country in the Middle East that protects LGBT rights.
Beyond the gay rights issue, the BDS movement in Iceland and elsewhere identifies with victims. And nobody’s better at marketing victimhood than the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.
Every time Hamas precipitates war by firing rockets at civilian targets in Israel, the resulting conflict kills hundreds of Palestinian civilians. During these conflicts, official Palestinian Authority TV broadcasts hours of footage of mutilated, burned and crushed bodies, especially children.
It is a terrible sight, and these people are indeed victims.
But well-meaning liberals see only the victimhood. They forget that Hamas started this war, and that it used its population – especially its kids – as human shields. It’s so much more convenient to blame Israel.
As I wrote in my September 7 column, not a single house damaged in last year’s Operation Protective Edge has been rebuilt. One of the reasons is that construction materials intended for housing get sold on the black market, and are likely to be used to build tunnels for terrorists to attack Israel. Is that Israel’s fault?
Even during the worst of the terror attacks against Israel, it was never Israel’s policy to exploit photos of terror victims or murdered children – partly out of respect for the dead and partly because the country refuses to adopt a culture of victimhood.
Besides being misguided, the BDS movement ultimately hurts the Palestinian economy more than that of Israel.
Even the official Palestinian Authority newspaper, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, praised the working conditions at SodaStream’s West Bank factory. But the intense international BDS backlash against SodaStream was one of the reasons the company moved its factory to Be’er Sheva, putting at least 500 Palestinians out of work.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to help victims. But understanding the roots of victimhood is far more helpful than pointed fingers and empty gestures.