Former President Jimmy Carter said Monday that he doesn’t support the Palestinian-led “boycott, divest, sanction” campaign against Israel but said products made in Israel-occupied Palestinian territories should be clearly labeled so buyers can make a choice about them.
Carter told The Associated Press in an interview that he and the other retired senior leaders known as the “Elders” recently discussed the economic pressure campaign against Israeli occupation. The Elders group was formed by Nelson Mandela in 2007, and includes senior and retired leaders who work together on peace-building and humanitarian initiatives.
“We decided not to publicly endorse any kind of embargo, or so forth, against Israeli invasion, or occupying troops in Palestine,” Carter said.
Among the other current Elders are former Irish president Mary Robinson, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan, and former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari.
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But Carter added: “We have also encouraged Europeans for instance, at least to label products that are made by Israeli people who occupy Palestine and ship their products out of Palestine to be sold in Europe. … so that the buyers can decide whether they want to buy them or not.”
Carter received the Nobel peace prize in 2002 for brokering the Camp David Accords, the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel that has been in place since 1978.
Some businesses and pension funds in Europe have recently cut investments or trade with Israeli firms they say are connected to West Bank settlements.
Israel claims the boycott has strong anti-Semitic connotations and is meant to delegitimize the Jewish state as a whole. They say it is not merely a pressure tactic against its policies toward the Palestinians. For many Israelis, the boycott conjures up dark images of the Nazi boycott prior and during WWII when Jewish academics were kicked out of universities and Jewish businesses were vandalized and boycotted.
The campaign drew added attention in January when actress Scarlett Johansson resigned from international charity Oxfam because of a dispute over her TV endorsements for SodaStream, a company operating in a West Bank settlement that features the Hollywood star in an ad that aired during the Super Bowl.
Israel is under intense international censure for building Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, war-won lands claimed by the Palestinians.
The United States and European Union consider settlement construction illegal or illegitimate and have warned that Israel could face growing isolation if the current round of peace talks with the Palestinians – set to end next month – fails.
Various Israeli politicians have been declaring the “two-state” solution of a separate Palestinian and Israeli nations dead, and many are demanding that the Palestinians and Arabs formally recognize Israel as a Jewish state in order to discuss the Palestinian issue.
“I don’t see how the Palestinians or the Arab world can accept that premise, that Israel is an exclusively Jewish state,” Carter said.
“This has never been put forward in any of the negotiations in which I was involved as president, or any president, before (Benjamin) Netanyahu became prime minister this time. And now it has been put into the forefront of consideration,” he added.
About a fourth of Israel’s people are Arab or other non-Jewish citizens.
“Israel can claim `We are a Jewish state.’ I don’t think the Arab countries will contradict that Jewish statement. But to force the Arab people to say that all the Arab people that they have in Israel have to be Jews, I think that’s going too far,” Carter said.
Carter spoke to The Associated Press upon the release of his new book, “A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power,” which argues that male-dominated religions contributed to the oppression of women and girls by twisting sacred texts to portray females as different or inferior.