Ed Husain, a researcher with the Council of Foreign Relations, wrote a surprising piece last week in the New York Times on the Arab boycott of Israel. It was surprising not only because he called for an end to the boycott, but because Husain was discussing a boycott largely unknown and under-reported: that of Muslim religious sites in Israel.
When we think of the hateful Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, what comes to mind are students and intellectuals in the West banning anything associated with Israel, whether it’s sparkling water from Soda Stream or creative theater emanating from the Tel Aviv arts scene.
But what may not realize is that in addition to economic and diplomatic boycott, the Arab League classifies any visit to Israel as support for “the Zionist entity”. For Muslims this means that Jerusalem – and the Dome of the Rock, their religion’s third holiest site – is verboten. It’s a form of cutting off your nose to spite your face.
There’s also an element of double speak at play. As Husain writes, Arabs and Muslims the world over claim to “‘fight daily for liberating Jerusalem,’ and yet neglect the heart of the city.” Husain’s descriptions of the Dome of the Rock speak of shabbiness, dilapidation and almost a disregard. The place has fallen into a state of disrepair. Compare it to Mecca or Medinah, the shining twin cities beckoning to the Ummah. But then the Saudis enjoy holding the monopoly over Islamic holy sites, and may not want to encourage competition in that arena.
We wholeheartedly agree with Husain when he writes that the Arab boycott of Israel is “counterproductive” and on the whole harms not Israelis, but Palestinians. “Israel’s economy is booming, while Palestinians languish in abject poverty,” says Husain.
So if the boycott is harming Palestinians economically and Muslims spiritually, why do the vast majority of Arab leaders continue to support its existence?