The Volokh Conspiracy

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Volokh Conspiracy

Notable Israel boycott activist also leads pro-settler, pro-occupation group


Code Pink is a prominent far-left group that is heavily focused on anti-Israel activities, and promoting boycotts in particular. One of its major campaigns calls for boycotts of Ahava beauty products on the grounds that they support "illegal Israel settlement" in the West Bank (a contention rejected by the United Kingdom Supreme Court last year).

But the mastermind of the boycott campaign, Code Pink member Nancy Kricorian, is also a leader of a pro-settler charity, as the Kohelet Policy Forum, a think thank with which I am associated, has discovered. Will Code Pink, the Electronic Intifada and other self-righteous "anti-occupation" groups sever their ties with Kricorian as a result? Someone should ask them, but I would not hold my breath.

The Armenia Tree Project, on whose executive committee Kricorian sits, promotes Armenian control of Nagorno-Karabakh, an area taken from Azerbaijan in a war in the early 1990s, which resulted in the flight of tens of thousands (or more) of Azeri refugees. Armenia has actively encouraged Armenians to move to the area, actions bitterly condemned by Baku. Indeed, the territory remains the site of occasional shootouts between the two sides.

The Armenia Tree Project supports various projects in the occupied territory (which they called Artsakh, the traditional Armenian name for the area, akin to Judea and Samaria). More details on the story can be found here.

The Armenia Tree Project's support for Karabakh is not surprising. The cause of Artsakh is overwhelmingly popular among Armenians and the influential Armenia diaspora. There is, as far as I know, no major Armenian civil society "peace movement" opposing the presence in Karabakh. Anyway, the Tree Project seems like a Jewish National Fund for Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. In other words, an entirely harmless organization—and one that Code Pink would surely target if it involved Jews in Israel, rather than Armenians in the Caucasus.

This is much more than a story about hypocrisy—catching someone not living up to his own standards. The classic "hypocrisy" scenario—moralist politician caught in an affair—is quite different. For one, the hypocrite feels compelled to hide the contradictory conduct. Here, Kricorian is quite proudly and publicly both boycotting and supporting groups in what the United Nations has described as occupied territory.

Second, the typical hypocrite prescribes one rule of conduct for the world in general and gives himself a dispensation. This is the opposite situation: The reason Code Pink has no problem with having a settler-activist as a leader is that the relevant norm is in fact only applied to one particular case—that of Israel. Everything else is understood to be an exception. Code Pink is not hypocritical in working with Kricorian, because the principles it seeks to apply to Israel are only very notionally rules of general application.

I should add that while there are real international law questions about Nagorno-Karabakh, I am not morally outraged by the Armenian presence in Karabakh, an area to which they have longstanding historical ties. In an alternate universe where there would be campaigns to boycott them or drive them out, I would think such efforts to be deeply misguided.