The BDS movement is a matter of great concern for Israelis. It grew from the misnamed and UN-sponsored “World Conference against Racism,” held in Durban, South Africa in 2001. This NGO hatefest against Israel developed the strategy to use “soft power” against Israel, perhaps because numerous military actions had failed to defeat Israel. We lovers of Israel worry about the harm the BDS movement (boycott, divest, sanction) may be doing to Israel. But the damage seems to be more hype than anything else.
First, let’s consider the BDS repercussions which have led to a growing effort to delegitimize Israel, even going so far as to question its very existence.
The European Union (EU) has been the foremost boycotter of Israel, although it deceitfully denies that labeling is the same as boycotting. The EU labels goods produced in Israel’s homeland (Judea and Samaria, Golan Heights) as suspect products. Israelis and others recognize this labeling – applied only to Jewish products – as the first step towards a full boycott. Lest we forget, Europe has a sordid history of boycotting Jewish products, a practice which culminated in the Holocaust.
Other effects of boycotting are store closings (such as Ahava products) and even the relocation of a factory (SodaStream), which incidentally cost hundreds of Palestinian Arabs their jobs.
Divestment from Israel has been a minor blip. There have been numerous attempts to force universities to sell off equities connected to Israel, with little success. Very few businesses have stopped commerce with Israel except Arab and Muslim ones (nothing new). Despite that, much commerce is conducted between Arab and Muslim countries and Israel – under the table.
Divestment by mainstream Protestant churches and by some pension funds has occurred, with no impact on the Israeli economy. The worst effects of divestment efforts are the anti-Semitic actions of Israel haters on campuses, infecting impressionable young people, including Jewish students.
Sanctions are the third component of BDS. To date, sanctions are more virtual than actual. For fear of being sanctioned by the US or EU, Israel has limited its construction starts beyond the 1949 Armistice Line. An example: America could fail to use its veto power in the UN Security Council should an anti-Israel binding resolution be proposed.
Despite BDS, Israel is a country that has a lot to offer other nations, both large and small. Israel, though a state which declared its independence just 68 years ago, has achieved a high ranking among the world’s leading nations in many areas: water technology, agricultural and dairy production, innovation, cyber security, medical research, nanotechnology, weapons development, education, Torah study, and more.
Though we think of Israel as a tiny country, half of the 193 states in the United Nations have smaller populations and one quarter are smaller in area. Israel is estimated to have one of the world’s strongest armies and most powerful air forces, plus an advanced fleet of missile-bearing submarines. Israel is among the countries with the highest ranked universities per capita; of its six research universities, five are ranked in the top 500 globally. Israel has so many PH.Ds that our economy cannot possibly employ them all. “[Israel] boasts more startups per capita than any other country and currently has 70 companies listed on the Nasdaq, making it third only to the US and China on the stock exchange. (fastcompany.com) And much more…
This is nice, but what bearing does it have on the burgeoning BDS movement? Actually, quite a lot. True, college students in the US and Europe are attracted to the “underdog” Palestinian Arab cause, but in the real world, away from comfortable, cloistered, pampering college environments, Israel is making many advances.
Israel’s gains in diplomacy: Pleasing the Obama administration, Israel and Turkey have resumed diplomatic relations, which will only improve the burgeoning commerce between the two countries.
Israel has renewed its footprint in Africa, harking back to the days of Prime Minister Golda Meir. Israel has the technologies that Africa, which has 54 countries and a population of more than a billion, needs. These countries are all relatively new ones, rising from colonial status just as Israel has done, and they would love to emulate Israel’s success.
Israel has strengthened its ties with Russia, an action which has become necessary following the Obama administration’s withdrawal from close ties within the Middle East (replaced by cozying up to Iran). Russia was quick to fill the vacuum left by the US exit. Due to its military prowess, which is impossible to ignore, Israel has been able to benefit from this new development. Absent the closer relationship with Russia, Israel would be far more endangered by the upheaval affecting its neighbors Lebanon, Syria, and potentially, Jordan.
Particularly significant is the recent blossoming of relations with Cyprus and Greece, which previously had given short shrift to Israel. Now the three cooperate militarily and economically, particularly with regard to gas finds for both Israel and Cyprus in the Mediterranean.
Israel’s gains among Arab countries have been dramatic. Egypt, with whom Israel has had a frigid peace for decades, is now closely allied with Israel to protect its Sinai Peninsula, which abuts Gaza. Fearing Islamic State terrorists and Hamas and other Arab terror groups, Egypt is relying on Israel to bolster its defenses, which improves Israel’s security as well.
Without fanfare, relations with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Emirates have also evolved. Fear of the common enemy, Iran, has made “strange bedfellows” of Israel and these Arab states, which are reluctant to openly cooperate with Israel. Nevertheless, with Iran gaining strength under the lenient conditions of its nuclear treaty with the West, some Sunni Arab states and Israel are partnering against the greater enemy.
Israel’s gains in the UN are unprecedented. Israel’s ambassador, Danny Danon, was elected to head one of the UN’s permanent committees by a two-thirds majority: the General Assembly’s Legal Committee covers the United Nations’s international law operations, including matters related to terrorism and to the Geneva Conventions. Danon also inaugurated the first “Ambassadors Against BDS” conference at the UN, bringing together almost 2,000 young student leaders, diplomats, academics and leading legal and communications professionals focused against BDS.
In addition, Danon has succeeded in making Israel a viable candidate for a rotating seat on the Security Council for 2019-2020. Up until now, this attempt would have been laughable. But with Israel’s more proactive stance at the UN, Israel actually has a chance to beat out its rival, Belgium, for the coveted seat
Israel’s gains in R&D by top corporations: Over 250 multinationals have research and development centers in Israel, 80 of them Fortune 500 companies. Israel ranks first in economic output devoted to R&D investment. In the overall Global Technology Index, a broad assessment of the technological and innovative capabilities of the world’s leading nations, Israel is in fourth place.
Israel’s gains in foreign investment: “In the first half of 2016, Israeli high-tech capital raising reached $2.8 billion in 361 deals, up 35% from the first half of 2015. In the second quarter of 2016, Israeli venture capital funds invested $222 million in Israeli high-tech companies, a record amount accounting for a modest 13 percent of total investments. The amount was 43% above the $155 million average quarterly investment of the previous two years.” (globes.co.il)
Israel gains in cybersecurity:
“Israel is the No.2 nation in cybersecurity behind the US. Israeli companies exported some $6 billion in cyber-related products and services last year, a peak figure which surpasses the amount of Israeli defense contracts signed in 2014, according to the Cybersecurity Review, which is published by Delta Business Media in London. (csonline.com)
Israel’s government and citizens are spending a lot of time and money to combat BDS propaganda. Adding to these efforts are organizations and individuals around the world who support Israel. To those who wonder why Israel’s public relations efforts are not more visible, it is sadly self-evident that the media often fails to publicize pro-Israel news, or skews the news against Israel. (Explaining this is a subject for another article.) Nevertheless, Israel is growing stronger as the delegitimization efforts fail.
What can you do? People, take pride in Israel’s accomplishments, take pride in being Jewish or in supporting the Jewish people, and teach your children and grandchildren that Israel and the Jews are a force for good in the world, adding to education, commerce, and global well-being – unlike our enemies.
These are some of the organizations educating (and fighting against) BDS: