Boycott the doomsayers

Scarlett Johansson is the latest “undeniably cute” face of abject failure for the anti-Israel Boycott Disinvestment and Sanctions Movement (BDSM). She chose to endorse Israeli SodaStream and reject Oxfam. And now Secretary of State Kerry has told Israel it’s current condition is “not sustainable… It’s illusionary. There’s a momentary prosperity. There’s a momentary peace.”

Really? Kerry believes boycotting the products of factories that join Israelis and Palestinians together and normalise relations will help? He thinks EU policies of denying developmental funds or commerce to Jews is going to move Israel? He thinks if EU pension funds and companies avoid doing business with Israeli companies, Israel will lose out?

Boycotts will fail and Israelis need to laugh at those misguided doomsayers telling them to fear the sky falling from an EU led boycott.

There is a small core of BDSM zealots who falsely conflate pluralistic, democratic Israel with apartheid South Africa. They’ve been doing this so long they’re drinking their own Kool-Aid. Their attempt to break Israel through an economic, cultural and academic boycott is doomed because the existence of a Jewish Israel is just and incomparable to the old South Africa.

So what do we in Israel face from an EU led attack on Israel’s economy?

Today’s anti-Israel boycott is the runt-child of the state-level Arab boycott of the late 60’s and 70s. As this crumbled or became irrelevant, it was replaced by a rag tag bunch of street theatre artists who happened to have well financed political and media backing.

But any thought that Israel’s economy today resembles that of South Africa in the 70’s is far from the mark. South Africa’s primary exports were commodities. Products mostly available from various suppliers all over the world with fungible prices.

Modern Israel exports high tech knowledge. Whether it is the pure intellectual realm of chip designs, mobile device applications or ultra sophisticated medical devices, Israel’s exports are not interchangeable with products from anywhere else.

Israel’s exports are often key drivers of competitive advantage for those business & military customers who purchase them. There are usually no comparable substitutes and choosing not to trade with Israel is more likely to harm the boycotter than Israel.

Israel’s agricultural produce would, of course, be slightly more vulnerable to an internationally mandated boycott. However, even when bodies such as the EU try to maliciously label Israeli products, it seems the number of people willing to avoid buying Israeli goods is more than exceeded by the those who will counter-react and preferentially seek out Israeli products or “buycott” them.

The proud announcement by Jason Kenny, Canada’s employment minister, on Twitter of his SodaStream purchase is one example. This in proud defiance of shrill calls to boycott the Israeli company following their Scarlett Johansson Super Bowl commercial.

What of Dutch pension funds who publicly withdrew investments from various Israeli stocks? It’s easy to show these funds are far too small to significantly affect Israeli markets. Absent any international boycott agreements that are today unthinkable (and probably illegal in many jurisdictions), there is no shortage of replacement funds to pour in.

Israel’s position as one of the strongest performing OECD countries over the last few years means divestment will more likely hurt any boycotting fund against it’s peers. Today parts of the EU lead calls for BDS of Israel: another reason for Israel to pivot away from stagnating Europe and toward the growth nations of Asia.

And a cultural boycott? Perhaps the weakest of the bunch. Nobody is seriously proposing to isolate Israel from the world of sport and in fact, when Arab or Iranian competitors refuse to match up to Israeli opponents, it is generally the boycotter who is penalised not the Israeli. If an international sports boycott was uniquely powerful against South Africa, Israel has never been a powerhouse of world sport and, some basketball pride aside, most Israelis don’t care.

The last few years have seen a deluge of international superstars performing in Israel. For every washed up has been who chooses not to visit (and writes poison pen letters to those who do come) we have a dozen more of the top names visiting. I’ve got tickets for Deep Purple and Neil Young while Justin Timberlake will be visiting soon for a younger crowd. Last year saw dozens of top performers in Israel.

Israeli TV format exports such as Homeland and “Rising Star”, a new singing show paired with live interactive mobile app, are some of the hottest shows in the world. Nobody important is proposing a boycott of these.

Even if Thomas Friedman in the New York Times thinks EU led boycott calls will drive Israel to its knees, or John Kerry voices Godfather like offers Israelis can’t refuse, these tactics will all fail.

Israeli ingenuity will prevail and prosper and the world will beat a path to our door for our exports. And Israelis should understand this. Israel’s economic doom is not so easy to organise.

About the Author
Brian of London made aliyah from the UK to Israel in 2009. For many years he has blogged and broadcast about Israel, technology and other subjects. Most recently he's focused on the experience of driving an electric car every day. Brian has a scientific PhD but today owns a business in Israel.