Boycotts and their context: Some thoughts

The current boycott movement against Israel is NOT the original BDS movement, which was a nuisance, an irritant, but not much beyond that.
The current wave consists more of veiled threats and “friendly warnings”, and while it has yet not caused any REAL, verifiable damage to Israel’s economy, it is potentially much more dangerous than anything that BDS has ever been. This is so, because the current campaign is mostly sponsored and supported by governments, particularly in the EU, but indirectly also by our American friends.

Lets us make no mistake here, and behaving like the three monkeys will not help. When Secretary of State Kerry chooses Munich of all places to
remind us about boycott if the talks with the Palestinians will fail. He does not just show complete lack of historical knowledge and sensitivity towards Jewish history in particular (where are Indyk and Makovski and Dan Shapiro?…what a question to ask?), he also makes it known in the world that the US will UNDERSTAND such a boycott, which is to give a great boost to the boycotters!. Fortunately enough there are laws in America and there is congress which will not tolerate even understanding of the boycott, which is, for all intents and purposes, to connive with it.
What Kerry says not so subtly, is loud and clear when is coming from the notorious Foreign Secretary of the EU, Katherin Ashton, who managed to give a speech recently about the Holocaust, without mentioning the word Jews…

Yes, she, as well as others in Europe just raise the specter of boycott, they do it out of SO much love to Israel (oh yeah…), so why should we doubt their pure motivation? Well, they are not pure, and in the case of the EU, there is no legal barrier as it exists in America regarding boycott.

So, now the potential and actual boycotters get the measure of respectability and legitimacy which they have always been after, and
those governments which give it to them, did not really need BDS, they were just waiting to the right moment to come to the open.

Finally the boycott can become a real major damage to Israel IF governments in Europe will move from words to actions and then we shall be in big trouble. Our economy is based on exports, and any meaningful reduction of Israeli exports can easily lead to unemployment and dwindling foreign investments. This is not to use scare tactics, simply to state the basic facts of life as unpleasant as they are.

What adds up to the justified sense of anger in Israel is the fact that all this comes in the aftermath of the Arab Spring. Arabs kill Arabs in droves, the entire region is unstable, whereas Only Israel is an island of stability and not far behind, the areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority. In the last three years it was proved beyond any reasonable doubt, that the Arab-Palestinian -Israeli conflict is NOT the prime cause of instability, and yet the idea in the West is that It is Israel that has to make huge concessions to the Palestinians, and if not, all hell will break loose and the Jews will again play their traditional role in history, that of the eternal scapegoats.

Well, does any one in their right mind really think that If Israel was to renounce its justified demand to be recognized as the nation state of the Jewish people, Sunnis and Shi’ites will start loving each other in Lebanon? Or Sunnis and Alawites in Syria? Or army and Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt?

Surely, it is not the case, and this is not to suggest that Israel should not try to advance the possibility of talks with the Palestinians leading to a final peace. Israel SHOULD DO THAT, and that means making big, dramatic concessions, but concessions are relevant and useful only if made in a context of lasting peace with those who want peace, and therefore are also ready to pay their big price.

Old habits die hard, especially in the diplomatic corridors of Europe and in C street in DC, but the boycott calls , coming as they are in tandem with the one-sided demand for Israeli concessions, have deeper roots than just diplomatic routine.

They have to do with the fact, that still today, 65 years after the establishment of Israel, its very legitimacy is NOT taken for granted by many in the Western world.It is Israel which HAS to prove its innocence, its purity, its particular raison d’etre, so as to win sympathy in the world.

There are those among us who think that this is a nobel place for the Jews to be in, to be the light for the gentile world, well, why not? But then, who decides what is the “light to the gentiles”, and what if we fail to live to the expectations of the UN Council on Human Rights, known for its objectivity, or hypocritical-minded self -styled progressives in Europe, and EVEN some liberal Rabbis in the US? So then, we lose our rights? then we can become a legitimate target for boycotts?

Realizing the depth of the problem, as presented here, means that Hasbara alone, that majical tool of some Right-Wingers in Israel and abroad who believe that it is JUST a question of HOW we market ourselves and our case, is NOT going to change deeply-held perceptions.

Yes, we need better Hasbara, but we also need some different policies, and to possess the ability as a collective to swallow some bitter pills, and be ready to say and do what we objectively should NOT say and do.

For example, the Western world claims that settlements are an obstacle for peace, well let us freeze construction there, even though when we did not just freeze, but completely dismantled the settlements in Gaza, what we got back were 10,000 rockets.

So, why do it? it is NOT going to bring peace, nor will it fundamentally change Western attitudes, BUT IT WILL GAIN US TIME, and time is of the essence. Time is not static, and in the context of our conflict with our neighbors it is not working necessarily against us. We need time to solidify our economic gains, to be fully or almost fully energy-independent, an attainable goal after the discoveries of natural gas, to broaden our exporting reach to Asia and South America, to be better prepared to a new era in international relations, when the US and Europe will play less dominant role, and the new, rising markets will be on the rise. Time well used will strengthen our national resolve when we will be FORCED to have to deal with issues, more fundamental to our existence than few more or less Settlements. The settlements fulfilled their historic role, as I will explain in a future blog, and it is time to prepare to a stage where what we have already done is used for improving our overall standing , rather than weakening it.

In the pursuit of such a strategy we need to make short-term sacrifices in order to gain long-term assets.

Just lamenting rising anti-Semitism, and it is indeed dangerously rising in Europe, is not enough.

About the Author
Dr Josef Olmert, a Middle East expert, is currently an adjunct professor at the University of South Carolina