This past week, the European Court of Justice called, not for boycotting, but for labeling all products made in Israeli settlements. This means that products made in the West Bank by Israeli Jews but not those produced by Palestinians are subject to this requirement. The Dutch did not agree to singling out Israeli goods made in West Bank settlements; they contend that not applying similar rules to disputed territories elsewhere in the world could be construed as discriminatory. In a largely symbolic move, they voted for its government to object to the EU’s court ruling.
The Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement urges people to boycott “Israeli sporting, cultural and academic institutions, and from all Israeli and international companies” which harm Palestinians. They do not specify only those made in the West Bank, although efforts have often focused on companies there. The movement’s directives on Divestment and Sanctions indicate to supporters what they should withdraw investments from or what they should ban. On their website, they specify their call to boycott “all Israeli products [while also targeting] a small number of companies and products,” among them HP and Caterpillar. The movement promotes these efforts in order to apply pressure on Israel to achieve three goals, among them ending the occupation and allowing Palestinian refugees the right of return.
Many, like myself, find issue with this tactic, because, frankly, it cannot work. Demands can only be met when the two sides come together and negotiate. It also acts to delegitimatize Israel; for a number of reasons, BDS is often interpreted as “essentially calling for the demise of the Jewish state.” And so, it is a touchy subject. A blog I wrote called What we should be saying in lace of ”End the occupation” goes more into depth about why it is misguided.
Recently, there was another development on the BDS front that I and many others found incredibly interesting. A group of 32 Arabs from 15 countries met in London. “Key figures taking part included Egyptian MP Mohammed Anwar Sadat, nephew of the late president, and leader of his country’s Reform and Development Party; the former Kuwaiti Minister of Information, Sami Abdul-Latif Al-Nisf…two important religious figures, Hassen Chalghoumi, a Paris-based Tunisian cleric, and Lebanese imam Saleh Hamed,” and one Palestinian, professor Mohammed Dajani Daoudi, whom I’ve written about before, in the context of his response to Yossi Klein Halevi’s Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor. Attendees were admittedly not from the mainstream but are among those who have a vision of what the future could look like. The new forum they founded, the Arab Council for Regional Integration, renounced the BDS movement, asserting that it had done more harm than good. While it is far too early to see if this group can spread their point of view elsewhere in the Arab world, it would be interesting to see how non-Arab groups respond should the call grow to stop the boycott.
This week also saw two items which speak to the desirability of working with and not boycotting Israeli know how. Despite the BDS movement targeting Israeli fruits and vegetables, it was announced that Israeli exports should hit an all-time high – $114 billion for 2019, “led by the high tech sector such as software, computing and research and development services.” The fields in which Israel shines – everything from cyber security to mobile to water – are ones that are important. In fact, Time magazine named nine Israeli inventions among the best 100 for 2019, calling one a gamechanger.
Another way to change the game would be to encourage economic growth amongst Palestinians. In a well-written piece called “Supporting Palestinians businesses from overseas,” Jonathan Simmons, the founder of a British movement that facilitates grassroots projects in Israel and the West Bank, notes that programmers and entrepreneurs within the Palestinian territories are knowledgeable and ready, but what they need is work. Those who support a better future for Palestinians could better invest their time and efforts into working with them instead of promoting boycotts.