Boycotting Israel: Fiction and Reality

A few days ago, the GSMA, the world's leading organization of mobile users, held its big international event in Barcelona, and three Israeli companies were awarded prizes for their innovations. Just a small example of what happens in the REAL world when it comes to boycotting Israel. Those who know, know better than the haters of all kinds, whether academics or in the business community who call for a boycott of Israel, its academic institutions and its flourishing industry and agriculture.

The boycotters issue messages on the internet, and one is left to wonder if they are aware of the fact that so many features and appliances in their computers were invented and developed in Israel? Moreover, are they aware of the fact that the technology enabling them to use their cell phones, with which they call newspapers informing about the boycott of Israel, was also invented there? Well, why bother them with the facts? China, not a small player in world economy, is increasing dramatically its trade relations with Israel, and EVEN in the Arab world there is very little enthusiasm about the boycott. Jordan just signed a deal worth $500 million with an Israeli company, and that deal alone is worth more than the entire volume of all the confirmed acts of boycott.

So, if all is good, what is bad? First, for many Israelis the call for boycott is a grim, painful reminder of the dark past, when calls for boycott of the Jews and actual boycotts led to slaughters. Can it happen now? Not really, but when a traumatic collective memory is becoming again a relevant issue, the political fallout is very damaging. You want to play to the hands of the right wing in Israel, then declare a boycott. You want to irritate the more centrist public opinion, then declare a boycott. Clearly, it is not going to be an effective political tool, in fact it is achieving the opposite.

Two days ago, German Chancellor Angela Merkel declared in Jerusalem that Germany, the largest economic power in Europe, opposes any boycott of Israel, and will work against it. Not a minute statement, and the same when it comes from the Speaker of the Russian Parliament, who is also visiting in Jerusalem. The truth is that those who are more likely to be damaged by any meaningful boycott of Israel are the Palestinians, who have a much weaker economy, though much stronger than that of many Arab states, and surely that cannot be a positive contribution to any serious peace process.

While in Jerusalem there is a good reason to be satisfied with the frequent state visits there, and an upcoming, ground-breaking visit of PM Netanyahu in South America, Israeli policy-makers are bound to become much more tuned to all the friends whom they meet, who make it very clear that they support the two-state solution and object to the continuation of building in the settlements. Every coin has two sides, and when it comes to these two fundamental issues, Netanyahu cannot be happy with both the tone and the music which he hears in all his important conversations.

He should take a stand against the radical members of his Likud caucus, as well as his coalition partners from the Jewish Home party. They threaten to break away (and bring him down?). Well, they cannot realistically expect to have a better government than that, as Netanyahu can even, in the current Knesset, switch gear and establish an alternative coalition, or split Likud and go for new elections.

But there is another consideration to be taken account of, and this is the ongoing Palestinian intransigence in the negotiations. Their refusal to accept Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people, and the insistence on no Israeli security presence along the Jordan valley, are clear indications that they are still far from accepting Israeli demands which, unlike the issue of settlements, ARE enjoying worldwide support.

In negotiations of this kind, SO complicated, so imbued with the burden of historic narratives, the negotiators should play their best cards, not the worst. Settlements are a bad card for Israel, not so for the other two issues mentioned. Some historic context is needed here, and it is the reminder that even dismantling all the settlements in Gaza did not prevent two bloody conflicts with Hamas, and the nine-month freeze on new construction in the settlements, agreed upon by Netanyahu in 2009, did not bring about any agreement with the Palestinian Authority. So, why not play the game? If a freeze on new construction in the settlements will not do the trick, and the Palestinians will persist with their rejectionism, it's no loss to Israel. If, by chance, they will be ready to make their concessions, then Netanyahu has something tangible on the table which he can present to the Israeli people for their democratic decision.

Clearly, all this is of no concern to the boycotters of the world, nor the fact that until now 1600 Syrian refugees received medical care in Israel; as after all, the Syrian civil war claimed "only" 200,000 lives, not something for the BDS movement to be concerned about.