Analysis from Israel

Yesterday, Jonathan Marks dissected the lie of the BDS movement’s alleged commitment to nonviolence–a lie underscored by the South African chapter’s launch of a “fundraising tour” starring Palestinian airline hijacker Leila Khaled. But another lie about the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement was also exploded this week: the lie that it is having an increasing impact on Israel. The truth, according to a new study released yesterday by the Knesset Research and Information Center, is exactly the opposite: Not only has BDS not dented Israel’s economy overall, but Israeli exports have surged even in places where the movement is most active, like Europe.

Overall, the study reports, Israeli exports rose by 80 percent from 2000 to 2013, with exports to Europe rising even more sharply, by 99 percent. But the bulk of this increase has taken place since 2005–i.e., in the years when BDS was most active. From 2005-2013, despite a sharp drop during the global financial crisis of 2009, annual exports to Europe averaged $15.6 billion. That’s almost double the preceding decade’s annual average of $7.8 billion.

Foreign direct investment in Israel has also risen steeply, posting an increase of 58 percent over the last four years alone–precisely the years when BDS was supposedly having its biggest impact.

Most surprisingly, exports from the West Bank and the Golan Heights, which are the primary focus of boycott efforts, rose even faster than exports overall. Consequently, they constituted 3.1 percent of total exports in 2013, up from 0.5 percent in 2000–and the overwhelming majority of that increase also stemmed from exports to Europe. A handful of industries, like Jordan Valley date farmers, have taken a hit, but the impact on Israel as a whole has been negligible.

As the report acknowledged, this is largely because “A major portion of Israeli exports are intermediate products, like electronic components, that sit inside the final products of well-known global companies.” That makes them hard to boycott: How do you boycott the insides of your computer or cellphone?

But it’s also worth noting that even in Europe, where BDS has gained most traction, the movement’s strongholds are found among academics, trade unionists, and unelected EU bureaucrats–i.e., people with no responsibility for the performance of national economies. In contrast, BDS has few champions among elected politicians in national governments, because these politicians are responsible for delivering economic growth to their constituents and view Israel’s innovative tech sector as a potential contributor to this effort.

Consequently, while BDS was making noise in the press, European governments were quietly working to deepen economic ties with Israel. A particularly notable example is the British Embassy Tech Hub, brainchild of British Ambassador to Israel Matthew Gould. Founded in 2011, the Hub essentially functions as a matchmaking service between British and Israeli firms, giving the former access to Israeli high-tech and the latter access to partners who can help them grow their businesses and enter new markets. It’s been so successful that other ambassadors in Israel are now consulting Gould on how to replicate his model at their own embassies.

The bottom line is that for all the hype about BDS, its efforts to strangle Israel have been a total failure. BDS may be thriving in the media and on college campuses, but out in the real world, what’s thriving is Israel’s economy.

Originally published in Commentary 

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Israel’s constitutional crisis has been postponed, not resolved

After years of leftists crying wolf about democracy being endangered, Israel finally experienced a real constitutional crisis last week. That crisis was temporarily frozen by the decision to form a unity government, but it will come roaring back once the coronavirus crisis has passed.

It began with Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein’s refusal to let the newly elected Knesset vote to replace him as speaker and culminated in two interventions by the High Court of Justice. I’m one of very few people on my side of the political spectrum who considers the court’s initial intervention justifiable. But its second was an unprecedented usurpation of the prerogatives of another branch of government, in flagrant violation of legislation that the court itself deems constitutional.

Edelstein’s refusal, despite its terrible optics, stemmed from a genuine constitutional concern, and was consequently backed even by Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon, who had opposed Edelstein many times before and would do so again later in this saga. The problem was that neither political bloc could form a government on its own, yet the proposed new speaker came from the faction of Benny Gantz’s Blue and White Party that adamantly opposed a unity government. Thus whether a unity government was formed or Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s caretaker government continued, the new speaker would be in the opposition.

But as Yinon told the court, speakers have always come from the governing coalition because an opposition speaker can effectively stymie all government work. And once elected, he would be virtually impossible to oust, since 90 of the Knesset’s 120 members must vote to do so. An opposition speaker would thus “hurt democracy,” warned Yinon. “We’re planting a bug in the system, and this, too, undermines our constitutional fabric.” That’s why Edelstein wanted to wait, as Knesset bylaws permit, until a government was formed and could choose its own speaker.

Yet despite this genuine and serious concern, the fact remains that a newly elected majority was being barred from exercising its power. Moreover, it had no parliamentary way of solving the problem because only the speaker can convene parliament and schedule a vote. Thus if you believe majorities should be allowed to govern, the court was right to intervene by ordering Edelstein to hold the vote.

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