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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In Europe, Israel needs a bottom-up approach to diplomacy

For years, I considered Europe a lost cause from Israel’s perspective and decried the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s Euro-centric focus, arguing that it should instead devote more effort to places like Africa, Asia and South America, which seemed to offer better prospects for flipping countries into the pro-Israel camp. But the past few years have proven that Europe isn’t hopeless—if Israel changes its traditional modus operandi.

This has been evident, first of all, in the alliances that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has formed with several countries in eastern and southern Europe, resulting in these countries repeatedly blocking anti-Israel decisions at the European Union level. Previously, Israeli diplomacy had focused overwhelmingly on Western Europe. Netanyahu’s key insight was that conservative, nationalist governments seeking to preserve their own nation-states would have more instinctive sympathy for a Jewish state than the liberal universalists who dominate in Western Europe, and whose goal is to replace nation-states with an ever-closer European union.

But as several recent events show, even Western Europe isn’t a lost cause. The difference is that there, conventional high-level diplomacy won’t work. Rather, the key to change is the fact that most Europeans, like most people everywhere, don’t really care that much about Israel, the Palestinians or their unending conflict. Consequently, small groups of committed activists can exert a disproportionate influence on policy.

For years, this has worked against Israel because the anti-Israel crowd woke up to this fact very early and took full advantage of it. Take, for instance, the 2015 decision to boycott Israel adopted by Britain’s national student union. The union represents some 7 million students, but its executive council passed the decision by a vote of 19-12. Or consider the academic boycott of Israel approved in 2006 by Britain’s National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (which no longer exists, having merged into a larger union). The association had some 67,000 members at the time, but only 198 bothered to vote, of whom 109 voted in favor.

Yet it turns out pro-Israel activists can use the same tactics, as in last week’s approval of a resolution saying anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism by the lower house of France’s parliament. The resolution passed 154-72, meaning that fewer than 40 percent of the National Assembly’s 577 deputies bothered to vote, even though 550 deputies were present earlier in the day to vote on the social security budget. In other words, most deputies simply didn’t care about this issue, which meant that passing the resolution required convincing only about a quarter of the house.

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