The boycott business

Published in The Jerusalem Post, October 24, 1993.

By Harry Wall, director, and David Weinberg, assistant director, of the Anti-Defamation League’s Israel Office.

WITH the peace process well under way and Israel and its Arab neighbors discussing joint development projects, the Arab boycott is over -right? Wrong.

The boycott was to have been among the first casualties of peace. But it is still operating to Israel’s detriment. Moreover, whenever Israel makes a conciliatory act, expecting the dropping of the blacklist in return, the Arabs keep moving the markers.

Two years ago, US secretary of state James Baker assured Israel that in exchange for a freeze on settlements, the Gulf states would end the secondary boycott (targeting companies that do business with Israel). When Labor came into office, it virtually stopped the settlement drive. But the promised Arab quid pro quo never materialized.

Next, Israel recognized the PLO and signed an autonomy accord with the Palestinians, concessions that should surely have led to the termination the boycott. Instead, Arab officials are now calling for additional Israeli territorial withdrawal, resolution of Jerusalem’s status, an agreement on water resources – and even the dismantling of Israel’s nuclear capability!

Several months ago, in response to American pressure, the Kuwaiti foreign minister received headline coverage when he suggested that his country would no longer conduct blacklisting. However, within a few weeks Kuwait (and Saudi Arabia) participated in an Arab League boycott meeting where several Western companies, including General Dynamics and Rubbermaid, were added to the blacklist.

What this adds up to is a pattern of Arab duplicity regarding the boycott. Following overtures from the US and other countries, the Arab states mutter vague assurances about dropping the boycott if certain conditions are met. When Israel complies, the Arab leaders find new reasons for maintaining the boycott.

WITH Israel participating in regional economic conferences and even “lobbying” for financial assistance to the Palestinians, the very existence of the boycott is not only anomalous; it is absurd. Consider the case of Jordan. Shortly after signing a joint agreement with Israel, Crown Prince Hassan was asked if now his government would drop the boycott. His answer: No, it would be “suicidal”!

Since the talks with the PLO began, Israel has been reluctant to make dropping the boycott a condition for progress in implementing autonomy. This, however, does not diminish the necessity for diplomatic and other efforts to bring this unconscionable practice to an end.

The US continues to raise the issue whenever it can, but with little apparent result. Recently, several American legislators called for conditioning additional US funding for the West Bank and Gaza on the lifting of the boycott. There is also some opposition in Congress to Saudi Arabia’s application to join the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) organization, pending Saudi movement away from the boycott.

With the rapid growth of the economy, why should Israel still be concerned about the boycott? After all, Pepsi, McDonald’s, Toyota and many other high-profile firms have recently come to Israel. Moreover, the peace process has brought with it a rush of countries, many of them Third World, eager to do business with Israel.

The answer is that 40-plus years of boycott still have an impact on the thinking of international business executives regarding Israel. Small and middle-sized companies, in particular, are easily intimidated by Arab suitors. And only very recently have large European multinationals, like Daimler-Benz, begun to consider Israel as a place for investment.

According to a study conducted by the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce, the boycott has cost Israel about $30 billion in lost trade over the years, and it continues to have a residual chilling effect on investment.

What isn’t generally recognized about the boycott is how much damage the Arabs have inflicted upon themselves. Israeli innovation in adapting itself to the desert terrain, its well-known achievements in food production and advances in health-care services would have long been available to its neighbors, had normal ties developed.

The boycott is the expression, in symbol and substance, of Arab rejection of Israel. Only by unilaterally and unequivocally ending the boycott will the Arabs gain Israel’s confidence, and in doing so, lay the foundation for a mutually beneficial peace.

David M. Weinberg is a think tank director, columnist and lobbyist who is a sharp critic of Israel’s detractors and of post-Zionist trends in Israel. Read more »
A passionate speaker, David M. Weinberg lectures widely in Israel, the U.S. and Canada to Jewish and non-Jewish audiences. He speaks on international politics and Middle East strategic affairs, Israeli diplomacy and defense strategy, intelligence matters and more. Click here to book David Weinberg as a speaker

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