Hyperbolically boosting BDS

Published in The Jerusalem Post, June 5, 2015.

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The BDS threat is minuscule and there are quiet, smart ways to deal with it. Yet Israeli politicians are feeding the monster, and creating self-fulfilling prophesies about Israel’s “isolation.”

Cynical and hysterical hand-wringing about the BDS “threat” lends undeserved profile to a marginal movement.


Each for their own and opposite reasons, the Israeli political Left and the Right are deliberately inflating the threat to Israel from BDS – boycott, divestment and sanctions.

This is a major mistake. The BDS threat is miniscule, and there are quiet, smart ways to deal with it. Yet Israeli politicians are feeding the monster, and creating self-fulfilling prophesies about Israel’s “isolation.”

In fact, the “threat” of a global boycott against Israel is so obsessively being talked about these days that you would think it a greater threat than, say, the danger of the Obama administration’s capitulation to Iran on the nuclear issue, or the Hezbollah-ISIS confrontation brewing on Israel’s northern border.

There are many reasons why the nightmare scenarios of BDS are inaccurate, ranging from the weakness of the Arab world, the declining clout of Europe, the resilience of Israel’s reputation amongst democratic elites in North America, to the robustness Israel’s structural ties to Western and Eastern technology and business hubs.

The fact is that far more global companies buy from Israel than boycott Israel; far more universities and scientists collaborate with their Israeli counterparts than shun them; far more churches support Israel than condemn Israel; far more entertainers perform in Israel than avoid Israel, and so on.

Does anybody really believe that because of yet another ho-hum breakdown in the limp and long-running show called Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, international companies are going to stop buying the best Israeli technologies?

The answer is no. If Israel continues to produce technologies with a clear qualitative edge at competitive prices, there will be many customers to buy them.

In short, BDS is a mosquito size movement, while Israel is a scientific, academic, business and cultural juggernaut. Consequently, the specter of Israel’s sequestration and boycott by the world is overblown.

SO WHAT IS going on here? Why are the Israeli political and media sectors suddenly so seized by panic over BDS?

The unfortunate answer is that the menace of BDS is being cynically inflated for political purposes. The Left and Right are deliberately prophesying doom and gloom. For differing reasons, each camp is playing a perilous game.

The Left is narcissistically over-stating the boycott threat because it’s a useful tool to press the urgency of its beloved two-state solution.

Having utterly failed to convince the Israeli public that establishment of a Palestinian state is a good idea that will bring peace and security to Israel, the Left is left with frightening Israelis into withdrawal nevertheless. Otherwise Israel will lose some benefit or another.

Not a day goes by without a wail from Tzipi Livni, for example, or a howl from Yair Lapid, about the looming Western boycott of Israel. Unfortunately, this has been the modus operandi of the Israeli Left for some years now: Create a bogeyman with which to scare the Israeli public into pulling-out of Judea and Samaria.

Similarly, former prime ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert keep warning of an impending “diplomatic tsunami” that can be staved off only by urgent Israeli unilateral withdrawals.

Remember the “disaster” that was to befall Israel if the Palestinians got their “statehood” approved by the United Nations General Assembly? Well, the Palestinians got their upgraded status, yet the waves of diplomatic tsunami have not broken upon Israel. The Europeans are threatening to label settlement produce. Nu, so what?

As for similar warnings of “isolation” from US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry – well, they are principally parroting a line contrived in Israel. They just echo and embellish what they are hearing from their Israeli leftist friends.

In parallel, politicians on the Israeli Right are now perversely falling into this trap, too. They and right-wing activists in the world Jewish community increasingly seem happy to shrei (cry) “gevalt, boycott!” because it provides evidence that anti-Semites who want to dismantle Israel are everywhere – as the Right always has warned.

Moreover, by drumming up the inconsequential BDS threat, Netanyahu can present himself as a leader in a battle that indeed can be won. He and his allies abroad are elevating BDS from nuisance to existential threat in order to circle the wagons and rally the troops.

Alas, high-level and hysterical Israeli handwringing about the centrality of a BDS threat lends undeserved credibility and profile to the movement. Talking incessantly about BDS makes BDS appear to be a credible threat (which it isn’t). This is so very self-inflicting!

THE BDS HULLABALOO also evinces a fundamental misunderstanding of BDS goals.

In the main, BDS is not meant to punish Israel economically. It can barely pinprick the powerful Israeli economy. Instead, it aims primarily at demoralizing the Jewish and pro-Israel community.

Indeed, the Israeli foreign ministry did a survey several years ago that demonstrated that BDS has received scant attention in the Western media. BDS gets news coverage mainly in Jewish and pro-Israel media! Jews fret so much about it, and then agonize and wonder – “perhaps Israel isn’t so moral after all?”

In other words, BDS is a propaganda tool; a tool of delegitimization that eats away at the pro-Israel community from within.

Since that’s the case, intelligent Jewish leaders ought to understand that BDS should be calmly countered on the basis of quiet, creative and concrete initiatives that do not give the other side additional oxygen, and that allow the pro-Israel community to softly overwhelm BDS activity.

The Canadian Jewish community is the best example of how to do it right. Its central advocacy agency, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), launched the “BUYcott” initiative six years ago. Now a Facebook group with almost 6,000 members, CIJA has the ability to call a counter-boycott and bring-about strategic purchasing of Israeli items that are being targeted by BDS attacks. They have caused sales of Israeli products in Canada to spike by as much as 2,000 percent.

The message to the BDS crowd is: “Listen, every time you try to boycott an Israeli product or artist, the direct result will be that Israel will be less isolated, Israeli goods will sell better, and pro-Israel people will be activated and strengthened in their pro-Israel convictions. And we can do this without making a lot of noise and giving you the attention you crave.”

This makes BDS totally counterproductive. As a result, there has been virtually no BDS activity in Canada over the last several years.

Israeli government and opposition figures should learn from this. They need to conduct themselves with a little more circumspection and with lower tones when confronting the BDS phenomenon. BDS is a problem that can be contained. It is not a “great struggle,” nor a “war,” nor an “existential threat” – all hyperbolic terms that were rashly thrown around this week by Israeli leaders of the Right and Left.

Moreover, the BDS problem shouldn’t be aggrandized or manipulated for narrow political advantage. Israel should be able to make its diplomatic-security decisions free of false threats and without having to mollify feverish forecasters.

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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