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Growing concern in Israel over BDS

With calls to boycott Israel on the rise, media reports say Israel considers hiring PR company to polish image. 'Israel is getting nervous far too late', says head of Israeli organization that fights BDS

The Media Line
Published: 02.03.14, 20:00 / Israel News

After several years, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS) seems to be gaining strength. From a Norwegian sovereign wealth fund to a Danish bank, to Oxfam, to musician Roger Waters, each day brings new calls to boycott Israel as a response to its continued construction in areas that Israel acquired in 1967.

 

 

In Europe, promoting BDS can be illegal. This week, Soda Stream, which has recently signed actress Scarlett Johansson as its promoter, won a case in a French court against a French organization seeking a boycott.

 

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The court ruled that “the origin of the product” does not justify the call to boycott. Soda Stream is produced in a factory in Mishor Adumim, with some 500 Palestinian workers, as well as Israelis, in a post-67 area. Johansson came under intense pressure to drop the Soda Stream gig, but instead resigned as an ambassador for Oxfam, an organization that fights poverty around the world.

 

“The issue is very complicated,” a senior Israeli foreign ministry official told The Media Line. “The suit by Soda Stream would not even be accepted in a US court. What they did is totally forbidden under French law and totally acceptable under American law.”

 

The official claims that any pro-boycott actions are being labeled as BDS, which may be giving the movement more credit than it deserves. For example, several European supermarket chains have been calling for all produce from post-1967 areas to be labeled as such, but it is not a call to boycott these products.

 

In fact, Israel last month became the first non-European member of CERN, the Center of European Nuclear Research, and only the second country not from the European Union.

 

Yet there is a growing sense of uneasiness in Israel that BDS will spread. The Israeli cabinet is expected to discuss the issue for the first time next week. Media reports said that Israel was considering hiring a PR company to burnish its image.

 

“Israel is getting nervous far too late,” Gerald Steinberg, the head of NGO Monitor, an Israeli organization that fights BDS. “There was a tendency to say that we have to keep a low profile and that it will all go away. But I think Israel consistently underestimated the resources behind this.”

 

Palestinians say they see the success of the BDS movement as proof that non-violence can achieve their goals.

 

“I think it’s successful and it has a future here,” Ghassan Al-Khatib, a professor at Bir Zeit University and a former Palestinian government spokesman told The Media Line. “It’s picking up because all of the other peaceful options and non-peaceful options are not working. If there will be progress in peace talks that will allow (Palestinians) to achieve basic rights it will weaken BDS.”

 

Steinberg says the BDS movement grew out of the Durban forum in 2001 which called to brand Israel as an “apartheid state.”

 

“The emphasis is on the complete international isolation of Israel,” he said. “It is not talking about Israel’s borders in 1967, but in 1948. BDS is a form of political warfare against the state of Israel. ”

 

In fact, most BDS activists support the right of return of Palestinian refugees to their former homes in Israel, a demand that Israel has consistently rejected saying that Israel would lose its character as a Jewish state. The right of return is in fact one of the issues currently under discussion. Israeli press reports say the “framework” that US Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to offer will not include a “right of return” although it will include a call for a Palestinian capital in east Jerusalem.

 

So far, BDS has not had major financial repercussions for Israel, but if it spreads it could begin to hurt. Finance Minister Yair Lapid told a security conference last week that Israel is dependent on exports, with 33 percent of its foreign trade conducted with Europe.

 

“Even a partial European boycott would be felt by every Israeli and the cost of living would go up,” Lapid said.

 

He warned that exports could drop by $5.7 billion dollars.

 

Last month at Davos, a group of 100 Israeli leading industrialists called on Netanyahu to make peace with the Palestinians to avoid the growing boycott of Israel. Palestinians say they see this call as one of the successes of the BDS movement.

 

“BDS is creating a constructive debate inside Israel for the first time,” Khatib said. “The US and Europe, Israel’s best friends, have been urging Israel to reconsider its settlement policy and stop construction. Now Israel seems to be paying a price for not listening to this advice.”

 

Khatib says he expects to see the BDS movement spread to more companies and will begin to take more of an economic toll.

 

Article written by Linda Gradstein

Reprinted with permission from The Media Line

 

The Media Line

 

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