The Anti-Israel Boycott Campaign: A Study in Failure

Shahid Alam, writing this week in a Cairo magazine, Al-Ahram, declared that "slowly but steadily, the Western people are throwing their support behind the campaign to divest from, boycott and impose sanctions on Israel." It certainly seems that way. I've read often, over many years, about students demanding that their universities sell whatever stocks they own in Israeli companies and in corporations supporting the defence of Israel. I've read, too, about boycotts of Israeli products and attempts to get churches and corporations to sell Israel-connected stocks.

In Canada, a union proposed that Israeli professors not be allowed to lecture here. And of course, everyone knows that Elvis Costello recently deprived Israelis of the two performances he was scheduled to give in Israel, on grounds of "conscience."

This is all part of a plan co-ordinated by Palestinian leaders and activists to pressure Israel with boycotts, divestment and sanctions (routinely abbreviated on websites and placards as "BDS"). The more mild-mannered supporters of BDS say they want to encourage Israel to improve its treatment of Palestinians and seek peace. It seems clear to me that their main goal is to destroy Israel.

Given the publicity BDS has received, the program should be on the way to success. And probably it has helped discourage some Israelis and their supporters. But is it working on a more practical level? Surprisingly, the clear answer seems to be No.

Jon Haber, a Boston writer who runs the website Divest This! (divest-this. com), recently reported in The Jerusalem Post that -- despite the passage of nearly a decade of BDS activism -- not one college or university has sold even one share of a company the divesters identify as an immoral supporter of Israel. The divesters are good at attracting crowds, writing manifestos, passing motions and getting their opinions onto TV. But they get few results: Boards of universities, corporations and churches all reject divestment proposals.

In May, the divesters were greatly cheered by news that Deutsche Bank had sold its shares in Elbit, the Israeli arms company. Wiltrud Rosch-Metzler, a campaigner with Pax Christi Germany, called that "a huge success." A representative of various Palestinian organizations said: "Palestinian civil society warmly welcomes the principled decision taken by Deutsche Bank."

This news was closely followed by Deutsche Bank's announcement that it was untrue. The bank pointed out that it had no Elbit shares to sell. Evan Jones of the University of Sydney, trying to argue last week that the BDS movement "has acquired fresh impetus after each Israeli outrage," had to acknowledge that, "Alas, the heralded divestment of Deutsche Bank from Israel's largest defence firm appears to have been a false alarm."

Last year, a group called Students for Justice in Palestine celebrated its triumph at Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass. They claimed Hampshire had become the first college or university in the United States to divest from companies involved with Israel. But the board claimed its decision said nothing at all about Israel. True, the idea of ethical investment had been raised by Students for Justice in Palestine, but the board's decision to sell the college's shares in an investment fund was based on a study of 200 companies said to have violated the college's standards for social responsibility in labour practices, environmental abuse, unsafe workplaces, etc. The students had named six companies it accused of supporting Israel's occupation of Palestinian land. Three of the six failed a screen for socially responsible investing based on their sales of military equipment, employee safety record and other violations. Two of the companies named by the students passed the screen. A sixth company turned out not to be on the list of the college's investments. Less than a stirring victory.

Curiously, during the period when enemies of Israel were doing their best to cut its economic lifelines, Israel's economy remained in much better shape than equivalent economies elsewhere. As David Rosenberg wrote recently in a paper published by the Gloria Center, "Israel experienced no more than a mild recession as a result of the global financial crisis that began in 2007." Of all the OECD nations, Israel was the last to show signs of recession (in the fourth quarter of 2008) and among the first to begin recovering (in the second quarter of 2009). While under verbal attack from gangs of ranters in every corner of Europe and North America, it had by far the shortest downturn in the OECD.
By Robert Fulford, National Post



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