It seems to be an up and down time in the world of the Israel boycott-ers right now. A recent BDS success was the decision by the Co-Op to boycott goods from Israel (more on that later), but in the US the Presbyterian Church (USA) declined to pass a divestment vote against Caterpillar and others in their General Assembly. Sadly, the BDS-o-meter comes back up again with this week’s decision by the Synod of the Church of England to recognise the hugely unbalanced work of the EAPPI (Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel) in presenting the situation in Israel and the Territories from an almost completely Palestinian perspective to British churches.
In general terms the various campaigns by British BDS groups have been noisy and sometimes messy, but in practical terms of effective boycotts they have been a complete failure (most recently at Shakespeare’s Globe, where they failed to stop Israel’s national theatre company performing). It is easy for Israel-supporters and indeed anyone who wants to see the Middle East reported in a fair and balanced way to be discouraged by the claims of the various NGOs and charities advocating boycotts, but the reality of the economic dynamic between Britain and Israel should lift our spirits and encourage us.
Following the last general election, the coalition government commissioned a white paper to ascertain how best to rescue the British economy and kick-start growth. “Trade And Investment for Growth”, published in February 2011 and available here, looked across the global economic scene to find potential trading partners and nations to work with in promoting trade, innovation and jobs. Of the 62 action points, to be implemented “vigorously and actively”, near the top was “Encourage a stronger partnership between British and Israeli companies in innovation, high technology, and science”! Besides being a recognition of Israel’s top place in the world in innovation and tech industries, this is a huge blow to the hopes of effective boycotts and sanctions held by the BDS campaigners.
The Israeli Embassy in London was not slow to capitalise on this positive sign and now actively “match-makes” British and Israeli companies, most recently in the areas of communications and new media. Partly as a result of these government-supported efforts, bi-lateral trade between Britain and Israel in just the first third of 2012 was 42% higher than for the same period in 2011! Going back a little further, from 20120 to 2011 bilateral trade increased from $3.7billion to $5.1billion – that’s a wopping 38% that has made Britain Israel’s fourth largest trading partner. What price now a few oranges and tomatoes from supermarket shelves?
A further blow to boycott efforts is the complete failure of every local BDS campaign (and there have been quite a few) to force local authorites to boycott Veolia (a French-based corporation that held a small stake in the consortium that built the Jerusalem Light Rail system). As a soon-to-be-published report will show, in every case where a political campaign was waged to pressure local councillors not to give Veolia contracts, such decisions were made on purely commercial grounds that totally ignored the political pressure of the campaigners!
The ultimate aim of an internationally waged boycott campaign is that the target nation will be brought to its economic knees and cave in to the boycott-ers’ demands. According to Israeli figures, produce from the “illegal” settlements of the West Bank amounts to around 1% of Israel’s economic output. The Co-Op would have bought only a tiny percentage of that 1% before its boycott decision – hardly enough to bring down the Israeli economy! Comparing such a campaign to the reality of British-Israel trade is like comparing my morning jog to, well, the Olympics.
Finally, an official from the Israeli Embassy made my day recently by assuring me that the Uk boycott campaigns do not affect the Israeli economy at all. At the end of the day, the noise and mess of BDS meetings and demonstrations is empty posturing and publicity. We just have to stop it poisoning more minds!