Is the anti-Israel movement winning?
Last week I met Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, for a thirty-minute interview. We talked on many issues, like Iran, Egypt, the settlements, the Palestinians and also the European boycott of Israeli goods and companies. Lieberman said: “It’s nothing new.” True, the Jewish people have already been boycotted in the past. But I left Lieberman with the feeling that the Israeli diplomatic chief didn’t really understand the impact of the new economic warfare.
If in the past the orders came from Damascus, where the Arab League headquartered its operations, today the boycott obsession is spreading through Europe’s pension funds, supermarkets, firms and companies, labor unions and food co-ops. The campaign is led by transnational groups, mainstream media, charities, pressure groups and campaigning networks. And it has already proven very successful.
Last week Norway’s finance ministry has excluded Shikun & Binui, Israel’s largest real estate company, from the Government Pension Fund Global (the largest in Europe) “over its construction of illegal Israeli colonies in East Jerusalem.” Norway’s oil fund already withdrew its investment from Africa-Israel and Danya Cebus, citing involvement in “settlement construction.”
Last month, South Africa instructed commercial importers not to use the label “Product of Israel” for goods manufactured in Judea and Samaria’s Jewish communities. Then the Danish government also announced the adoption of this policy. Irish Foreign Minister, Eamon Gilmore, proposed that the European Union consider banning products from the settlements. The move follows a British decision to allow retailers to distinguish whether goods are “Israeli settlement products” or “Palestinian products.”
If Europe labels goods as “Israeli settlements products” it will become impossible for the Israeli companies to reach sales points abroad. Other European countries will adopt this racist policy, according to a decision taken in 2010 by the EU high court: the “disputed areas” are not part of Israel, so Israeli goods made there are subject to EU import duties. The historic ruling stemmed from a German case filed by Brita GmbH, a German company that imports drink-makers for sparkling water from Soda Club, an Israeli company based in Mishor Adumim, one of Israel’s economic areas in the West Bank.
Agrexco, Israel’s leading flower exporter, has declared bankruptcy, partially due to the boycott of its produce, after more than 20 organizations in 13 countries endorsed a boycott of the company, partially owned by the Israeli government and which had farms in the Jordan Valley and in Tekoa, a settlement at the gates of the Judean desert. The Swedish co-op terminated purchases of Soda carbonation devices. The Dutch pension fund Pensioenfonds Zorg en Welzijn, which has investments for 97 billion euros, has divested from almost all the Israeli companies in its portfolio (banks, telecommunication companies, construction companies and Elbit Systems). The British supermarket chain Co-Operative Group approved a boycott of goods from Judea and Samaria. A large Swedish pension fund also divested from Elbit over the latter’s role in building Israel’s security fence.
Elsewhere, the Ethical Council of four Swedish buffer pension funds urged Motorola “to pull out of the Israeli-occupied territories in the West Bank” or face divestment. Norway’s governmental pension and Germany’s Deutsche Bank divested from Elbit. The food manufacturing UK- and Dutch-owned multinational Unilever withdraw from Ariel, Israel’s largest settlement. Unilever, which makes household staples such as the Sunsilk shampoo and Vaseline, sold its 51% stake in the Beigel’s settlements factories.
The flagship London outlet of Israeli company Ahava has been closed after years of protest. The peacenik organizations that filled the streets of Europe during the years of the Iraqi war have found in Ahava their new enemy. Ahava, which in Hebrew means “love,” has factories located in the kibbutz Mitzpe Shalem, at the Dead Sea. The company’s problems began in 2002, when the superstore Harrods in London banned Ahava. In the last two years, hundreds of Western women in bikinis, belonging to the femminist association Code Pink, protested in front of Ahava shops in Washington and in the European capitals. These women are usually streaked with mud, some feauturing the words “Ahava is a dirty business.” It doesn’t matter that two-thirds of the Dead Sea belongs to Israel. It doesn’t matter that Mitzpe Shalom is on the Israeli side. Ahava became the symbol of the anti-Jewish hysteria. The slogan of the campaign is catchy: “Stolen Beauty.” Sixty percent of Ahava’s capital is held by the kibbutz movement, the symbol of leftist collectivism. Arabs work in Ahava’s laboratories and their jobs are now at risk due to this growing boycott. Ahava’s haters don’t want to “end occupation.” They want to strangle Israel’s economy.
In the past, the Arab pressure to boycott has proven to be successful. Fifty years of boycott had cost the Jewish State a whopping $45 billion in lost trade and investment. A few examples. In 1999 Muslim and Arab states and groups promoted a boycott of Burger King to protest the chain’s opening of a restaurant in the Israeli settlement on the edge of Jerusalem, Ma’aleh Adumim. A few weeks later, Burger King Corp. announced it had canceled the controversial franchise in the territories. Toyota also aborted a joint venture with Ford after Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq warned of retaliation because Ford was selling its products in Israel and was on the Arab boycott list.
When Italian stores last year announced the banning of Agrexco, the company’s director, Shimon Alchasov, rhetorically asked me: “Should I mark the products with a yellow star of David?” The late, great historian Raul Hilberg explained that the economic boycott of the Jews had been the first step in the Holocaust. In Hitler’s Germany there were signs saying, “Kauft nicht beim Jude” (“Don’t buy in Jewish shops”), while the boards at the entrance to small towns and villages proclaimed, “Juden nicht erwuenscht” (“Jews not welcome here”). If you substitute the word “Jew” with “Israeli” and “shops” with “settlements” and “apartheid,” the same bleeding process is taking placing, again, under our noises. It’s the same “Raus mit Uns” (out with us) spirit.
Listen and the song of violence grows stronger and stronger as hate against the Israeli people once again begins to fuse into with mainstream. Tomorrow we will wonder whether another tragedy really happened at all, and meanwhile the termites will be busy. The campaign’s letterheads are the same as in the Middle Ages, the initials “PJ”: Perish Judah.
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