John Kerry has done a great disservice to the peace process by pumping up the anti-Israel boycott movement far beyond its reality, and doing so in a way that was widely and accurately perceived as a bullying threat to Israel. Such overhyping only serves to entrench those who think Israel can be pressured into giving up key security considerations.
At the Munich Security Conference last week, Kerry said :
I believe that – and you see for Israel there’s an increasing de-legitimization campaign that has been building up. People are very sensitive to it. There are talk of boycotts and other kinds of things. Are we all going to be better with all of that? …
… not to mention that today’s status quo absolutely, to a certainty, I promise you 100 percent, cannot be maintained. It’s not sustainable. It’s illusionary. There’s a momentary prosperity, there’s a momentary peace. Last year, not one Israeli was killed by a Palestinian from the West Bank. This year, unfortunately, there’s been an uptick in some violence. But the fact is the status quo will change if there is failure. So everybody has a stake in trying to find the pathway to success.
The reaction was furious, and in some cases hyperventilated, because this is not the first time Kerry has held a Palestinian protest sword over Israel’s head. In November, Kerry warned Israel it faced a Third Intifada:
“The alternative to getting back to the talks is the potential of chaos,” Kerry said. “Does Israel want a third intifada?”
This all is diplomatic foolishness. Expressing “concerns” in public has a way of creating its own reality that such expressions in private do not. Abe Foxman of the ADL was correct in this assessment:
In speaking about the price Israel will pay if the peace talks break down and Israel is blamed, you may have thought you were merely describing reality. But as the key player in the process, the impact of your comments was to create a reality of its own.
Describing the potential for expanded boycotts of Israel makes it more, not less, likely that the talks will not succeed; makes it more, not less, likely that Israel will be blamed if the talks fail; and more, not less, likely that boycotts will ensue. Your comments, irrespective of your intentions, will inevitably be seen by Palestinians and anti-Israel activists as an incentive not to reach an agreement; as an indicator that if things fall apart, Israel will be blamed; and as legitimizing boycott activity.
David Horovitz, founder of The Times of Israel and someone I’ve always viewed as a voice of moderation, calls him The petulant Secretary Kerry:
US Secretary of State John Kerry may feel heartfelt concern about the growing campaign to delegitimize Israel and to boycott it. One of the least smart and least constructive ways to tackle the danger, however, is by issuing an anguished public prediction that this is what awaits Israel if his peace effort fails….
Kerry’s public musing in Munich at the weekend about Israel’s “illusionary” thinking on peace and prosperity sounded like the moaning of a petulant child: I want my nine-month peace treaty, and I want it now! ….
Israel, Mr. Secretary, has no illusions about the hostility all around it and the anti-Semitism painted as anti-Zionism further afield. It has no illusions, either, about the fragility of its current economic well-being….
Good diplomacy, Mr. Secretary, means that you most certainly should address the boycott and delegimitization issue in public — to make plain that it is unconscionable to misrepresent Israel as some kind of illegal entity; to explain that the notion that the Jewish people, uniquely, has no right to a state is an apartheid argument; to underline that historic Jewish Israel was revived by international mandate and that it was those who spoke for mandatory Palestine’s Arab residents who prevented the simultaneous establishment of a first-ever Palestinian state 66 years ago, and to urge that those who purport to support the Palestinian interest use their influence to encourage both sides toward viable positions that can enable long-term co-existence.
This is exactly the point I made the other day, Take the anti-Israel boycott movement seriously, but stop the scaremongering:
Whether done by design to pressure Israel, or because he is incompetent, Kerry’s pronouncements of impending doom simply reinforce the rejectionist elements in Palestinian society who believe that the international community can deliver more than negotiations with Israelis.
What is the current threat level of the boycott movement?
Two op-ed columns in the leftist Haaretz have fair assessments. The BDS movement presents little real threat to Israel currently, while the European governments do present a potential threat, but it is a diplomatic, not boycott, threat. Kerry, and the boycott movement, conflate the two.
In Stop talking up the boycott, British anti-boycott activist Jeremy Newmark writes:
Looking beyond the rhetoric and spin, the ugly truth of what we have fallen into the trap of describing as ‘BDS’ becomes clear. The reality of much of what passes as “BDS” today is threefold.
First – harassment, intimidation and mud-slinging by a miniscule number of anti-Israel zealots. They interrupt cultural events, intimidate and bully artists intending to perform in Israel, and harass of retailers and companies doing business with Israel.
Secondly, in a few cases, these zealots have successfully forced their agenda on that of much larger bodies, the majority of whose membership is opposed, apathetic or disengaged.
And thirdly, perhaps the most serious and complex manifestation, the growing desire of European governments (or more accurately some within European Governments) and EU institutions to turn long-standing opposition to Israel’s presence in the West Bank into concrete actions – often motivated by a genuine belief that this is the only way to get the current Government of Israel to listen.
In Did someone say ‘boycott’? Everyone’s talking about it, but no one’s actually doing it, David Harp writes:
The Israel boycott movement is actually two separate streams.
The first is the ad hoc boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign, which contains enough elements of both myths to bring joy to true believers on the left and the right: It wears the mantle of global justice, while many of its most fervent supporters would have trouble passing an anti-Semitism smell test. But what does the BDS movement have to show for itself after close to a decade of activity? Not much: A collection of mostly symbolic boycotts by academic and student groups, a cooperative grocery here or there that won’t carry Israeli products and some noisy demonstrations in the rare places where they can find an outpost of Israeli business, such as Ahava cosmetics stores.
The second boycott stream is being pursued in a very lackadaisical manner in government and business circles, mostly in Europe. To call this an anti-Israel boycott or to portray it as a gathering storm is at complete variance with the facts. Let’s look at a few of the recent cases:
Nordea: Sweden’s biggest bank is reported to have “followed the Danish Bank” and “taken steps” against Israeli banks. It has “demanded” that Bank Leumi and Mizrahi Tefahot Bank make public their operations in the West Bank. In fact, all Nordea is doing for now is asking the banks for clarifications about their West Bank activities over the next few months before it decides what to do. No other Israeli business are on the list. “We have no other Israeli names on the list and our intention is not, by any means, to boycott either Israel or Israeli companies,” says Sasja Beslik, the head of responsible investments and identity at Nordea.
PGGM: The Dutch pension fund’s decision to sell shares in five Israeli banks is what set off the boycott hysteria. But far from trying to boycott Israel or delegitimize it, as the boycott industry likes to portray it, the PGGM FAQ page goes out of its way to say over and over that its goals are very narrowly defined as “responsible investing” in companies that do not violate its standards for human rights, the environment and corruption. “This is not a boycott of Israel” nor a political decision. In fact, the fund says it still has 100 million euros in assets invested in Israeli companies.
Government Pension Fund Global: Depending on where you stand, you should be moved to panic or glee when the Financial Times reports that “Norway’s sovereign wealth fund joins exodus from Israel.” But the fine print can only be a disappointment. The fund was only renewing a ban on investing in two companies, which are for all intents and purposes one company, namely Africa Israel Investments and its Danya Cebus subsidiary. The two were originally banned in 2010 and again in 2013. All told the fund has four Israeli companies on its excluded list – Elbit Systems, which was added in 2009, and Housing & Construction Limited, which was added three years later. Some exodus.
Both authors also relate the reality that Israel’s trade with the world, including Europe, is growing. Academic ties are growing. To the extent there have been actual boycotts, they are miniscule.
All of this returns me to my point.
We should take the BDS movement seriously, it is a vicious movement born at the anti-Semitic Durban conference based on lies about Israel being an “Apartheid State” promoted by propagandists with Ph.Ds and loony toons like Code Pink. Such movements must be fought so they don’t grow, but we also need to keep reality in perspective.
The European diplomatic problem will not be solved by surrendering Israel’s security. And it remains to be seen whether implicit European threats, coming from the EU not individual countries, will be backed up.
John Kerry would serve the peace process well if he would stop running at the mouth in public statements about threats to Israel. He’s only making the prospects for peace more difficult,DONATE
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