The boycott of Israel reaches tipping point

The boycott Israel bell is tolling loud and clear but has it reached the tipping point?

Writing in +972 Magazine, Ami Kaufman argues that, judging by the number and weight of businesses imposing various sanctions on Israel, and by Israeli reactions to them, the tipping point has been reached.

This Economist piece from 8 February has an excellent summary of some of the latest developments, mainly the decision of Denmark’s largest bank, Danske Bank, to blacklist Israel’s Bank Hapoalim due to its involvement in the funding of settlement construction; the decision of the Norwegian Ministry of Finance in January to exclude the Israeli firms Africa Israel Investments and Danya Cebus from its Government Pension Fund Global; and Dutch water company Vitens decision from December, which provides water to 5.4 million people in the Netherlands, to discontinue all joint ventures with Israel’s national water supplier Mekorot, in protest over the Israeli company’s operations in the West Bank.

The Economist also quickly mentions the Sodastream-Scarlett Johansenn affair – which brought unprecedented scrutiny to the apartheid reality that exists in the West Bank. The Sodastream affair was one of the biggest smacks to the faces against the occupation in recent memory. I personally found my own Facebook feed full of many who were indeed aware of the occupation, but were extremely surprised to find that Israel and its businesses were using the good ol’ colonialist theme of “we’re good for the natives”.

However, since the Economist piece was published, there have been some more developments – and more importantly, Israeli reaction showing real nervousness.

Kaufman quotes the 18 February edition of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, which reported that boycott pressure had caused two foreign bidders to drop out of a tender to build facilities in the ports of Haifa and Ashdod. The paper said:

Royal Boskalis Westminster, a Dutch operator of ports that had submitted a proposal under the name Holland Terminal in the prequalification [PQ] stage last December, dropped out shortly thereafter. More recently, Italy’s Condote de Agua withdrew after passing the prequalification process. The companies that had initially expressed their interest in the PQ stage last April made their decisions to drop out in recent months as boycott pressure on Israel has grown. The deadline for submitting bids was Monday. In addition to the companies that withdrew from bidding, a third company – Jan De Nul from Belgium – only agreed to submit its bid after it was permitted to do so through a company registered in Luxembourg called Ludreco, out of fear of jeopardizing its business in the Arab world.

According to Kaufman, “what has seemed to really agitate Israeli politicians was the decision by Germany’s Deutsche Bank to “flag” Bank Hapoalim as a “morally questionable investment” on Monday [17 February]. Deutsche decided to include Hapoalim on a list of companies whose conduct is ethically questionable, possibly due to its activity in the settlements”.

That decision caused the increasingly unstable Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, to screech on Facebook:

I think the most eerie thing, the most disgraceful thing is to have people on the soil of Europe talking about the boycott of Jews. I think that’s an outrage. The founders of the BDS [boycott, divestment and sanctions] movement make their goals perfectly clear. They want to see the end of the Jewish state. They’re quite explicit about it. And I think it’s important that the boycotters must be exposed for what they are. They’re classical anti-Semites in modern garb.

As Kaufman says, the effect of BDS on Israel is unprecedented:

I cannot remember a time when I have seen so many Israeli public figures on both sides of the political map so obsessed with Israel’s standing in the world – most of them shivering with fear of global isolation…

With the number and sheer importance of these European firms over the past three months, and seeing as how Europe is Israel’s largest trade partner, combined with knee-jerk Israeli reactions, it is now safe to say that Israel and the occupation have become an economic liability.

Whether this is enough to end Israeli apartheid, we’ll have to wait and see. But what can be said is that 2014 will be remembered as the year BDS reached its tipping point.

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