Israel is under threat from the BDS movement, with severe implications to its economy should it succeed. In order to confront this organized, global threat, Israel must recognize & deal with several questions to create an effective response to the movement.
By Tal Keinan
Let’s be clear on the numbers: The BDS movement is strongest in Europe.
In 2014 – the last year there are full numbers for – 35 percent of Israel’s exports went to Europe. Thirty-two percent of the Israeli GDP is comprised of exports. That means that exports to Europe account for 12 percent of Israeli GDP.
Assume that European governments remain supportive of trade with Israel, but that European consumers do not. Governments cannot force consumers to buy Israeli products. Let’s say that the BDS movement succeeds in getting 25 percent of European consumers to boycott Israeli products. That would represent a 2.8 percent drop in Israeli GDP.
As Israel’s current GDP growth rate is 2.5 percent, this would push Israel into recession. Not the cyclical sort of recession that can be moderated by monetary and fiscal policy until economic imbalances correct themselves, but a secular recession, against which internal tools are ineffective.
Income inequality grows. Budgets for education, healthcare, infrastructure and defense shrink. Israeli technology exporters move their operations to the United States, taking with them much of the talent that fuels Israel’s economic engine. Imagine the rest of this story for yourself.
We will not succeed in addressing the BDS threat until we see it clearly, and our view is blocked by five camps within Israel:
1. The “Never Heard of It” Camp:
Much of Israel is provincial to an extent that would have shocked our cosmopolitan Jewish forebears. We are so out of touch with the global discourse (which is conducted in English) that we cannot see threats approaching until it is too late. In the long term, we need to reclaim our cosmopolitan Jewish legacy. We can only do that in English, but that is a separate conversation. In the short term, it is our leaders’ responsibility to set the public agenda. They have been irresponsible in neglecting this.
2. The “Intel is Here for Good” Camp:
This unfortunate quote is attributable to a worldly Israeli politician who should know better. Read the first paragraph of this article and do the math. Intel doesn’t have to leave in order for Israel to be dealt a crushing blow. Boycotters can keep using their Israel-Inside cellphones and navigation apps, and still hurt us. Hypocrites are people (and consumers) too.
3. The “It’s Not Fair!” Camp:
I agree. It’s not fair. The double standards versus other progressive democracies facing similar challenges (see US and British forces in Iraq and Afghanistan) are absurd. Popular fixation on this particular conflict, at the expense of multiple incidences of real genocide, real war crimes, and real human rights abuses around the world, is grotesque. So what? The threat to Israel is no less real, and it is our problem alone.
4. The “anti-Semitism” Camp:
It may be true that Israel-bashing is the new anti-Semitism. That does not mean that all critics of Israel are motivated by anti-Semitism. Anybody whose knowledge of this conflict is based on current media framing, anti-Semite, philo-Semite or indifferent, is likely to emerge with an anti-Israel bias. But there is a large population that is open to challenging its own views, whom we should not abandon. The anti-Semitism Camp also often alienates true friends of Israel who happen to disagree with Israeli government policy – as many Israelis do.
5. The “We Deserve It” Camp:
This camp contends that moral relativism is not a justification for bad policy, so we should use all means at our disposal to bring Israeli policy in line with Jewish values – including embracing those who would boycott us. This is a problem. The BDS movement is not about helping us to become better versions of ourselves. It is the invention of enemies committed to our destruction. If it achieves even modest success, its effects could be irreversible or, worse, instigate an economic death spiral. Our standards are our own matter. Pretending we are somehow aligned with our enemies is dangerous.
We have risen up to existential challenges before, and we will rise to this one. The first step is identifying the threat clearly. Only after we have done so can we begin posing the right policy questions. Who should be representing Israel in international forums? Political appointees or the best experts in public relations drawn from across the Jewish world? What size budget should be earmarked for branding? Is a positive brand just a nice thing to have or is it an asset critical to our long term survival? To what extent should our brand play a role in our policy decisions? How much, for example, should we be willing to pay in order to continue expanding the Jewish population in Judea and Samaria while publicly advocating two states for two peoples?
Some readers will be irked by the question. I am not suggesting an answer here. Answer it yourself. I am only suggesting that, as citizens, we be crystal clear on the benefits and the costs of the decisions we make. Otherwise, they will be made for us, by somebody who benefits, and we will be left to live with the costs.
About the Author:
Tal Keinan is the CEO of Clarity Capital, a New York and Tel Aviv based investment management firm.
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