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Will boycotting Israel solve the Palestinian conflict?

Has the Israel-Palestine conflict finally fallen off the political field of vision? Has Israel, if one were to borrow from Dale Carnegie, managed to win friends and influence people around the world so much that a majority of nations today ignore a UN report?

analysis Updated: Jul 09, 2015 14:38 IST
Viju Cherian
Viju Cherian
Hindustan Times
Israel,BDS Movement,Palestine
Palestinian children play in the rubble of houses destroyed during the 50-day war between Israel and Hamas militants in 2014. (AFP Photo)

The report by the Independent Commission of Inquiry on the Gaza Conflict 2014, released last month, did not create a stir a war crime report is expected to create. Even the resolution adopted in the 47-member UN Human Rights Council — in which India abstained, the United States rejected and eight EU members voted in favour — failed to catch the attention of the media.

Has the Israel-Palestine conflict finally fallen off the political field of vision? Has Israel, if one were to borrow from Dale Carnegie, managed to win friends and influence people around the world so much that a majority of nations today ignore a UN report? If the report was ignored, it was not because the conflict is no longer important but because the UN today has lost its pride of place.

Aftab Kamal Pasha, a professor at the Centre for West Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, agrees with this. “It would be right to say that there is a fatigue over UN inquiry reports on the Gaza conflict. The previous reports have not really seen much action being taken.” He, however, feels that the Palestine cause has not lost its importance. “There is growing support for the cause among NGOs and ordinary people in the US. From Japan to Latin America and the EU—more number of people are condemning Israel’s ways,” Pasha said.

You gain some, you lose some

Until recently it was safe to say that the West was standing by Israel while the rest of the world, especially Asia, was against it. Today, the tectonic plates of support have changed. While the political class in Washington have remained loyal, a report in the Forward in May suggested that there is growing support for Palestine among student bodies in universities across the US. The European Union seems to have moved away from its once close allies and the probability of a boycott of Israeli goods from the West Bank points to that. Where Israel seems to have gained support is in Asia, especially from India and China.'s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech to commemorate soldiers who died in the 2014 war in Gaza, during a ceremony on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem in July this year.(AP Photo)

Surprisingly, many of the once hostile Arab states have now opened, though unofficially, lines of communication with Israel. The growing importance of Iran in the region is what has forced the two sides to come closer.

But if Israel has won new friends, it has also created new, and potentially stronger, enemies.

The boycott and the EU

The BDS Movement is a global campaign that urges for the Boycott, Divestment and international Sanctions against Israel. Formed in 2005 by a group of 170 Palestinian NGOs, the movement today has presence and followers in many countries, especially in the US and Europe. Among its latest ‘victories’ listed on its webpage are its efforts to: Deter the former lead vocal for Spanish band Ojos de Brujo, Marina Abad and US singer Lauryn Hill from performing in Israel; pressure the Brazilian government not to award security contracts for the 2016 Olympics to an Israeli firm and convince a French company to sell its business activities in Israel.

Perhaps one of the most high-profile ‘victories’ was the case of SodaStream. The carbonation product manufacturer had its factory in West Bank in an Israeli settlement and after years of calls for boycott and bad press the company decided to shift to Negev in southern Israel. While SodaStream has maintained that the move was purely a commercial decision, it coincided with its decreasing revenue. If that was not all, Oxfam expressed reservation in Hollywood actor Scarlett Johansson continuing as its global ambassador after the actor appeared in a Super Bowl commercial for SodaStream.

However, the BDS movement has stiff opposition and in some Israeli circles is seen as a serious economic threat. The latest world leader to criticise the movement is none other than US Democratic presidential frontrunner and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton. In a letter to a media mogul last week, Clinton asked how leaders could come together to “counter BDS” and that BDS’ campaign “is counterproductive to the pursuit of peace and harmful to Israelis and Palestinians alike”.

Palestinians Hamas militants march during an anti-Israel rally in Gaza City. (Reuters Photo)

This was one of the many calls to stop the movement’s anti-Israel work. In the first week of June, Las Vegas casino owner Sheldon Adelson called a meeting of pro-Israel individuals with deep pockets to plan how to tackle the group. The meet is said to have raised tens of millions of dollars.

These moves come at a time when there is speculation that the EU might soon insist on labelling, or even boycotting, products made by Israeli companies located in the West Bank settlements. A report compiled by Israel’s finance ministry estimates that a complete boycott by Israel’s single biggest market (the EU) would cost it $23 billion in exports.

Is a boycott the answer?

That brings us to the question: Is this the right approach to solve the Israel-Palestine issue, which is essentially a political problem? The answer depends on which side of the barrier you stand. Israel and its allies would say that it is a counterproductive measure. A senior Israeli official, who wished not to be identified, told Hindustan Times that this was “more of a political issue than an economic one”.

“The companies that are in the West Bank can be relocated to the south of Israel and they could operate from there. All this would do is to render thousands of Palestinians working in these companies unemployed. But that’s not the main issue here,” the source said.

According to the BDS movement, this course of action has been chosen because ‘for decades, Israel has denied Palestinians their fundamental rights of freedom, equality, and self-determination through ethnic cleansing, colonization, racial discrimination, and military occupation’ and this will continue ‘until it complies with international law’.

What about India?

India, for the moment, is not being pulled into this vortex, but with India-Israel ties strengthening with every passing day it won’t be too long before the mandarins in South Block will have to come up with an explanation. And it should be a convincing one, rather than the half-baked sarkari mumbling given recently after India abstained from the UNHRC vote — that “there was no change in its long-standing position on support to the Palestinian cause.”

(The views expressed are personal. The writer tweets as @vijucherian)
(The BDS movement was contacted to get its views, but they have not responded till this article was published).

First Published: Jul 09, 2015 13:50 IST