At the core of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS ) is economic warfare meant to delegitimize and marginalize Israel. But the fatal fallacy of the movement is rooted in the fact that its proponents are hurting the very constituency they claim to represent.
Daniel Birnbaum is the CEO of SodaStream, one of Israel’s greatest commercial start-up successes. The company (made famous in a 2014 Super Bowl advertisement featuring actress Scarlett Johansson) was a pioneer in economic inclusion, establishing a factory in the West Bank and employing both Palestinian and Jewish workers (among them a high proportion of women).
Due to the ongoing violence in Syria, SodaStream also went out of its way to offer employment to Syrian refugees – one of the only Middle Eastern companies to do so. Providing an avenue to job security in skilled labor is a fundamental tenet of refugee rehabilitation policy. Israel has been at the forefront of successful refugee resettlement and absorption since the state’s inception, with the integration of close to one million Jewish refugees expelled from Arab lands.
As Birnbaum underscored in a press release, “As the son of a Holocaust survivor, I refuse to stand by and observe this human tragedy unfold right across the border in Syria… just as we have always done our best to help our Palestinian brothers and sisters in the West Bank, the time has come for local business and municipal leaders to address the Syrian humanitarian crisis and take the initiative to help those in need. We cannot expect our politicians to bear the entire burden of providing aid for the refugees.”
But in October, 2015, nearly 500 of the company’s Palestinian workers lost their jobs. The reason wasn’t because the company no longer wanted to employ them. It was due – at least in part – to the efforts of the BDS movement to mount enough international pressure to close the facility.Though the company denied it was a factor, the tactic worked; many of the workers were thrust into unemployment. Notwithstanding that, SodaStream offered 1,000 positions to Syrian refugees at the company’s new facility in Rahat.
The BDS movement uses economic pressure to attempt to strong-arm the Israeli government into complying with its agenda. Its effects are wide-ranging, from political activism on college campuses to commercial guerrilla tactics like covertly placing stickers on grocery products to draw attention to their Israeli origins.
Much of the time, its claims are laden with anti-Semitic overtones and rely on emotional appeal rather than hard data. Such tactics have far-reaching – and very counterproductive – consequences, for example, the unwillingness of the French directorate-general for international security of intelligence to accept technology offered by an Israeli security company that “could have helped counter-terror agents track suspects in real time,” undermining the chance to avert the recent deadly terrorist attacks in Paris and Belgium.
Despite its aspirations, in fact BDS has had little economic impact on Israel. According to Forbes, “The impact of BDS is more psychological than real so far and has had no discernible impact on Israeli trade or the broader economy… that said, the sanctions do run the risk of hurting the Palestinian economy, which is much smaller and poorer than that of Israel.”
Israel’s centrality to US regional and global policy has not gone unnoticed; US Congress sought to cement Israel’s economic and trade ties to the US with a bipartisan bill – the US-Israel Trade and Commercial Enhancement Act – designed to counter the BDS movement and strengthen the two nations’ relationship. The bill “leverages ongoing trade negotiations to discourage prospective US trade partners from engaging in economic discrimination against Israel. It also establishes a clear US policy in opposition to state-led BDS, which is detrimental to global trade, regional peace and stability.”
The extremism that the BDS movement advocates highlights the group’s refusal to come to terms with the State of Israel, its recidivism and its ignorance in evaluating the landscape of greater Middle East politics. When Syrian refugees are being offered jobs in Israel at an Israeli company it is clear how removed the BDS reality is from that of the Middle East.
Asaf Romirowsky is the executive director of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) and a fellow at the Middle East Forum. Nicole Collins Brackman is a fellow at Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME).