ANDERS PERSSON 58.
A common mistake that Israelis (and Palestinians) make is to overestimate the
importance of their conflict for ordinary people abroad, particularly in the
West, as if all the people in Europe and the US actually cared about what is
going on in the Middle East. The truth is that, and contrary to what many
Israelis believe, most people in Europe don’t care about the conflict, simply
because they have other things to worry about, like unemployment and
I suspect many Europeans, like my mother, have great difficulty
in differentiating between Israelis and Palestinians when watching the nightly
news. The level of ignorance is probably even higher in the US; it would be
interesting to know whether most Americans could point out Gaza and the West
Bank on a map.
This indifference has serious implications for the BDS
movement, which according to reports in the Israeli press is widely perceived to
be gaining traction around the world, especially in Europe. The good news is
that these fears are exaggerated.
Contrary to what many Israelis believe,
the BDS movement in Europe actually has a hard time finding consumers ready to
Take the example of Sweden, my country, which Israelis
feel is hopelessly pro-Palestinian. The truth is that the overwhelming majority
of Swedes are neither pro-Palestinian nor pro-Israeli. They simply don’t care
about the Middle East.
In fact, and again contrary to what many Israelis
believe, the pro-Palestinian camp in Sweden is very small.
pro-Palestinian umbrella organization, which also leads the Swedish BDS
movement, is named “Palestina-grupperna” (meaning “The Palestine Groups”), and
has about 1,000 members in a country of 9 million.
During the 35 years it
has been active, it has failed miserably to reach out to the Swedish population
beyond small circles of die-hard left-wingers, church synods, student unions and
the like; all of which are weak consumer groups.
The fact that “The
Palestine Groups” have problems reaching out even to Muslim communities is a
telling example. This is not because they have done anything particularly wrong.
It is because people in Sweden simply have little interest, and the same pattern
can be seen elsewhere in Europe.
During my years as a student, I worked
for the largest Swedish retailer – ICA – in the southern city of Landskrona. The
city has a significant Muslim community, and the store where I worked was one of
the city’s largest grocery stores and regularly sold Israeli fruits and
During the four years I worked there (2004-2008), the word
Israel was never mentioned by any customer, colleague or supplier.
THIS indifference is good for Israel at the moment, and works in its favor by
preventing the BDS movement from getting stronger, the bad news is that these
same forces – ignorance and indifference – can quickly be turned into a
double-edged sword to hurt Israel. It’s worth remembering that everything has
been put in place by the BDS movement: The networks of organizers and the lists
of Israeli products are there. The only thing missing is the boycotters, who are
scarce at the moment. But this can change.
If Israel is drawn into a new
war with Hezbollah or (heaven forbid) with Iran, things could change
dramatically. If Israel is perceived as the aggressor, which is not unlikely,
and if these wars are as destructive as security experts predict, with thousands
of casualties, skyrocking oil prices, turmoil on the financial markets, etc.,
Israel will likely be in serious trouble when it comes to global public opinion,
which could lead to a massive upswing for the BDS movement.
illusions. Just as few European consumers pay any attention when they buy Jaffa
oranges, few will care if these are replaced by Maroc oranges. That is how
double-edged swords work.
The writer is a PhD student at Lund University
in Sweden. He’s writing his thesis about the role of the European Union in the
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