The former president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, once said, “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”
Yehuda Cohen, CEO of Lipskin Company, located in the Barkan Industrial Park, recited those words on Wednesday at the Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference. Speaking on a panel titled, “Coexistence in Conflict: How BDS Undermines the Chance for Peace,” Cohen explained that he employs 100 people in his West Bank plastic factory – 70 Palestinians and 30 Israelis.
“I give my Palestinian workers hope that can build their homes, hope they can send their children to university, hope they can live a normal life,” said Cohen, noting that these employees make higher salaries in Israel than in the Palestinian territories. His factory, he added, “is a bridge for peace.”
“If BDS or any kind of labeling or boycott is successful, we can say we lost the option to live in this area,” said Cohen. “I believe that work brings hope and boycott brings suffering.”
Cohen’s words were delivered just two days after Airbnb decided to boycott West Bank settlements and announced plans to remove settler home listings from its popular website, which has thousands of temporary rentals in 191 countries.
Minister of Strategic Affairs Gilad Erdan reflected on Airbnb’s decision in an earlier speech at the conference, calling it “appalling in its hypocrisy, outrageous in its discrimination, and counter-productive in its effects.”
He asked what could possibly have driven Airbnb to take “such a blatantly political decision” and said the answer lies in the counterproductive policy that calls to distinguish between Israel and Judea and Samaria, east Jerusalem and the Golan.
“This policy of distinguishing or differentiating between Israel and Judea and Samaria is discriminatory, counter-productive and simply dangerous,” he said. “This policy is counter-productive becomes it aims to undermine the very activities that can form the basis for a viable peace.”
The best model for Israeli-Palestinian coexistence can be found in industrial areas in Judea and Samaria, Erdan said. Here, Israelis and Palestinians, Jews, Muslims, Christians and Druze all work together in mutual respect and harmony, yet these areas are a main target of the policy that calls to distinguish between Israel, and Judea and Samaria.
“Nothing could be more counter-productive to peace,” he said.
This was true in October 2015, when some 500 Palestinians lost their jobs when the SodaStream headquarters moved from its location in Mishor Adumim industrial park in the West Bank to a new facility in Lehavim, within the Green Line, due to pressure from the BDS movement.
“There was no great elation for the BDS movement because it quickly discovered that hundreds of Palestinians lost their jobs,” said Efrat Mayor Oded Ravivi, who also spoke on the panel. Ravivi said what BDS supporters don’t understand is that its outcome is worse for the Palestinians.
“For us [the Israelis] it might be unpleasant, but we are way stronger and more financially stable,” he said.
He added that BDS supporters are out of touch with the reality in Judea and Samaria, since many choose not to visit. He cited the popular Rami Levy grocery store that is in the center of the Gush Etzion junction, where “Jews and Arabs are walking up and down the same aisles.” He said it is the chain’s most profitable branch.
To help showcase this co-existence and the unique products being farmed and created in Judea and Samaria by Jews and Arabs alike, the Ministry of Strategic Affairs hosted a display table at the conference. Diplomats could touch and taste West Bank products and talk with representatives from the area.
The table was part of a larger effort, where the ministry is partnering with the Jordan Valley Regional Council to combat BDS that includes participation in international conferences where products, such as dates and wine from the region, are distributed to participants along with information on industrial developments in the valley. Special emphasis is placed on the innovative solutions to agricultural challenges that serve both communities and the day-to-day peaceful coexistence that working together fosters.
The project, said David Elhayani, head of the Jordan Valley Regional Council, will help confront the deleterious effect the movement has had on economic growth and development in the Jordan Valley.
“While we work to counter the lies and pressure of the boycott organizations, we’re also working to spread the truth about Israel and support those harmed by the boycotts,” Erdan said.
A Palestinian businessman, Ashraf Jaabari, also spoke on the panel. He told listeners about the recent launch of the Judea and Samaria Chamber of Commerce and Industry, where both Israelis and Palestinians can participate.
“I believe if we continue to work hard, we will get to excellent results,” Jaabari said.
But Ron Brummer, director of operations at the Ministry of Strategic Affairs, said while working to combat BDS, it is also important to label it for what it is – antisemitism.
Brummer said that according to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, signaling out Israel is defined as antisemitism.
He then compared the BDS movement to a load of dirty laundry.
“You throw in antisemitism, terrorism, and delegitimization. The washing machine works and out comes a message of human rights, justice and equality,” Brummer said. “You cannot talk about annihilating the State of Israel. So, BDS is used to cover up the movement’s true face: antisemitism [which is] linked to terror and denying the mere existence of the State of Israel.”
Brummer added that BDS is a tool being used by those who want to delegitimize Israel. He said there is no threat that BDS will cause the Israeli economy to collapse. Rather, it “eats at the hearts and minds of the uneducated, of people who don’t know the reality of this area.”
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