Unpacking the actual impact of BDS on Israel's economy

One of the goals of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement is to hurt the Israeli economy. The movement may not be as effective as many believe it to be.

October 10, 2018 13:22
3 minute read.
The BDS movement seeks to destroy Israel’s image in the eyes of the world.’

‘INSTEAD OF fighting the Israeli army on the battlefield or killing civilians through acts of terrorism, the BDS movement seeks to destroy Israel’s image in the eyes of the world.’. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Several years ago, I was invited to meet with executives from the Ministry of Strategic Affairs. One of the ministry's main goals included "combating the delegitimization of Israel." The purpose of the meeting was a study we conducted at the Financial Immunities company of the effect of BDS on the Israeli economy. To the best of my knowledge, the study we conducted, which began in 2010, was the only one of its kind. It was meant to determine to what extent the Israeli economy was being affected by the BDS organization. The study included queries to hundreds of senior executives of large companies from every economic sector. It was important to Financial Immunities as a company focusing on helping its clients in risk management at both the macro and micro levels, including an individual company.

The results of the study surprised me. I did not expect such a wide gap between the journalists' reports over the years about the effect of the BDS monster and its actual effects, which were negligible at the most. The study's figures are correct as of late 2017.

I obtained a hint about the impotence of the BDS organization at the very beginning of the study. I constructed a false digital identity and applied to the organization as a young Australian interested in boycotting Israel. I asked what I should do. In response, the organization sent me a link to a page with hundreds, if not thousands, of names of international companies having connections with Israel. I was told to boycott them. When I saw the list, I burst out laughing. It included most of the companies selling some kind of products around the world. Boycotting them would have prevented me from buying things ranging from basic items at the supermarket to any kind of mobile telephone whatsoever, a refrigerator, or a car.

The more important step was to question the managers of Israeli companies, the most important question being, "Can you quantify in money how much your company lost as a result of the economic boycott created by BDS?" The proportion of Israeli companies able to state that they had been damaged by the sanctions was around 0.75%. The rate of damage of each of them was less than 10% of their turnover, and even that was mostly during Operation Protective Edge; they experienced no damage in other years.

According to our calculations, based on the information we obtained from the companies, the cumulative proportion of economic damage since 2010 was 0.004%. To put it more colorfully, if the Israeli economy's yearly income were to average NIS 1 million, the damage from the sanctions would have been NIS 40 - a completely negligible amount.

Paradoxically, there were also Israeli companies that benefited from the boycott. How is that possible? I asked the deputy CEO of a well-known Israeli company that holds a chain of stores in Europe, among other things. It was reported that the company had been damaged by the boycott during Operation Protective Edge when BDS activists stood in front of its store in a European capital and called for boycotting its products. To my surprise, the deputy CEO told me that the company had suffered no damage; on the contrary. How? The activists demonstrating in front of the store in London left after two days when journalistic interest waned. After they left, the number of buyers at the store was four times the number on an ordinary day. These were local non-Jewish residents who liked Israel and came especially to buy at the store in order to demonstrate their sympathy for Israel.

At the same meeting with senior staff at the Ministry of Strategic Affairs, they said that the power of the BDS movement existed mainly in the publications of the Israeli press. This was a different problem - probably a matter of our culture - the emotional and panicked response by Israelis to everything, but that could also be one of the indications of our power.

The author is chairperson of Financial Immunities and coauthor of the book, "Israel - Island of Success."


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