Diplomatic cables reveal sharp increase in efforts to boycott Israel

Dozens of cables sent to the Foreign Ministry each month from Israel's embassies in Europe and the US paint a picture of an escalation by the international BDS movement.

Protesters call for boycott of Israel [file] (photo credit: REUTERS)
Protesters call for boycott of Israel [file]
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Foreign Ministry receives dozens of monthly reports from embassies abroad suggesting that the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel is increasing its campaign to isolate the country.
The Jerusalem Post’s Hebrew language sister publication Ma’ariv Hashavua has obtained a number of diplomatic cables about the growing phenomenon across Europe and the United States, which the ministry has received in recent days.
A cable from Spain described city councilors in Barcelona, home to extreme left-wing party CUP, that calls for Catalonia’s secession, as also calling to amend agreements with Israel and consider canceling a sister city designation with Tel Aviv.
“The request by CUP’s representatives in the city council to change existing agreements with Israel and to consider canceling existing agreements with Tel Aviv is worrisome. Of even greater concern is the ruling party’s answer that they will check the issue, because other organizations have already turned to them as well,” the cable said.
“In response to the claim that the agreement with Tel Aviv strengthens the occupation, the deputy mayor answered that this must be given the utmost consideration, without elaborating,” the cable went on to say.
It said that “the phenomenon of anti-Israeli activity in Spain is bothersome and worrisome, but in the past was centered in small cities.
When it arrives in Barcelona, and is voiced among elected officials, the subject takes on entirely different proportions.”
Pablo Sanchez, an adviser to Barcelona’s Mayor Ada Colau, offered an “encouraging” response, another cable says.
“After a philosophical speech on the meaning of boycott, he emphasized that this was not an immediate step, but admitted that the issue is indeed being considered.”
In the Belgian city of Liege, organizers of an annual dance festival turned down an Israeli sponsorship of the event last week after boycott threats.
Israel had initiated and offered to sponsor the festival after the Batsheva Dance troupe was chosen as an opening act.
But, “at a later stage,” a cable sent from the embassy in Belgium to the Israeli ministry reads, “they informed us that they did not want to be tied to the embassy, were forgoing our support and returning the money. All of this because of the threat of a boycott.
Protests made to the festival organizers failed to yield any results.”
From the US, the ministry received a report from Chicago last week that the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance’s event at a local LGBT conference had been canceled.
Representatives of the Jerusalem Open House had been invited to hold a special Friday evening prayer service and to speak, but were warned of a possible boycott.
In a cable from the Israeli delegation, diplomats described how they had been happy to help with the conference “without being in the forefront, and without Israeli flags in the building, as long as representatives from the Jerusalem Open House were given a chance to address the audience.”
Surprisingly, days before the event, organizers announced that they were canceling Israeli participation which they said was “dividing the community” and that they could not ensure participants’ safety. Soon after though they changed their decision, and Israeli representatives did arrive at the conference.
A subsequent cable from Chicago said that “after the Sabbath prayer service we made our way to the center where the conference was taking place. In front of the door to the building, some 400 noisy protesters awaited us, blocking our way. Ten minutes before the beginning of the conference, several pro-Palestinian activists burst into the building, bringing the event to a halt.”
Another disappointment awaited Israeli diplomats when authorities failed to thwart a regional conference held by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) last weekend at Emory University, in Georgia, a campus with the highest Jewish student population in the South.
The conference, according to a diplomatic cable, had intended to campaign against Christian support for Zionism and strengthen Christian-Palestinian ties.
“We were not surprised, unfortunately, by the absolute lack of willingness of Jewish students at Emory University to take action,” Israeli Foreign Ministry employees wrote of the incident.
The Foreign and Strategic Affairs Ministries marks last year’s Palestinian demand of FIFA to expel Israel, as a turning point when they understood that the rules in battling BDS had changed.
Those responsible for concentrating efforts to fight boycotts against Israel said this week they don’t know from which direction the next initiative may come.
“In the past, the boycott movement operated only in the political arena – protests in front of embassies and against members of parliament who support Israel,” a senior Foreign Ministry source said.
“Ever since [Fatah official] Jibril Rajoub appeared at the FIFA conference and pulled out a symbolic ‘red card’ for Israel, we see that the movement has moved in a more populist direction, probably because they noted that it garnered more attention and was more effective.”
Ministry sources say they are now confronted by different varieties of boycotts, and countering this activity is not easy.
“The boycott movement against Israel is building its case in every field, and we need to prepare counter-arguments, legal arguments and more. Our deployment on the ground is critical. We admit that the activity against boycotts is a case of version vs. version, word vs. word, but there is no substitute for diplomatic work on the ground,” a source said.
Senior officials at the Strategic Affairs Ministry, which has been given a budget of some NIS 100 million to handle the issue, said they were building a staff base they expect to become “an influential factor in the fight against boycotts and the delegitimization of Israel.”
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid accused the government of doing too little against the rise of BDS.
“These cables are arriving at a dead end,” Lapid told a conference on Tuesday organized by the financial newspaper, Globes.
“They land at the Foreign Ministry, which has no way of dealing with this material, because there are no ministers appointed to deal with it, and there is no clear foreign policy against BDS today,” Lapid maintained.