Netanyahu convenes strategy meeting to fight boycotts

Officials welcome ruling by England’s Supreme Court against protesters at Ahava cosmetics shop in London.

Prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu at weekly cabinet meeting  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu at weekly cabinet meeting
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Netanyahu convened a meeting of senior ministers Sunday to discuss ways to fight back against BDS efforts against Israel, with one idea being to encourage legislation in various countries that would penalize entities boycotting Israeli firms and institutions.
Reflecting the discreet manner in which Netanyahu wants to deal with the issue, a media blackout was clamped on the meeting, with the offices of those ministers who participated – Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz, and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett – not even officially willing to confirm that the meeting took place.
A number of courses of action were reportedly raised at the meeting, including encouraging anti-boycott legislation in friendly capitals around the world, such as Washington, Ottawa and Canberra. One idea is to support a model similar to the one used in the US to get recalcitrant countries to join the Iranian sanctions regimes – making sure that any company that dealt with Iran knew it was jeopardizing its US contracts.
Another recent initiative discussed was the bipartisan bill two Illinois representatives, Republican Peter Roskam and Democrat Dan Lipinski, introduced into Congress that would bar federal funding to American institutions of higher education that boycott Israel. This legislation came in the wake of last year’s high-profile decision by the American Studies Association to boycott Israel.
Liberman said last week that within some 45 days the public would see the plan Israel has in place to fight the boycotts.
Sunday’s meeting comes amid a growing public perception that the boycott Israel movement is gaining traction, even though its “successes” up until now have been few and so far only marginal.
US Secretary of State John Kerry warned last week, in statements that were then sharply criticized in Israel, that the boycott movement could gain steam if a peace accord were not signed with the Palestinians. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Finance Minister Yair Lapid have issued similar warnings.
Sunday’s meeting was originally scheduled for two weeks ago but was postponed after Bennett criticized Netanyahu for raising the idea that Israelis could possibly live under Palestinian rule in their settlements in a future Palestinian state.
Meanwhile, Israeli officials on Sunday applauded a UK Supreme Court decision last week against Israel boycott activists.
“This shows th at it is possible to fight back against the boycotters,” one official said. “It shows that this is a two-way street, and that it is possible to delegitimize the delegitimizers and expose them for what they are.”
On Wednesday the UK Supreme Court upheld the convictions against four anti-Israel protesters for criminal trespass after they chained themselves to a concrete slab in an Ahava cosmetics shop in London’s Covent Garden in 2011. The Ahava cosmetics firm has its manufacturing plant at Mitzpe Shalem, which is beyond the Green Line about a kilometer from the Dead Sea.
“We are studying the ruling, but it is important,” another Israeli government official said Sunday.
“It fits into our arguments regarding boycotts and divestment.”
This is the latest in small victories against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign.
Last week the massive Dutch pension fund ABP, under pressure to divest from Israeli banks as another Dutch pension company did, decided not to follow suit, and explained online to its clients that the Israeli banks it has business dealings with “do not act contrary to international law and regulations” and that there are no court rulings indicating a need to end investments in them.
Following the 2011 incident in London, a district judge convicted the protesters of criminal trespass.
They were ordered to pay £250 in costs in 2011. The defendants had already lost two earlier appeals in lower courts, before going to the Supreme Court.
In the magistrate’s court the defendants argued against their conviction by saying Ahava was guilty of aiding and abetting the transfer by Israeli authorities of Israeli citizens into a territory “under belligerent” occupation, which is contrary to the Fourth Geneva Convention and constitutes a war crime. They also argued that Ahava was guilty of mislabeling goods as being made in Dead Sea, Israel, since Mitzpe Shalem is beyond the Green Line and therefore not a part of Israel.
The Supreme Court unanimously dismissed the appeal, stating that Ahava’s actions could not amount to “aiding and abetting the transfer of Israeli citizens to the OPT [Occupied Palestinian Territories], but even if it did, this could not amount to an offense by Ahava’s retailing arm.”
Regarding mislabeling, the court ruled that the underlying issue regarding mislabeling is whether as a result of misleading labeling the average consumer would “buy something that he/she otherwise would not have done.”
The court upheld the lower court’s ruling that “a consumer willing to buy Israeli products would be very unlikely not to buy Israeli products because they were produced in the OPT.”
After years of pro-Palestinian protests, the store in Covent Garden closed down in 2011.