An unnecessary law

BDS does have the potential to cause damage to Israel, but the way to prevent this from happening is not by high-profile unnecessary laws.

A MAN with a Palestinian flag shouts anti-Israel slogans in Washington. (photo credit: REUTERS)
A MAN with a Palestinian flag shouts anti-Israel slogans in Washington.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
While every country has the right to block the entry to its territory of people acting against its interests, and all the more so those aiming to delegitimize and undermine its very existence, the law passed by the Knesset this week that will ban foreign nationals calling for boycotts of Israel or the settlements is unnecessary.
Israel already has laws in place that enable persons deemed as dangerous to be banned from entry to the country and it has recently begun to use those laws to block activists from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
Furthermore, the law deepens the impression of Israel as country that is becoming less and less tolerant and will deepen the growing alienation of liberal Jews in the Diaspora toward Israel. Will those Jews who see themselves as pro-Israel, but nonetheless support a boycott of settlement products be blocked from entering the country?
That scenario is probably unlikely, but the law has drawn condemnation from several Jewish groups from the left-wing, pro-settlement boycotting J Street to more mainstream groups such as the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League.
“AJC, a longtime, staunch friend of Israel and opponent of the BDS movement, fully sympathizes with the underlying desire to defend the legitimacy of the State of Israel,” the organization’s long-time CEO David Harris said after the law passed its final reading Monday. However, he cautioned: “Nevertheless, as history has amply shown throughout the democratic world, barring entry to otherwise qualified visitors on the basis of their political views will not by itself defeat BDS, nor will it help Israel’s image as the beacon of democracy in the Middle East that it is or offer opportunities to expose them to the exciting and pulsating reality of Israel.”
So given that laws to block undesirables from entering the country already exist and given that such laws only serve to undermine Israel’s image, why was the law passed and why for that matter are Israel’s politicians on all sides of the spectrum so obsessed with BDS?
After all, BDS has failed to have any real impact since it was launched in 2005. As Amir Efrati notes in a paper published in the Institute for National Security Studies this week, foreign investment in Israel doubled in the decade between 2005 and 2015, while the dollar value of Israeli exports increased by 45% during the period and even marking settlement products has failed to have any significant impact on their sales.
While Efrati notes the psychological impact of the threat of boycotts may have pressured some Israeli companies to move back inside the Green Line, the only ones to lose their jobs are Palestinian laborers, who then have to compete for infinitely lower wages available in the Palestinian Authority, which is suffering from high unemployment.
BDS activists have also tried to claim credit for a decline in Israeli exports in 2015 that was no more than a dip resulting from a decline in economic activity in some of Israel’s target markets. But the economy has bounced back in 2016 despite the soaring shekel.
Efrati shows that the BDS movement has also failed in academia, and that even in Europe, Israeli researchers managed a very respectable fifth place in 2015 in research grants received and first place in per capita grants from the European Research Council.
While the potential threat of the movement should not be underestimated, the question arises of who benefits from hyping the threat of BDS? The opposition blows it out of proportion as a tool with which to criticize the government for its lack of success in overcoming the movement – Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid has positioned himself as a champion of the anti-BDS battle – while the Right employs the politics of fear to create a rally-round-the flag effect. Interestingly, the current bill was sponsored by Roy Folkman from the centrist Kulanu Party, along with Bayit Yehudi hard-liner Bezalel Smotrich.
BDS does have the potential to cause damage to Israel, but the way to prevent this from happening is not by high-profile unnecessary laws that only draw negative attention to Israel and provide the movement with the kind of publicity it so desperately seeks.