Fighting BDS: Keep calm and get creative

The BDS Movement represents a significant challenge for Israel and should be handled with care. And proportionality.

Orange logo covered with Israeli flag (photo credit: PARTNER WORKERS UNION)
Orange logo covered with Israeli flag
"If I could, I would end the agreement between Orange and Partner tomorrow," said Orange Chief Executive, Stephane Richard, on Wednesday. And all hell broke loose. Soon after we were informed that not 24 hours later, Orange Group has issued a press release confirming this statement and ending the agreement with Partner. The BDS Movement has added a notch to its belt, it would seem.
But hold on a minute. We are responding very emotionally to what is ultimately a business decision. The choice by Orange's CEO was to prefer his 30 million Egyptian users over the agreement with Partner, and to tell them what they wanted to hear. He shouldn't have said what he said, because it allows the BDS Movement to take credit for the whole thing, but hey – let's calm down for a moment and look at the facts.
I was quite shocked when I heard about Orange's press release. So I went and read it. So should you. It explains that Orange has no real presence in Israel, the only country where it does not control its operations but just franchises its brand name, and expresses its desire to continue operating only where it can fully manage its operations. It ends with the words: "In this context, and while strictly adhering to existing agreements, the Group ultimately wishes to end this brand license agreement." Note the word "ULTIMATELY." That does not mean tomorrow morning. Ultimately means, in this case, when the contract term ends. That's in 10 years.
So let's regroup for a moment: how we respond to the boycott against Israel is entirely in our control. Unfortunately, our leadership is losing control completely. This is exactly the wrong thing to do. What is required now is to calm down, and get creative.
The BDS Movement has been in existence for 10 years, it is not new. It's only new to most Israelis, who ignored its impact – which has until the last year or two been pretty minimal – and just went about their business. Sure, they saw there was some stuff going on in Europe or on campuses in the US, but they moved on, because it didn't really impact their daily lives. Until FIFA. You can mess with my people, but don't mess with my soccer, said the average Israeli apparently.
Suddenly, Israel woke up and smelt the putrid coffee of the BDS Movement. The Jewish community has been dealing with this for years. If once we could have said its impact was marginal, now we can say its media impact is significant among those who are following the issue; and its economic impact is slowly getting stronger, but remains fairly minimal in the grand scheme of things. That is not to say that it should be ignored. The BDS Movement represents a significant challenge for Israel and should be handled with care. And proportionality. Here are some suggestions:
1. Learn from the experience of others – the Jewish diaspora have been dealing with the BDS Movement for several years. Here's an opportunity to reconnect those slowly unravelling ties with them and deal with this matter, together.
2. Think outside the box – take advice from experts in fields such as crowd sourcing, advertising, place branding and marketing, debating, community management and so forth. Because times, they are a changing, and what we knew once is obsolete. It's time for new thinking.
3. Consider completely different channels of operation, like not (just) facing the boycott directly, but also, focusing on marketing Israel's competitive advantages: the innovation, creativity, entrepreneurship and diversity that this place offers. The world's looking for this kind of thing, and Israel has it, in droves! This is a much more subtle, long lasting effort to build relationships, not win a debate. Israel needs long-term thinking, not crisis management alone.
4. But most of all – breathe. Calm down. Don't do exactly what the BDS Movement wants, which is to raise the entire world's awareness to it. It may make us feel better, giving us a chance to vent. But it certainly doesn't serve our interests.
Joanna Landau is the CEO of Vibe Israel and a specialist in city and country branding.