The unexpected response to BDS

Organic success is always better than public relations.

ANTI-ISRAEL PROTESTERS with a ‘boycott Israel’ sign. (photo credit: REUTERS)
ANTI-ISRAEL PROTESTERS with a ‘boycott Israel’ sign.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In recent years, the government’s investment into efforts to minimize delegitimization campaigns against Israel has been on the rise. Thus, the BDS movement and similar organizations exercise a minor effect on the Israeli economy, which is in very good shape compared to the rest of the world thanks to increased investments and exports.
However, the government is currently witnessing that BDS is becoming more successful in other areas, especially in culture, academia and among professional unions.
This is obviously a source of concern.
It is true that a boycott by the Anthropological Society or the cancellation of the performance in Israel by an artist has no dramatic impact on the lives of most Israeli citizens. However, the general trend is serious. We live in a global era in which international networks set the pace of the economy. If Israel “disappears from the map” from time to time, the boycott will turn from an idea to a reality, and will filter into areas that heretofore have appeared to be immune.
In the struggle against the boycotts, which is first and foremost an effort to gain awareness, one of the most important tools at the disposal of the State of Israel is its support for international events in Israel.
Every day, thousands of small and large professional conferences and events are held around the world. In fields like technology or medicine, they are the highlight of the sector. It is in these events that professionals are exposed to critical developments, where headhunters go to acquire new talent, and where the biggest deals are negotiated and closed. Reports from these conferences appear in the economic and professional press, and visitors from around the world bend over backwards to try and secure participation.
Hosting professional conferences is perhaps the best answer to delegitimization because it can bring thousands of thought leaders from many fields, who then return to their countries with a stronger resistance to boycotting Israel. Such publicity can reach virtually every corner of the globe without any additional investment on our part, and will likely result in a series of initiatives and events that further reinforce Israel’s international standing.
With the aid of our embassies and economic attaches around the globe, direct contact with foreign representatives in Israel, and collaborations with the private and institutional sectors, Israel can host top worldwide experts in fields like medicine, law, meteorology or clean tech.
Each conference can provide an effective response to the academic boycott, while significantly encouraging the local relevant sectors. Also, needless to say, such events will boost the economy substantially, increasing the income of hotels, restaurants, security personnel, taxi drivers and many more.
Israel offers several marked advantages in the organization of international conferences, including professional human capital, an attractive destination, a high service level, and an exposure to hi-tech and innovation.
Among the disadvantages are the high cost of getting to Israel and the cost of accommodation. Likewise, because conferences are scheduled years or months in advance, the potential for a breakout of violence can deter organizers of large events. A petition against Israel could be the deciding factor against us. On the other hand, ensuring government aid to produce an event and to fund its publicity and security in case of political deterioration, can be a crucial argument in our favor.
At a deeper level, organic success is always better than public relations. It is difficult and expensive to convince people of political arguments, and sometimes even the best article or video can generate resistance. Instead, it is the informal encounter and contact with Israelis or a visit to Israel that can help combat myths, prejudices and biases.
The boycott movement is effective where Israel is not present and fails in areas in which we are key players. Success can be achieved not only by fighting boycott movements themselves but, first and foremost, by presenting Israel as a focus of thought leadership and innovation in many fields. If we manage to do that, delegitimization will perish on its own.
The author is the CEO of Tel Aviv Convention Center.