MUCH heat and not a little entertainment have been generated in the letter columns of this newspaper in relation to Israel’s treatment of Palestine and its people. On the one hand, an amazingly energetic ring of Israel lovers defends to the hilt that country’s record of conquest and colonisation and, on the other, a hardy band of concerned citizens tries to draw attention to the suffering of Palestinians.
But the interminable debate takes its toll on the reader. It deadens moral sensibilities and inevitably leads to the yawn-yawn response of ‘we’ve heard it before, Joe; give us a break.’
The backlash is understandable, but doesn’t take into consideration an intriguing development sure to grab the attention of even the most browned-off Middle East watcher over the next few weeks. It’s this: for the Israelis the chickens are coming home to roost!
Thanks to the boycott of Israeli products and a boycott of companies that profit from the abuse of Palestinian rights, direct foreign investment is on a downward slope. In other words, Israel is being hit where it hurts most – in its pocket.
The country is under attack from a particularly powerful social weapon, which was invented by Parnell and successfully put into practice in Balinrobe in 1880 to force a money-grabbing landlord, Captain Boycott, to change his tune in the way he dealt with his tenants.
The Irish are past masters of the tactic that now is being applied to Israel on a global scale in the form of the BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions). This organisation began in 2005 in the wake of a jump in illegal settlements and the exploitation of Palestinian natural resources for Israel’s benefit.
Boycotting, in conjunction with Divestment (the policy of encouraging corporations, banks and investment firms to dispose of companies that connive with Israel to deny Palestinian rights) has done much to raise public awareness of Israeli policies that fly in the face of human rights and international law.
According to a 2015 World Investment Report issued by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and extensively treated in a recent Newsweek report, only €5.7bn was invested in the country in 2014 compared with €10.5bn in 2013, a decrease of €4.8bn, or 46%.
One of the authors of the report, Dr Ronny Manos from the Open University of Israel, candidly admitted that declining investment can be attributed to the Israeli assault on Gaza and, significantly, to worldwide boycotts against Israel for ‘alleged violations of international law’.
As well, investment firms are advising European banks not to loan money to Israeli companies that have economic links with the occupied territories and with illegal settlements.
The liberal Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, was explicit. It revealed that investment committees ‘now submit a report to their clients with recommendations about where to invest and where not to invest.’ Companies that have manufacturing or infrastructural interests in the West Bank, or who give cheap mortgages to thousands of ‘settlers,’ are being told that their actions could have uncertain consequences.
They’re not saying join the boycott movement, but are issuing pragmatic warnings that a business could find itself legally held responsible for crimes against international law. Already files have been submitted to prosecutors of the International Criminal Court at The Hague, charging Israel with war crimes, apartheid and land grabbing.
The change in business attitudes towards Israel has been hastened by dismay at the electoral success of Netanyahu’s political outfit, his extremism and his crypto-fascist supporters. The country no longer has the same drawing power as a location for investment.
For example, the Irish government did not award the lucrative JobPath state contract to the security giant G4S, even though G4S employs over 3,000 people in Ireland. BDS campaigners successfully convinced Kenny that to award the contract to a company allegedly complicit in the torture of prisoners would be incongruent with the position Ireland has taken in relation to human rights in Palestine.
Universities, banks, charities and public bodies around the world also have withdrawn contracts with G4S.
Veolia, the company that operates LUAS (Dublin’s light rail tram system), had a major involvement in an Israeli transport project on the West Bank. BDS targeted the company and won the support of local government councils in Cork, Sligo, Galway, Dublin, Donegal and Castlebar, which passed resolutions not to renew contracts with the Veolia-Luas Company. They also excluded the possibility of any new contracts with Veolia.
Elsewhere, in at least 25 cities (including London, Stockholm and Boston), official policy barred Veolia from securing public contracts. Various pension and investment fund companies also divested from Veolia. The company has since sold almost all its Israeli business in water, waste and energy projects and acknowledged that its role in illegal Israeli settlements cost the firm billions of dollars.
Last month, the French telecoms giant, ORANGE, in response to a report by the Catholic Committee against Hunger and for Development that accused ORANGE of building more than 100 telecommunication installations on seized Palestinian land, said it intended to terminate its relationship with the Israeli company that licenses its brand in Israel.
This was too much for Israel’s far right Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu. Unable to control his rage, he demanded that the French government ‘distance itself publicly from the miserable (ORANGE) statement and the miserable action of a company that is partially owned by the government of France.’ He got nowhere.
Ahava, a leading European cosmetics company, recently decided to relocate its factories and offices well away from the illegal settlement of Mitzpe Shalem in the occupied West Bank where it was based. It also closed two of its seven branches in Israel after an international boycott of its products in the UK, Spain, US and several other EU countries.
The serious impact of the BDS boycott and the floundering of Zionist hawks on how to deal with it – traditionally it has been much easier to bomb your opponents than talk to them – was noticeable in the comments of a rattled Israeli Justice Minister, Ayelet Shaked. The best she could do was to shriek something about the need to introduce ‘countermeasures to stop this movement (BDS) and not leave liars and inciters go free.’
In the meantime, following a BDS request for an outright EU ban on trade with companies that operate in illegal settlements, the EU agreed to a measure that requires products to display the information ‘Made in a West Bank Settlement’. Israeli extremists blew their top and compared labelling to forcing Jews to wear yellow stars in Nazi Europe.
To judge by the successful way things are going for the BDS movement, Israel has run up against an effective, non-violent opponent and it doesn’t quite know how to deal with it!