With the constant talk in the media and amongst ourselves of the perils of boycotts, BDS, delegitimization, and generally defamation of Israel, it is instructive to take note of what has been happening recently. The news is definitely not all bad though of course it is certainly not all rosy and there is plenty of room for improvement.
Following is a selection of news items illustrating both the ups and the downs.
Czech lawmakers reject labelling of settlement goods:
JNS.org – The Czech Parliament passed a resolution urging the government to reject the European Union’s decision to label Israeli products originating in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.
According to Czech media reports, the resolution against the EU measure passed by an overwhelming majority.
Hungary does not endorse labeling of products from Judea, Samaria, Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights throughout the EU, Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó declared Monday.
“We do not support the decision to make a special mark on products coming from the West Bank [Judea-Samaria – ed.] or the Golan Heights,” Szijjártó stated, during a meeting with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. “This step is inefficient and illogical. It would only hurt attempts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
French PM Manuel Valls condemned BDS. Unfortunately that has not stopped France from labelling settlement goods.
The French government firmly condemns boycotts of Israel, Prime Minister Manuel Valls said, warning against the phenomenon of organizations criticizing Israeli policies turning to anti-Semitic activities.
Valls made his statement on Wednesday in response to a question from French MP Meyer Habib, who pointed out the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel is active in France despite laws against boycotts, and called for better enforcement.
“Mr. Prime Minister, when there is discrimination, anti-Semitism and racism, there are no innocent actions. These actions undermine the republic, especially when they are unpunished.
The boycott creates an atmosphere of hatred in France. Have we forgotten that in January, a terrorist specifically chose the kosher store Hyper Casher as a target?” Habib asked.
In response, Valls said Habib is right: “Let me say this as clearly as possible: We condemn any campaign of boycotts against Israeli products.”
As for academic boycotts, Legal Insurrection lists the universities who have rejected a boycott of Israel – 250 so far:
The universities and colleges below are confirmed to reject the academic boycott of Israel passed by the American Studies Association.
This list is based on positions expressed by the Presidents of such Universities or others in a position to state a university’s position (e.g., communications staff). We are aware of no university in the U.S. endorsing the boycott. See University statements rejecting academic boycott of Israel. (Note added: For University Systems, we only list individual schools separately if there is a separate statement or some other individual agreement to the system statement, so this list significantly understates the number of universities rejecting the boycott.)
This is a list in progress and will be updated as more announcements/confirmations are made. If you have additions, please post in comments with source link or forward confirming emails to me.
In Britain though the picture is more complicated. David Collier has written a brilliant expose on “The academic train-wreck at the University of Bath“, from which can be extrapolated much more about the attempted academic isolation of Israel on UK campuses:
It is time to admit that there is something very rotten in our universities. The growth of intolerant, self-righteous, elitist movements that are willing to have their vision imposed and all dissent silenced through the existence of ‘on campus bullying’. For someone who is not ‘of the same mind’ as the ruling class on campus, a university becomes a difficult, if not scary place to be. In effect some universities have simply become places of extremism, intimidation and indoctrination. True ‘free thought’ is no longer welcome or acceptable.
Nothing highlights this better than the rise of anti-Zionism on campus and the forced silencing of the pro-Zionist voice. In this ‘new world’, academic rules, academic ethics, become an obstacle to be overcome, a problem that gets in the way of the activist’s goal of being able to show just how right they are. Academic freedom to these activists is a one-way street, like the fascist who wishes to speak freely but denies that same freedom to others. The heckler’s veto is not an exercise in freedom of speech because its intent is not to have the hecklers’ voice heard, but rather to stop someone else being able to have a voice, just like the BDS strategy against Zionism. This is the world of self appointed, self-righteous, absolutism.
Just go and read it all. It’s too good to pick out small excerpts.
Meanwhile BDS makes its stealthy advance even within Israel: a wine guide omits all the wineries from Judea, Samaria and the Golan despite the fact that some of these wines are international prize-winners. (h/t Mum).
A new guide to Israeli wines is facing criticism over its exclusion of wineries in West Bank settlements, including anger from public officials and local vintners.
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely on Tuesday compared the absence of West Bank wineries from “The New Israeli Wine Guide” to a recent European Union decision to label products manufactured in Jewish settlements.
“As the State of Israel fights against boycotts of European officials, home-grown boycotters of Israeli products delegitimize the State of Israel,” Channel 2 news quoted Hotovely as saying in response to a report on the book. “Those who take such actions act as agents of the Palestinian propaganda against Israel and we must condemn and remove these elements from our midst.”
The guide was written by Israel Hayom wine reporter Yair Gat and Gal Zohar, a former wine curator in London who is employed as a consultant by a number of Tel Aviv restaurants. First released in 2014 and offered online for free in both English and Hebrew, the 2015 edition includes over 90 wines from 40 different wineries. Neither edition featured wines from the West Bank. Wines produced in the Golan Heights — which the international community generally considers occupied territory, but to which Israel extended its law in 1981 — are included, however.
The introduction to the book says that the wines were chosen solely based on professional criteria.
“Tastings were conducted blind in the strictest and most professional conditions possible and the results are recorded with no embellishment or political tinkering,” reads the introduction to the 2014 edition.
Speaking to Channel 2, Gat admitted he and Zohar had made a decision not to include West Bank wineries, but said he didn’t want to get into a political discussion and refused to comment further.
So… on the one hand the choices were made purely on the basis of taste, but on the other hand they decided not to include West Bank wineries. Which hand is telling the truth? especially when, as noted above, you consider the number of international prizes won by these wineries. I am particularly surprised and disappointed since one of the writers is from Israel Hayom, a very right-wing outlet.
On the cultural front it seems that Israel is being inundated with performers: Suzanne Vega, Jerry Seinfeld and many many others have not only performed fantastically to huge sold-out crowds all over Israel, but have courageously contended with the BDS bullies to put them in their place and reject their message completely.
On the diplomatic front, we have seen wins and losses too. First, the bad news:
In the UK, an Israeli army officer was detained for a short time at the behest of anti-Israel groups. The UK has since apologized but an international law expert accuses the UK of obeying the demands of anti-Israel activists:
Authorities in the United Kingdom appear to be dancing to the tune of local anti-Israel activists, international law expert Avi Bell told The Algemeiner on Monday.
His comments came days after Israeli media reported that British authorities apologized to the Israeli government for “mistakenly” detaining an IDF reserve officer a few weeks ago.
The officer, who had participated in Operation Protective Edge in Gaza in the summer of 2014, was detained for several hours of questioning as a “war criminal” when he landed in the UK for a recent business trip. After intervention on the part of the Israeli Foreign Ministry and the IDF’s operations directorate and international law division, the man was released.
The incident was the result of complaints filed by anti-Israel organizations in Europe, who are conducting a campaign to punish Israel for alleged war crimes committed against the Palestinians in Gaza. The name of the man in question, it is believed, got onto one of the “blacklists” of these organizations, and when it was established that it was a case of mistaken identity, he was let go.
Closer to home though, military relations with our former enemies are changing: Jordanian Air Force pilots have made a “working visit” to Israel:
Jordanian media reports that pilots from the Royal Jordanian Air Force conducted a “working visit” to Israel recently.
One pilot, Majdi Asmadi, refused to join the delegation and was subsequently ejected from the air force, according to the reports, which were cited on Wednesday by the Israeli daily Haaretz.
[…]Jordanian fighter pilots trained closely with their Israeli counterparts at a US-hosted air force exercise this summer, an American official said last month in a rare acknowledgment of intimate military cooperation between the Jewish state and its Arab neighbor to the east.
And finally, in another of those typical Middle Eastern turnabouts, it looks like relations between Israel and Turkey are warming up and might even be restored:
After five years of diplomatic clashes and open hostility, Israel and Turkey have reached an understanding that could lead to the restoration of ties between the two former allies, an Israeli official said Thursday.
The understanding was reportedly reached during a meeting in Zurich on Wednesday between Israel’s newly appointed Mossad chief, Yossi Cohen, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s longtime special envoy to Turkey Yossi Ciechanover, and Turkish Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioglu.
Relations between the two countries broke down after the incident, in which eight Turkish citizens and one Turkish-American were killed when Israeli naval commandos boarded the Mavi Marmara vessel to enforce the naval blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip. A 10th Turkish citizen died later of his injuries. In the aftermath of the raid, Turkey became one of the strongest critics of Israeli actions in Gaza.
Israel apologized to Turkey for the deaths and agreed to compensate the victims’ families under a U.S.-brokered arrangement in 2013. But efforts to restore ties faltered amid new Israeli action in Gaza.
But now, with recent tensions between Turkey and Russia mounting, Israeli officials say that Ankara has expressed new interest in importing natural gas from Israel, as it currently relies heavily on Russian gas.
Shoshana Bryen at the Gatestone Institute regarded Turkey’s move with a cynical eye, saying “when all else fails, Erdogan calls Israel”:
The announcement of the restoration of Israel-Turkish relations should be seen in the context of Turkey having nowhere else to go.
Turkey’s relations with Israel have been strained, to put it mildly, since 2010 when, through a non-profit organization, Turkey funded the 2010 Gaza Flotilla aimed at breaking the Israeli-Egyptian blockade of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
After a bloody confrontation, which ended in the deaths of nine Turks, Turkey demanded that Israel be tried in the International Criminal Court (ICC) and subjected to UN sanction. The ICC ruled that Israel’s actions did not constitute war crimes. In addition, the UN’s Palmer Commission concluded that the blockade of Gaza was legal, and that the IDF commandos who boarded the Mavi Marmara ship had faced “organized and violent resistance from a group of passengers,” and were therefore required to use force for their own protection. The commission, however, did label the commandos’ force “excessive and unreasonable.”
Turkey’s foreign policy choices and current crises have combined to make Erdogan reach out to Israel for help. Erdogan came to office as Prime Minister in 2003 with a policy of “zero problems with neighbors,” but has since led Turkey to problems with most, if not all, of them. Alon Liel, former Director General of the Israeli Foreign Ministry said, “Turkey didn’t do very well in the last five years in the region. Turkey needs friends.”
That is an understatement.
Turkey helped Iran evade international sanctions, but has since fallen out with the Islamic Republic of Iran over its support of Syria’s Bashar Assad. A Muslim Brotherhood supporter, Erdogan was close to Egypt’s former President, Muslim Brotherhood member Mohamed Morsi, and has been an outspoken adversary of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Turkey was and remains a conduit for arms and money for various parties to the Syrian civil war. The U.S. has demanded that Erdogan seal Turkey’s border with Syria, which he has not done. Turkey also has bombed Kurdish fighters; deployed its forces to Iraqi territory and declined to remove them; and sold ISIS oil on the black market. There are allegations that the Turkish government knew sarin gas was transferred to ISIS across Turkish territory. In November, Turkey shot down a Russian military jet, in the biggest move down the current slide of Turkish-Russian relations, which began when Vladimir Putin stepped in to prevent the collapse of Syria. [This is on top of historical animosity between Turkey, the successor to Muslim Ottoman rule, and Russia, the self-proclaimed defender of the Christian Orthodox Church.]
Russia, furious at the downing of its plane, instituted a series of economic sanctions against Turkey, the most important of which is suspension of the TurkStream project, designed to boost Russian gas exports to Turkey. Turkey is the second-largest importer of Russian gas, after Germany.
It’s not as if Turkish-Israel relations were ever entirely severed. Since the flotilla confrontation, Turkey-Israel trade doubled in the past five years, to $5.6 billion. While arms deals signed prior to 2010 have been put on hold, trade in civilian chemicals, agricultural products, and manufactured goods has increased. And, in one of those “only in the Middle East” stories, Turkish businesses have been shipping goods to Israel by sea, then trucking them across the country to Jordan and beyond, in order to avoid having to ship overland through Syria.
The basis for increased trade, including gas sales, is there, and Israel has weighed the price and found it acceptable. Israel will pay Turkey $20 million; Turkey will expel the Hamas leadership from Istanbul and will purchase Israeli gas.
What can we learn from all the above stories?
Israel is nowhere near as isolated or boycotted as the doom-sayers would have us believe. On the other hand we cannot rest on our laurels, and the fight against BDS, discrimination and political and diplomatic isolation needs to be carried on without faltering and with the continued support of our friends overseas.