The truth about the boycott

BDS has no impact on trade, but the move to expel Israel from Fifa and Orange’s ‘pullout’ triggered deep concern in Jerusalem

By Tim Marshall, June 11, 2015

The economic victories of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement over the past decade cannot even be counted on the fingers of one hand. There have not been any.

UK-Israel trade is at a record high,Turkey-Israel trade is booming, as is that between Israel and India. The Israelis are almost having to beat the Chinese off with a stick such is Beijing's keenness to become more involved in one of the world's key tech nations.

No foreign investment has left Israel; no corporation has severed ties. The centres of learning around the world have not cut links, nor divested themselves of shares in Israeli companies.

Furthermore, unless you are part of the 0.1 per cent of the world which is Jewish, Israeli or a BDS member, you may never have heard of BDS. So, what's the big deal? The answer is not immediately clear - but what is certain is that the Orange "pullout" and the NUS decision to support BDS, dominated news in Israel last week. At this week's Herzliya Security Conference, it was the focus of much debate.

The reason is that, here, most people understand clearly what many well meaning, if naive, BDS supporters in the UK do not: that BDS is not about economics, or the economic wellbeing of Palestinians. It is about the destruction of Israel. Sir Jonathan Sacks made the point well in Herzliya, saying that BDS was about "trying to make Israel friendless, so it will be defenceless".

You have to look at BDS as both a failure and a success

The movement is led by people who understand that failing to achieve a boycott is not failure. The intention is to chip away at the legitimacy of Israel. They want the coming generations of opinion-formers and politicians to have been thoroughly indoctrinated by their dissembling arguments.

Occasionally, the mask slips. Omar Barghouti, a leading Palestinian BDS figure, is on record saying: "If the occupation ends, would that end our call for BDS? No it wouldn't."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted to the pin prick of the NUS decision last week. That was a mistake and will have had the students involved high fiving each other.

But the former director general of Strategic Affairs, Brig Gen (Rtd) Yossi Kuperwasser, told me: "He did it to turn it into a major event in the press in Israel... but that hysteria is a reflection of a wider agenda to portray Israelis as a people unworthy of normal social discourse and trade."

MK Ofer Shelachi, hardly a friend of the settlers, said: "BDS is not just about occupation, it's also about antisemitism."

Whether or not you agree with that, it is necessary to look at the BDS in two ways. It is a failure insofar as the Israeli economy has doubled in size in the period BDS has been in operation, but it is a success when you see the effect of the campaign on thousands of university students, many who will go on to become opinion formers. It is a decades-long strategy.

Tim Marshall is former Diplomatic Editor at Sky News and now runs website

Last updated: 10:56am, June 11 2015