The recent decisions by the governments of South Africa and Denmark to identify the origins of products made in West Bank settlements on their labels did not surprise the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem.
Diplomats monitoring the efforts of pro-Palestinian organisations to promote boycotts of Israel have been expecting them to focus on settlement products for some time.
In a way, explains one diplomat, the fact that the BDS (boycott, sanction, divestment) movement has merely succeeded in pushing through boycotts of West Bank goods is a measure of the Israeli government’s success in fending off more sweeping boycott attempts.
“While the BDS activists may say that they are not anti-Israel, just anti-occupation, we know their true intentions,” said one Israeli official. “But they know that there are well-meaning people out there, unhappy with Israel’s policies in the West Bank, and they can sell them on a limited boycott.”
In recent months, there have been ongoing discussions within the Israeli government and Zionist organisations regarding the correct response to the BDS campaigns. “We realised,” said one expert who participated in these meetings, “that the actual circle of activists was rather small and their effect generally was limited only to a few committed supporters. Perhaps the Israeli response should be more low-key, rather than drawing attention to them — which is what they want.”
Diplomats and members of Jewish organisations fighting delegitimisation of Israel believe that the bottom-line is that they have succeeded in seeing off at least 90 per cent of the boycott attempts around the world.
But while the diplomats believe that Israel is winning most of the battles, the decisions to label settlement produce — such as the decision last month by the UK Co-op to cancel contracts with agricultural export companies that also sold settlement goods — is seen as “a slippery slope” which could lead to boycotts of Israelis and Israeli companies in general.
That is why Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor went as far to denounce the South African decision as “a racist measure”.
“The problem is that many people around the world simply lack the knowledge about what is happening in the region,” says an Israeli diplomat. “And even though they have legitimate criticisms, their ignorance is easily exploited by those who want to isolate Israel.”