Turning the tide in Gaza

Israel may have demonstrated overwhelming military power against the population of Gaza over the last month, but it faces an increasingly tough battle against the rapidly growing boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign. Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the Palestine-based BDS movement, explains how the tide of global opinion is changing

"Let’s not kid ourselves — the world listens to us less and less”. With these words, expressed during a speech in Tel Aviv in January this year, Israel’s finance minister Yair Lapid acknowledged one of the biggest economic fears facing the Jewish state right now. Lapid was referring to the global boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, which has already convinced some of the world’s biggest corporates to cut their ties with Israeli businesses in occupied Palestinian territory.

The campaign to boycott Israeli products or companies that have close ties with the country is hardly new. Back in 1968, after Coca-Cola succumbed to pressure to open a bottling plant in Tel Aviv, the drinks giant was hit with boycott by the Arab League that lasted 23 years. But in recent years, and especially since a formal launch of the BDS movement - a civil society movement as opposed to the government-led Arab League boycotts - in 2005, it has gathered steam. In his speech, Lapid said that even a partial boycott by the European Union (EU) would see 10,000 Israelis losing their jobs immediately, while trade with the bloc would fall by $5.7bn — a not insignificant chunk of an economy that is projected by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to be worth $306bn in 2014.

“We suspect these figures were quite optimistic; the reality is probably far worse,” says Omar Barghouti, a Palestinian human rights activist and co-founder of the BDS movement based in Palestine. “No-one has exact figures, and Israel does not give us the pleasure of quantifying the impact of BDS on its economy.”

Barghouti points to data from Israeli officials that suggests exports from settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories (OPT) have dropped by 35 percent in the first four months of 2014. In a speech during March before the largest pro-Israel lobbying group in the US, AIPAC, prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu referred to the BDS movement 18 times, and described it as “anti-Semitic”. It’s another clear sign that angst over the movement has now reached the very highest levels of power in Tel Aviv.

But it has been Israel’s month-long campaign in Gaza, which has resulted in 1,834 Palestinian deaths (most of them civilian), which might well give the campaign an even bigger boost.

“It is way too early to tell, but several indicators point to a potentially qualitative leap for the BDS movement’s growth and impact as a result of Israel’s massacre in Gaza,” he says.

Over the course of the last month or so, five Latin American nations have recalled their ambassadors from Tel Aviv, while policymakers in Chile and South Africa have voted to do the same. The Maldivian government has cancelled three bilateral agreements with Israel. And earlier this year, Soros Fund Management, the investment vehicle owned by billionaire George Soros, said it had divested its $24m stake in Sodastream — a company that operates a plant in the West Bank — in a move first reported by the National newspaper in Abu Dhabi. That follows decisions made by a series of mainly European corporates to cut ties with Israeli banks and utilities.

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