BDS Suffers an Important Defeat in Europe
In recent days, positive developments have occurred which prove — once again — that far from being the isolated nation that Israel’s detractors seek to portray, Israel thrives and enjoys good diplomatic relations, even with those who seek to stake the odds against it.
“Israel and the European Union have agreed to put relations between us back on track,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a briefing of ministers on Sunday. “In the conversation I had over the weekend with EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, I heard from her that the EU is opposed to any boycott of Israel, and about their action regarding product labeling, she defined it as nonbinding and said that it does not reflect their position regarding the final borders of the State of Israel, which can be determined — this is what she said — only in direct negotiations between the sides.”
This is something of a diplomatic victory, since the EU originally stated that these guidelines had to be followed by all EU member states. And although this development does not in any way signify that the issue of EU labeling is history — far from it — it means that it is now up to each EU country to determine whether they wish to label Israeli goods from Judea and Samaria or not.
“Of course, this is not to say that there will not be friction,” Netanyahu said. “There are things that we do not agree on. Neither is this to say that there will not be friction with specific countries within the EU, just as there are countries, more than a few, that also support our position. But the fact that the EU high representative for foreign affairs and security policy has come out strongly against BDS and against economic sanctions against Israel, is, of course, a step in the right direction.”
In other developments, new British government directives are aiming to prevent public bodies, universities and student unions from boycotting Israeli products. As reported by Israel Hayom on Monday, the new bill seeks to prevent any public body from imposing a boycott on a World Trade Organization member, which Israel has been since 1995. The regulation will essentially outlaw boycotting Israeli products — a threat often made against goods produced in Judea and Samaria — and allow the British government to take legal action against organizations that impose such boycotts. Under the plan, all publicly funded institutions would be barred from excluding goods produced by their idea of “unethical companies,” such as companies involved in arms trading, fossil fuels, tobacco products, or companies based in Judea and Samaria.
This is a very interesting development, because the UK already labels products from Judea and Samaria. In 2009, the British Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs issued a new, voluntary guidance, which said that labels should give “more precise information” about the origin of Israeli goods, like “Israeli settlement produce” or “Palestinian produce.” Until then, food from Judea and Samaria had been simply labeled “Produce of the West Bank.” At the time, the British Foreign Office denied this was a boycott, stating that “this is emphatically not about calling for a boycott of Israel. We believe that would do nothing to advance the peace process. We oppose any such boycott of Israel. We believe consumers should be able to choose for themselves what produce they buy.”
Well, with the new bill, British policy seems to have become less categorical, perhaps through the realization that Britain needs Israel (trade between the two countries reached nearly $7 billion in 2014) and perhaps also throught the very late realization that British policies — or lack thereof — have stoked anti-Semitism in Britain, which has become a European center for the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. British universities are hotbeds of anti-Semitism and recently The Algemeiner reported that the co-chairman of the Oxford University Labour Club, Alex Chalmers, had announced he was resigning over both rampant anti-Semitism and the group’s endorsement of Israel Apartheid Week on campus.
“Whether it be members of the Executive throwing around the term ‘Zio’ (a term for Jews usually confined to websites run by the Ku Klux Klan) with casual abandon, senior members of the club expressing their ‘solidarity’ with Hamas and explicitly defending their tactics of indiscriminately murdering civilians, or a former co-chair claiming that ‘most accusations of anti-Semitism are just the Zionists crying wolf,’ a large proportion of both OULC and the student Left in Oxford more generally have some kind of problem with Jews,” he wrote. The 12th annual Israel Apartheid Week is scheduled to kick off across UK campuses on Feb. 22.
The bill is a very welcome, albeit belated, initiative, which one might hope will be copied by other European nations, which are realizing that boycotting Israel is wrong — and bad for business.
Judith Bergman is a writer and political analyst living in Israel. This article was originally published by Israel Hayom.