April 20, 2018

Is BDS a Threat to Israel?

David Wingens ‘19

In the Jewish and Zionist worlds, the BDS, or “Boycott, Divest and Sanction” movement against Israel, often makes headlines. For instance, this past February, they were nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize by a Norwegian politician.
BDS supporters have many different political views. Some disagree with certain aspects of Israeli policy, such as the settlements in the West Bank and others simply believe there is no room for a Jewish state in the Middle East. Regardless of their end goal, BDS supporters posit that their boycotting of Israeli goods can put enough economic pressure on Israel that its government would have no choice but to listen to BDS activists.
Israeli parliament has passed numerous laws against groups like BDS, most notably the 2011 “Law for Prevention of Damage to State of Israel through Boycott.” Such laws have been met with skepticism from those saying they are undemocratic. Additionally, these laws may be giving undue attention to BDS because the threat it poses to the state of Israel seems trivial.
From the moment of its inception, Israel has had to cope with boycotts. These came mainly from the large and established Arab countries surrounding it on every side and they caused major economic problems early on. Israel, however, soon learned how to cope with and outsmart the sanctions.
According to the Brookings Institute, about 50 percent of Israeli exports are differentiated goods as opposed to homogenous goods. Differentiated goods are those which are more complex to make because they are unique and are therefore face less competition. The percent of differentiated goods out of total Israeli exports has been consistently increasing since at least 1975.
These highly differentiated goods are nearly impossible to boycott as they often come in the form of technological goods, such as computer chips, which are used in many everyday electronics and computers.
Israeli products also tend to be of a high quality, according to the Brookings Institute, which is just another reason why boycotts are not entirely feasible or effective.
While BDS may not have much of an economic impact, it certainly has an outsized political impact, as indicated by the numerous laws passed to mitigate the effects of BDS groups. Perhaps these laws and constant focus on BDS is not the best way to counter their efforts as it only validates their cause.
While it is very important to have conversations with those who disagree with you, bringing the BDS efforts to an international stage has done nothing to mitigate their efforts.

It seems that the more prudent way of dealing with BDS would be to engage them in conversation and let the free market sort itself out in terms of dealing with relatively small boycotts.

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