|Anatomy of a Boycott -- Part Two|
Bubbling Under: From Economics to International Cooperation
by Sara Bedein
Beyond the Academic and Exchange Boycotts
The resonance of the academic boycott trend should be taken very seriously,
In effect, this is a new era in the boycott "saga". There are multiple and varied commercial and non-governmental initiatives to institute what could amount to major sanctions, with the purpose being the political and economic isolation of Israel. Sources in the Israeli government have glossed over this to a great extent, because "the boycotts of Israel emanate from the private sphere, not from other governments". With minimal current perspective, however, it would seem that the effects could be far-reaching, simply because influential forces in the private or public sphere and via the media can and do influence government policy in democratically elected regimes.
Nothing New to Israel: Background to Boycotting
The idea of a general boycott of Israel or Israeli products has its roots in the Arab League boycott of Israel that was initiated in 1948, the year after the former British Mandate of Palestine was partitioned by the UN into what were to be an Israeli and a Palestinian state (November 29th, 1947). It was one of their responses to the existence of a Jewish state and reinforced their long-standing rejection of the two-state solution - the other response had been to invade the new state of Israel immediately, in order to crush it, which fortunately failed.
The Arab League boycott office was officially established in 1951 to track down foreigners who do business with or support Israel, and then ban them from operating in the Arab world.
The Arab boycott operates at three levels: primary, secondary and tertiary.
However, the boycott, which once listed more than 8,500 companies and people from Coca-Cola to the Ford Motor Company, became largely inactive after the 1993 Oslo Accords and the 1994 Peace Treaty between Israel and Jordan.
The secondary boycott has been expanded in recent years and the current situation has accentuated it.
UK - Secondary Boycott and Boycott Agent
As long ago as January, 2000, the Islamic Human Rights Commission and Action Alert organized an international boycott of Marks and Spencer, the famous British chain stores. Noteworthy in this respect is the fact that, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), Marks and Spencer bought about $325 million worth of merchandise from Israel during the year 1999, but that figure also included products produced in Jordan and exported via Israel, according to a spokesperson for the superstore chain.
Various British interests have now initiated their own gestures and processes to compound sanctions against Israel:
Europe - Commercial Boycott
Chairman of the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce, Dan Gillerman, said importers and exporters are having particular problems selling Israeli-made goods in Europe. For example, with the threat of an arms embargo against Israel, Italy has stopped sending guns used with police robots to explode suspected bombs. Spain even stopped a shipment of fireworks that were to be used on Independence Day, on the grounds that they could be used for military purposes.
In late April 2002, when a French client cancelled sales from plastic films manufacturer Polyon Barkai Industries, Polyon's marketing manager Haim Levy wrote an open letter to the French media. According to the Jerusalem Post, 'Levy mobilized Kibbutz Barkai's 500 members to bombard French media channels with the letter...'
"When I see such bias in the French media, I understand why there is such discrimination against Israel, and why so many companies are pulling orders," Levy said. "Our company's European sales have declined 30 to 40% since September 11, while Asian sales have skyrocketed. Although both markets were equal then, the Asian market is now almost double the European."
Inon Elroy, commercial attache at the Israeli Embassy in France, agreed.
Elroy admits there has been a significant decrease in economic activities between the two countries. Over the last few years, trade between France and Israel had increased to more than $2 billion. However, the balance of trade was heavily skewed in France's favor, with only about 36% of products coming from Israeli producers, and the percentage declining each year. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics' foreign trade report published this week, exports to the EU, the country's leading trading partner, fell 7.2% from the beginning of the year, to $1.9b. for the first four months. Exports to France were $213.6m. during the period, while imports were $376.9m. Declines from the same period last year were 17% and 13%, respectively.
By early May 2002, there was also a massive academic and scientific Internet boycott initiative operating in France against Israel.
Germany - Embargo
It leaves a bitter aftertaste in the mouth to realize that the German government joined in the latest boycott / embargo against Israel.
In addition to other issues affecting the Israel-EU relationship, the EU does not grant customs tax exemptions to companies whose products are made in Judea, Samaria, Gaza, Jerusalem and the Golan. The most meticulous and publicized implementation of this rule has been in Italy.
Scandinavia - Major Market
The Israeli Manufacturers' Association has received numerous complaints from exporters who are having trouble selling Israeli goods in Scandinavia. All of them reported they had received letters from their buyers saying they are having an increasingly difficult time marketing Israeli goods, due to anti-Israel public sentiment. Exporters fear the Scandinavian market may dry up completely for Israel, which has been a major supplier of agricultural produce in these northerly countries.
Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh announced in mid-April 2002 that she would boycott Israeli products available in the Swedish market, especially citrus fruits and avocadoes. Speaking to Swedish television on Friday, April 19, Lindh said,
Lindh is a member of the ruling Social Democratic Party and has been sympathetic to Arab issues along with other members of the Swedish government, such as former Foreign Minister Stein Anderson, also a personal friend of Arafat. Lindh had previously asked the European Union to suspend its relations with Israel as a way of "denouncing the occupation forces' practices against the Palestinian civilian population".
In contrast, while visiting Stockholm on Friday May 24th, Nabil Shaath, Palestinian Minister for International Cooperation, met with Swedish Prime Minister Goeran Persson who promised to donate 350 Swedish Corona (nearly
Norway is a country with a tiny Jewish community, primarily in Oslo, which is also the home of the Nobel Prize Committee and the Oslo Accords. Norway has been a prime sponsor and European donor to the Palestinian Authority. While each of these appears to be a separate branch of Norway's face to the world, the country has been prominent in its non-official, non-endorsed boycott activity in Israel.
The harshest criticism is coming not from the Norwegian government, but from groups that in previous years had close very ties with Israel - academics, unions and the opposition Social-Democratic Party - and powerful economic interests, some of whom are involved in government.
The Norwegian academic community has been particularly active. Oslo University has publicly urged its faculty to protest against Israel, and senior lecturers have gone even further, calling for a full-fledged boycott. The boycott call was issued through two open letters published in one of Norway's leading newspapers this month. For example, one of the letters was entitled "Professors are abetting war crimes" by Professor Edvard Vogt, a lecturer in law at Oslo University.
The 800,000 member Norwegian Confederation of Trade Union accused Israel of grossly violating international law & human rights in its military offensive against Palestinian areas (in April-May 2002). The union, also known as LO, urged the Norwegian government to demand international sanctions against Israel if it does not withdraw from occupied territories and follow United Nations resolutions. LO also urged members to boycott Israeli products, Israeli state & embassy functions and to avoid travel to Israel. Israeli products are especially labelled in cooperative supermarkets for this purpose.
At the same time, various commercial giants in Norway, whose owners are either powerful politicians or Trade Unionists, refused to trade with Israel: the boycott on Israeli potato imports and other products may not have official government sanction, but it is being actively pursued by major commercial interests, whose financial motives are not open to public scrutiny.
The Norwegian Embassy in Israel has been deluged with inquiries about Norway and the Middle East. The Norwegian ambassador to Israel went so far as to issue a memo of assurance to the Israeli public that "the boycott of Israeli goods is not a policy of the Government of Norway".
Prime Minister Bondevik also used his speech on the 17th of May, Norway's National Day commemorating the Constitution of 1814, to speak up against boycotts and sanctions against Israel, - for tactical reasons, saying that boycotts "will not bring us closer to negotiations and a solution bringing peace and security to the Middle East".
Similar commercial bans were placed on Israeli firms in Denmark, although with less political backing.
Points to Ponder
2. How does the tone of these boycotts strike you?
3. If both the EU Commission and the Norwegian Ambassador to Israel claim there is no boycott policy, or that they disapprove of boycotting, are they following through in their areas of responsibility? Can they?
4. Should Israel take reciprocal action at any level? Why/Not?
5. Do you agree or disagree with boycotting products from certain countries, or made by companies complying with the Arab, or private/commercial boycotts of Israel, or of Israeli products? [Would you not buy French perfume, Italian spaghetti, would you look for the specific companies?] Why/Not?
6. What seem to the most effective forms of action against the various types of boycotts?
With special thanks to Leah Katz, Oslo, for sending Norway Aftenposten newspaper articles and translating other email list articles.