Editorial: The Isolation Myth
Apr 28, 2016 | Colin Rubenstein
Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaigners and their supporters like to claim that Israel is becoming increasingly isolated internationally. Israel’s supporters also sometimes express concern that the relentless campaign of misinformation and false blame may be having a detrimental effect on Israel’s international standing.
Yet, as is so often the case with Israel, the reality is somewhat different to the perception. Developing ties in Africa, Europe, the Middle East and especially Asia, the world’s new economic centre of gravity, show that, if anything, Israel’s international reputation and credibility are reaching new heights.
One major indicator often cited to claim Israel’s supposed isolation was the EU decision in November 2015 to issue a guideline to all its member countries to label products produced in the settlements separately from those produced in pre-1967 Israel. Some saw this as a precursor to a European boycott of all settlement products. While this was a counter-productive step, and Israel was absolutely right to strongly object, the EU not only made the guidelines voluntary for each country under a deal with Israel in February, but has offered repeated assurances the labelling has nothing to do with boycotts.
On March 28, EU Ambassador to Israel Lars Faarborg-Andersen attended a conference in Jerusalem on BDS. Amb. Faarborg-Andersen was critical of Israel’s settlements, but made it clear that settlement products are welcome on the EU market, although they would not be “given the same preferential treatment as goods coming from Israel proper” under the EU’s free trade agreement with Israel. He stressed that the policy on settlements “has nothing to do with BDS”, and added, “The BDS phenomenon is a rather marginal one. At this point in time it has had very little effect on Israel.” This summary is correct.
Another concern was the call by 71 British doctors in January for the Israeli Medical Association to be expelled from the World Medical Association. However, mid-April saw 350 leading British and Israeli medical researchers attend the third annual BIRAX conference, in Oxford, organised by the UK-Israel Science Council, to tackle some of the most debilitating diseases. Britain’s 250 plus researchers in attendance were from 33 institutions across the UK – it is hard to see many of them agreeing to end all cooperation with their Israeli counterparts, as BDS activists demand.
Meanwhile, Israel’s trade ties have generally been improving worldwide, with special interest shown in Israeli technological exports and innovation policies – including here in Australia.
As covered by Amotz Asa-El in this edition, China, together with India, are rapidly becoming some of Israel’s most important markets and economic partners.
Of course, as Asa-El also suggests, Israel does need to be aware in dealing with China of its authoritarian political nature and tensions with other important partners, both in Asia and particularly in relation to Israel’s most important ally, the US. China remains a one-party state with aggressively nationalistic tendencies, and is also a major military supplier to Israel’s regional enemies. Israel, like every other country, is not wrong to seek economic opportunities with China as well as diplomatic understandings with an increasingly indispensable international player, but needs to constantly be aware of whom it is dealing with and the potential political downsides for itself and its allies.
Israel was also visited in April by Singapore’s Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, who was accompanied by a 60-member delegation. This was the first ever visit to Israel by a Singaporean government head and is part of a larger trend – including improving ties with Japan and Vietnam, and ongoing very good relations with Thailand, Taiwan, the Philippines and other regional players – and even growing contacts in Indonesia.
In its own region, Israel is also enjoying closer relations with many of its neighbours, albeit quietly. Much of this has been brought about by the realisation that they face common enemies and threats in the form of Iran and its allies, and also from the Muslim Brotherhood and its offshoot, Hamas. AIR has previously covered the planned opening of an Israeli energy office in Abu Dhabi. Further, as analysed by Eran Lerman and Joshua Teitelbaum in this edition, the recent agreement by Egypt to return two islands in the Straits of Tiran to Saudi Arabia entailed, significantly, security understandings between Israel and the Saudis.
Indeed, the increasingly common interests shared with Israel have led to a situation, where, according to senior officials cited by top Israeli journalist Ben Caspit, “many regional players realise that Israel is not the problem, but the solution. Israel’s dialogue with the large, important Sunni countries remains mainly under the radar, but it deepens all the time and it bears fruit.”
Moreover, Israel is succeeding in efforts to build relations in Africa, with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta paying a state visit in February, and Israeli PM Netanyahu set to make a visit to Kenya and Uganda in return in July. Israel is reportedly offering counter-terror assistance to at least 10 African nations, and is also helping many with their water and agriculture problems.
Meanwhile, the blatantly discriminatory elements of the BDS program are facing new legal limitations in the US, UK and Canada, and court findings against them in France.
The campaign to isolate Israel is pernicious, based on falsehoods and appallingly hypocritical double standards, and is wholly counter-productive to the cause of peace.
BDS activists love to use any pretext to portray themselves as the wave of the future, on the verge of achieving Israel’s complete isolation. In fact, as outlined above, they are having little practical effect, and in terms of international trade and bilateral relations, Israel is actually going from strength to strength, despite the ongoing macabre theatre in bodies like the UN.
Anyone who genuinely wishes for peace and mutual coexistence in the Middle East will keenly hope this remains the case.
This article is featured in this month’s Australia/Israel Review, which can be downloaded as a free App: see here for more details.