Supporters of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel routinely lay claim to the high moral ground, while attacking companies and individuals for the crime of having a connection, however tenuous, with the Jewish state. Though deficient in logic, for these activists no allegation is too unreasonable or extreme to hurl at the feet of their targets.
A good example comes courtesy of Mark Govier, an activist with the Australian Friends of Palestine Association and author of an article entitled “Break the link between Israeli apartheid and Australian agriculture” published in Green Left Weekly (July 19), calling for the boycott of two Israeli companies he says are the main suppliers of irrigation systems in Australia.
As AIJAC‘ s Ahron Shapiro has previously documented, the denigration of companies on spurious or arbitrary grounds by BDS proponents is nothing new. Shapiro noted that BDS proponents “serve up any number of contrived excuses to the media why a particular artist or company should be boycotted … [This] is essentially a smokescreen to obfuscate their true agenda – to target anything and everything Israeli.”
Israel is certainly a world leader in the increasingly important field of sustainable agriculture, and similarities between Israel’s climate and arid landscapes and our own make Israeli-developed technology particularly well-suited to local conditions. So Govier’s claim that Israeli companies dominate the irrigation market in Australia is credible.
That, however, is where credibility ends. The rest of Govier’s screed follows the usual tortuous path of BDS propaganda. Govier – or perhaps fellow BDS activists who supplied him with his “research” – has apparently trawled the internet, plucking facts at random, and reassembled them into an ignorant and amateurish denunciation of the irrigation companies calculated to appeal to fellow-travellers and provide a pretext for claiming makers of irrigation technology are actually complicit in human rights abuses.
He targets a company called Netafim Australia & New Zealand, established in 1993, with an Australian head office in Laverton North outside Melbourne whose parent company is a world leader in drip irrigation. He quotes from its website: “we’re farmers first and innovators second. We started in 1965, in the Negev desert in Israel, trying to grow crops in desert soil … So we know what it’s like to farm in local and extreme conditions”.
From this innocuous claim, he draws the following conclusion: “this means that the business was started on land illegally taken from Palestinians and, after developing enhanced irrigation techniques, Netafim promoted their products to Israeli farmers on illegally occupied Palestinian land, and then to the world.”
This is obvious nonsense and means nothing of the sort. The Negev, which even now is sparsely inhabited, and never had a very substantial Palestinian presence (the non-Jewish inhabitants are mainly Bedouins, most of whom do not consider themselves Palestinian) was taken from the Ottoman empire by British forces in 1917 and became part of the British Mandate for Palestine. Most of it was earmarked by the 1947 UN Partition Plan for the future Jewish state, which established its sovereignty over the area in the ensuing War of Independence. But for BDS activists like Govier, truth is optional, and any Israeli farming must ipso facto involve “illegally occupied Palestinian land.”
With similar tortured logic and disregard for facts, Govier also targets Rivulis Irrigation, “a global micro irrigation leader with 15 factories worldwide including a local Australian facility in Brendale, Queensland”. He notes that Rivulis Irrigation is part-owned by FIMI (First Israel Mezzanine Investors, Israel’s leading private equity firm), which part-owns another Israeli company called Orbit Communications Systems, which “is wholly-focused on precision tracking-based communications in the areas of satcom, telemetry and remote sensing”. Govier concludes, vaguely, “this is the sort of equipment and technology deployed in Gaza and the West Bank to keep Palestinians under constant surveillance”. He does not bother defining or substantiating the claim of “constant surveillance” or Orbit’s involvement.
Like most private equity firms, FIMI actually invests in a wide range of sectors, including automotive, electronic components, metal products, software, aviation, plastic, building materials, energy and logistics. Yet Govier even invents an entity which he calls “FIMI/Rivulis” in an unconvincing attempt to try and strengthen the false impression that the irrigation firm is somehow connected with surveillance and involved in “the ongoing military oppression of Palestinians. ”
So he jumps from an irrigation company to a private equity firm which is a part owner of it, to another company the equity firm happens to have a stake in which does remote sensing – then, without any evidence, assumes that company must be involved in “keep[ing] Palestinians under constant surveillance.” He then concludes one should boycott the irrigation company because of this ridiculously tenuous link to another company that may or may not be doing something of which he disapproves.
When you look at the details of Govier’s arguments about why one should target Rivulis Irrigation and Netafim, it becomes clear the details about the companies themselves are largely irrelevant, being simply grist for the BDS mill. BDS activists like Govier seek to identify organisations and individuals with a link to Israel, then weave a web of conjecture, no matter how tortured, to try to implicate them in claims of human rights abuses.
Calls for boycott are a means of self-promotion and self-aggrandisement for the BDS movement. It is notable that Govier’s stated aim for his targeting of Rivulis Irrigation and Netafim is to expand the BDS campaign into rural areas.
Meanwhile, the fact that a purportedly “green” publication – though Green Left Weekly is much more Marxist than environmentalist, despite its name – supports an irrational call to boycott obviously environmentally beneficial technology in Australia for such obviously contrived reasons is indicative of the blind hatred for Israel that exists in some parts of the “progressive” left.
Meanwhile, BDS is currently waging international campaigns against several major non-Israeli firms, something which gives it greater global exposure. One of these is the German company, Puma, third largest sportswear manufacturer in the world. Drawing an extremely long bow, BDS claims Puma is “involved in violations of international law and human rights” through its sponsorship of the Israel Football Association (IFA). It also claims success in ending the previous sponsorship of the IFA by Adidas, a claim the company has expressly refuted.
Another current target is the American multinational IT company Hewlett-Packard (HP). Hilmi Dabbagh, BDS Australia’s convener, also writing in Green Left Weekly (Aug. 2), demanded boycotts of HP for its supposed complicity in war crimes through doing business with Israel. He make a predictable list of slanderous claims against Israel, such as apartheid and racial discrimination, while insisting selling computers to Israeli Government entities amounts to “profiting” from Israel’s crimes.
Taking on corporate giants like HP shows that the boycott campaign is not really about causing economic pain, but rather about inventing a moral pretext for defaming Israel at will, and inflaming hatred against it.
Yet it is not the alleged human rights abuses against Palestinians that principally trouble BDS supporters, or else we would see them campaigning against the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, and neighbouring Arab countries.
BDS is a movement opposed to the normalisation of relations between Jewish Israelis and Palestinians. It is opposed to a two-state peace, and is, therefore, essentially, opposed to the existence of a Jewish state. In all the world, only Israel is singled out as the ultimate target of its “human rights” campaign.
The circuitous and often ridiculous routes by which the BDS movement seeks to present an acceptable face for its Israel-bashing is all about attempting to mask the fact that it is really motivated by obsessive hatred of the world’s only Jewish state.