IN THE MEDIA
Israel’s push for productive solutions
May 9, 2016 | Colin Rubenstein
Herald Sun – May 9, 2016
THE Lebanese branch of the anti-Israel boycott movement has demanded that country’s government ban the film Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice because, in the movie, Wonder Woman is played by the Israeli actor Gal Gadot.
Worldwide, the film has box office takings of over $1.2 billion. Many people – including in Lebanon, where the film is already screening – simply want to be entertained and don’t care what nationality an actor in the film might be.
It is significant because anti-Israel campaigners and their supporters like to claim that Israel is becoming increasingly isolated internationally. Yet as millions of cinemagoers worldwide show, the reality is somewhat different.
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.
An often-cited claim of Israel’s supposed isolation was the European Union guideline of November 2015 for member countries to label products produced in Israeli settlements separately from those produced in pre-1967 Israel.
However, the EU made the guidelines voluntary.
EU Ambassador to Israel Lars Faarborg-Andersen, while critical of settlements, has stressed that the policy “has nothing to do with BDS [the anti-Israel Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions movement]” and that “the BDS phenomenon is a rather marginal one. At this point in time it has had very little effect on Israel.”
Another example was the call by 71 politically driven British doctors in January for the Israeli Medical Association to be expelled from the World Medical Association. But mid-April saw 350 leading British and Israeli medical researchers unite for the third annual BIRAX conference, in Oxford, to tackle some of the world’s most debilitating diseases.
Britain’s 250-plus attendees represented 33 institutions across the UK.
It’s hard to see many of them agreeing to end all co-operation with their Israeli counterparts – particularly given some of the world-leading medical research taking place in Israel right now – as pro-boycott activists demand.
Meanwhile, Israel’s trade ties have been improving worldwide, with special interest in Israeli technology and innovation policies – including here in Australia.
In addition, China and India are both rapidly becoming important markets and economic partners for Israel.
Israel was visited in April by Singapore’s Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong and a 60-member delegation.
This first-ever visit to Israel by a Singaporean government head is part of a larger trend – including improving ties with Japan and Vietnam, and ongoing relations with Thailand, Taiwan, the Philippines and other regional players – and 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 from Iran and its allies, the Muslim Brotherhood and its offshoot, Hamas.
The opening of an Israeli energy office is planned in Abu Dhabi. Further, 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.
Common interests have led to a situation, where “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,” Israeli journalist Ben Caspit writes.
Moreover, Israel is succeeding in efforts to build relations in Africa, with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta paying a state visit in February, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu set to visit Kenya and Uganda in July.
Israel is reportedly offering counter-terror assistance to at least 10 African nations, and is also helping many solve their water and agriculture problems.
Meanwhile, the blatantly discriminatory elements of the boycott 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.
Boycott movement founder Omar Barghouti – who is oddly studying at Tel Aviv University, an institution he calls on others to boycott – has made no attempt to hide the fact that the movement’s final goal is nothing less than the end of the state of Israel itself.
DR COLIN RUBENSTEIN IS EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE AUSTRALIA-ISRAEL AND JEWISH AFFAIRS COUNCIL AND PREVIOUSLY TAUGHT MIDDLE EAST POLITICS AT MONASH UNIVERSITY