The economic and cultural boycott of the State of Israel actually predates the creation of the State itself. From the 1920s onwards, a movement to boycott the Jewish community in Mandate Palestine emerged in the Arab world. This movement was formalised by the Arab League Council in 1945, which declared a boycott of “Jewish” and “Zionist” goods.
In 1948, the Arab League launched a separate office based in Damascus to enforce an economic boycott of the State of Israel. This boycott functioned upon three levels: targeting Israeli companies; foreign companies working in Israel; and foreign companies conducting business with those companies with an operational base in Israel.
From its inception, then, the Arab League boycott was a form of economic warfare against the Jewish state. Its purpose was to suffocate and isolate Israel’s economy. And, just like the Arab attempts to defeat Israel on the battlefield, the economic boycott turned out a spectacular failure.
Check the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index for 2007-08 and you’ll find that Israel ranks 17th out of 131 states. The first Arab country - Kuwait - appears at number 30.
Comparisons between Israel and Singapore or Silicon Valley in California are commonplace. A recent report by Moody’s, the ratings agency, judged that Israel was more akin to an advanced global economy than an emerging market.
One should avoid being overly glib about Israel’s economic success. Poverty remains a big problem in the country. On the security front, while Israel has so far wowed analysts with its resilience, a truly credible threat, like an Iranian announcement of successful weaponization of its nuclear program, could have a nasty economic impact.
Still, the overriding point remains that Israel today has won the confidence of investors, in sectors ranging from technology to financial services. Boycotting Israel, therefore, has about as much relevance to the contemporary global economy as a Soviet Five Year Plan.
All of which is very upsetting to a group in Bahrain called “The Bahrain Society Against Normalisation with the Zionist Enemy.” They are protesting the decision of the Bahraini authorities to close, in 2006, the local anti-Israel boycott office as a consequence of the free-trade agreement which the Gulf state concluded with the US. That stipulation stemmed from robust US legislation against the Arab League boycott as well as a more basic realization that free trade and boycotts aren’t really compatible.
According to a spokesman for Anti-Normalizers, Abdulla Abdulmalik, closing the boycott office means the following:
“Israeli products won’t rush into the country as soon as the office is shut, but closing it is the first step in building Zionist trade and diplomatic relations and soon we’ll see Israelis living among us…The Bahraini public is trying its best to fight this Zionist cancer, but our weak Arab governments are caving in to America’s requests and agreeing to its every demand.”
Revolting as Abdulmalik’s sentiments are, we should be grateful to him for providing clarity on exactly the point where his mealy-mouthed equivalents in the west equivocate. This is the purpose of boycotting: to make the boycotter feel clean. The fact that Abdulmalik expresses himself in terms that would be familiar to a Nazi rag - we don’t want them living among us, they are a cancer - merely underlines his honesty.
Which brings me to Britain’s University and College Union. As in 2007, the 2008 boycott motion apparently includes a line which deems that criticism of Israel can never be antisemitic. Abdulmalik’s statement and, indeed, the whole sorry history of the Arab boycott demonstrates that when such “criticism” is expressed in the form of a boycott, it invariably is antisemitic, both in intent and in effect.
Let me conclude with a quote from Eve Garrard, in her Z Word essay on the academic boycott. Because this says it all:
“Any boycott is a call for ostracism, exclusion and punishment. The boycott proposal encouraged antisemitic views and attitudes partly because this content - the demand for ostracism and exclusion - mapped so neatly onto traditional antisemitic goals and practices. (And here, perhaps, we do find some truth in the claim that Israel is being selected for boycott because it’s most likely to work with her. Insofar as the aim of a boycott is to encourage hostility to and rejection of its target, then this is indeed most likely to be effective with Israel, since there is already a space in our culture for just that rejection of and hostility towards Jews.)”