The times are a-changing for Israeli American ties
by Abdallah Schleifer
The big front page headline last week in the leading Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth said it all: “100 leaders of the economy warn of boycott on Israel” and the sub-head quoted those leaders remarks, made not only to the press but to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu personally by a delegation representing the 100 in a meeting with Netanyahu just prior to the Davos Forum – “The world is losing its patience and the threat of sanctions is increasing. We must reach an agreement with the Palestinians.”
The Israeli business leaders also declared: “The continued conflict hurts all citizens in their pockets. If Israel wants a stable economy, a good future and continued growth we must reach an agreement. The world is beginning to lose its patience, and the threat of sanctions is becoming ever more imminent from day to day.”
The delegation told Netanyahu that many of the 100 would be going to the Davos Forum, where - joining forces with some leading Palestinian businessmen from the West Bank - they would be carrying this message to whoever there was ready to listen.
The Israeli CEOs - heads of high tech companies, banks, and other businesses, including the largest supermarket chain in Israel, certainly had the ears of their European counterparts at Davos, particularly since they were invited to Davos by the Forum’s chairman Klaus Schwab who had put aside one day during the Forum to discuss a peaceful solution to the conflict.
So despite all predictions to the contrary, BDS (Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions) is starting to pay off, and every time Netanyahu announces that a thousand or so new housing units will be built on occupied Jerusalem and the West Bank, the Boycott movement gathers some more steam.
At that meeting with Netanyahu, the CEO of the First International Bank of Israel informed the prime minister that the largest investment fund in Holland had already announced that it will not invest in Israel anymore because of its treatment of the Palestinians. The Israeli CEOs, along with a number of West Bank Palestinian businessmen, have signed on to an initiative called “Breaking the Impasse (BTI) lead by the Palestinian energy mogul Munir Masri and the Israeli Tech mogul Yossi Vardi.
The Yedhioth Ahronouth front page report was preceded by a heavily-promoted special report on the Boycott carried on the most popular prime-time news program in Israel – Channel 2 news. The report did not attribute the Boycott to anti-Semitism, as has usually been the case, but simply acknowledged that BDS was an established and rapidly growing phenomena in response to Israel’s settlement policy.
Dismissing the movement
Netanyahu has always dismissed the boycott movement in the past. He no longer does, any public statements to the contrary. According to Haaretz he had scheduled a meeting of his cabinet to discuss “the growing threat of boycotts and sanctions against Israel by Western governments and companies” but had cancelled the discussion due to his ongoing crisis with the Minister of Economics Naftab Bennett, head of the religious nationalist Jewish Home party which is devoted to the settler cause, who has outspokenly critical of Netanyahu for even participating in peace talks that are premised on the establishment of a Palestinian state in the occupied territories.
Whether the Israeli-Palestinian talks stagger on despite the latest Israeli conditions to any peace agreement or collapse, it should be imperative that pro-Palestinian activism in Europe, Asia and America should now focus all of its energies on marshalling pressure upon both governments, and the private sectors to sign up on BDS.
There is also some very important background music to all of this. A recent study by Pew Research indicated the one of the aspects of the high degree of Jewish assimilation in America, particularly among non-religious American Jewish youth is a very limited interest to the point of even total indifference to the state of Israel. And at the heart of that indifference among left-liberal Jewish American youth is a very critical attitude towards Israel.
At the same time, in all the regional crises since send of the Cold War, Israel no longer has the “strategic significance” that it once had in the eyes of the Washington, DC establishment – be it the CIA, the Pentagon, the State Department or presidential administrations. The U.S. Congress, desperately in need of campaign funding every two years is the exception – not that most congressmen believe that Israel is still a strategic assert, but rather that funding from the Israel lobby takes precedence over national interest.
Indeed in the words of Adam Garfinkle, editor of the journal The American Interest and writing in the American Jewish publication Tablet, Israel is increasingly perceived by the American political establishment when dealing with crises in the Middle East as “either irrelevant or somewhere between a complication and an inadvertent nuisance.”
Cross published on Al Arabiya and TAM with permission of the author. Prof. Schleifer’s Alarabiya column will now be posted regularly on The American Muslim (TAM), and on Arab Media and Society, an electronic journal as well as the links twitted on a weekly basis to Arab Media and Society subscribers.
Abdallah Schleifer is Professor Emeritus of Journalism at the American University in Cairo, where he founded and served as first director of the Kamal Adham Center for Television Journalism. He also founded and served as Senior Editor of the journal Transnational Broadcasting Studies, now known as Arab Media & Society. Before joining the AUC faculty Schleifer served for nine years as NBC News Cairo bureau chief and Middle East producer- reporter; as Middle East corrrespondent for Jeune Afrique based in Beirut and as a special correspndent for the New York Times based in Amman. After retiring from teaching at AUC Schleifer served for little more than a year as Al Arabiya’s Washington D.C. bureau chief. He is associated with the Middle East Institute in Washington D.C. as an Adjunct Scholar. He was executive producer of the award winning documentary “Control Room” and the 100 episode Reality- TV documentary “Sleepless in Gaza…and Jerusalem.”