Analysis

Punishing the World for UN Vote Will Be Worse for Israel Than BDS

After the settlements censure, Israel's consul general in New York suggested linking Israeli know-how to diplomatic support. But that would be like cutting off our nose to spite our export markets.

Prime Minister Netanyahu, October, 2016.
Prime Minister Netanyahu, October, 2016. Tomer Appelbaum

I think that Monday morning, when I read the tweet by Israel’s consul general in New York, Dani Dayan, I understood the right wing’s pain over the UN Security Council resolution against the settlements.

Dayan, the former chairman of the Yesha Council of settlements, is a decent and straight-talking guy, even if you don’t agree with him. But Monday morning he let loose with a really strange tweet in Hebrew: “The era is over in which countries benefit from Israeli know-how in high-tech, in security and so on, and from the prestige of a visit to Israel and involvement in the Middle East without providing diplomatic repayment.”

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We could dismiss this tweet as delusional if Dayan wasn’t a person who usually talks sensibly. So we can only interpret it as an expression of pain and disappointment. Or at least we can hope so.

Let’s leave aside the question of whether a visit to Israel and involvement in the Middle East is prestigious. Let’s go to the heart of the matter.

Countries don’t “benefit from Israeli know-how” for no reason. Instead, they buy it with real money. Israeli exports totaled $92 billion in 2015, and almost half came from the high-tech and defense industries.

Israel's counsel general in New York, Danny Dayan.
Olivier Fitoussi

Even other export industries, such as agriculture, are based on “Israeli know-how.” If we punish the world and stop selling it Israeli know-how, the Israeli economy will collapse. No one is doing us a favor by buying our products, however good they are.

This looks like a deal to cut off our nose to spite our export markets. In any case, we don’t see Check Point, Amdocs or Intel Israel consulting before they sell something to a customer overseas.

Also, let’s remember where our export markets are located: the European Union 29%; Asia, 25%; the United States, 24%. These aren’t Senegal or Venezuela that sponsored the UN resolution.

Read more on the Security Council resolution: Israel Won’t Honor All Its Knee-jerk Reactions / Analysis | World begins to rescue Israel from itself / Analysis Obama, where have you been for 8 wasted years? / Analysis | Why the Palestinians are jubilant and Israel is spooked / Analysis | Security Council punch knocks Netanyahu down from hubris to humiliation / Analysis | What will the immediate ramifications of the UN resolution be?

The second aspect is Dayan’s comparison between economic compensation and diplomatic remuneration. For years, Yesha and Israeli governments have fought the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement precisely over this issue. BDS has attempted economic pressure for political goals, and this is exactly the kind of deal Dayan is proposing.

But we aren’t big and strong enough to boycott economic powers and exact a price for their positions. Moreover, we enter this debate after almost half a century of ruling over the Palestinians, an inconvenient departure point.

Our customers
Israel's export markets in 2015*

The third absurdity lies in ignoring the fact that some of this Israeli know-how is based on non-Israeli money. The defense industries have benefited for decades from U.S. military aid and will continue to do so.

The Israeli high-tech industry rests in part on American venture capital funds whose money comes from Americans’ retirement savings. And don’t forget the Israeli high-tech firms that are bought by multinational corporations and contribute billions to Israel’s coffers. Should we suffice without them too as part of the boycott Dayan is proposing?

As frustrated as we may get, any Israeli solution that limits our trade relations with the rest of the world means huge economic damage. It would be much, much worse than any harm ever caused by the BDS movement.

Any impairment of our relations with these countries beyond canceling visits and so on would cause real damage. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been urging his ministers for years to visit China in order to nurture trade relations, and now he’s suddenly forbidding these ministers to travel there, or to France or Britain. He’s sending down the drain years of work and who knows how many visits “to strengthen Israel’s trade relations.”

This is a political matter that Netanyahu is using for his own purposes. The feeling that the entire world is against us can serve him politically, but it won’t serve Israel, and certainly not the Israeli economy. It will only cause damage.

If Dayan’s words are an expression of frustration, so be it. But if they’re a boycott policy led by Netanyahu, we’re in big trouble.