Am Yisrael Buy: An App That Enables Israel's Bad Behavior

With the best of intentions, a rabbi's anti-boycott app does Israel a disservice.

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Marchers cheer as they pass along a barricade separating them from anti-Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement protestors during the Celebrate Israel Parade, June 1, 2014, in New York.
Marchers cheer as they pass along a barricade separating them from anti-Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement protestors during the Celebrate Israel Parade, June 1, 2014, in New York.Credit: AP
Asher Schechter
Asher Schechter

Every once in a while, this happens: A committed non-Israeli Jew reads that Israel is under attack, that Europeans and Muslims and leftists have banded together to boycott Israel in an unholy alliance of not-so-subtle anti-Semitic origins. A Zionist through and through, said Jew decides he must act, and concocts a brilliant new way to protect Israel from its detractors.

Last week Rabbi Daniel Cohen of the Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel congregation in the New Jersey suburb of South Orange launched a smartphone app to support Israel’s economy against its many enemies around the world.

Cohen's app is called Am Yisrael Buy, a play on a Hebrew phrase,”Am Yisrael Chai," which means "the people of Israel live.” The app is Cohen’s counter to the “boycott Israel” apps launched earlier this year by supporters of BDS, the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement. (BDS itself announced in March it intends to launch an app of its own).

The boycott Israel apps can tell users if a company is linked to Israel and help identify companies or products worthy of boycott. Cohen’s app does the exact opposite: It informs users about Israeli-made products and where to find them. Just as the boycott apps helps BDS supporters boycott Israel, Am Yisrael Buy intends to make it easier for Israel supporters to, well, support Israel.

Cohen’s congregation allowed him to fund the new app using an endowment, no doubt motivated by countless news reports of the growing boycott movement against Israel and the threat it poses.

The problem is there is no boycott of Israel, at least not one felt by anyone but a few pepper farmers in the West Bank. The movement to boycott Israel is, largely, a blown-up media figment, a bogeyman that has had zero influence on Israel’s economy so far. It has racked up a few successes (notably the decision by Denmark’s Danske Bank to blacklist Israel’s Bank Hapoalim over its involvement in settlement construction) and has a dedicated band of activists, yet hasn't achieved anything substantial so far.

The fact that the boycott of Israel is mostly hypothetical at this point is mostly pushed aside, especially by Israeli right-wing politicians trying to mobilize international Jewry in their battle to legitimize Israel’s actions in the West Bank (“It is eerie and shameful to hear people in Europe talk about boycotting Jews. This is an outrage. They are classic anti Semites and we have to fight them,” wrote Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this February).

But Cohen and others like him rushing to save Israel from a threat it evidently doesn't take seriously (otherwise it might act a little different) are mere peons of hysteria. They are enablers of Israel’s decision to never change.

In the language of addiction, an “enabler” is defined as a person who enables another person to persist in a form of behavior that is clearly self-destructive. And that, in so many words, is what apps like Am Yisrael Buy do.

Israel doesn't need help overcoming an inconsequential economic threat. What is does need, though, is an intervention, or at least a good talking-to.

True, it's easier to make apps that blindly support Israel than to develop apps to sensibly criticize its errors. But the real threat Israel needs protecting from isn't the boycott attempts against it, but its continued attempts to be worthy of boycott.  

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