The World Doesn’t Care About the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

The boycott movement exists only online and the diplomatic tsunami still hasn’t reached us. The world is sick of our conflict, but the heavy price of the occupation remains local.

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Pro-Palestine and anti-Israel demonstrators protest against the Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to Britain, in front of Downing Street in London.
Pro-Palestine and anti-Israel demonstrators protest against the Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to Britain, in front of Downing Street in London.Credit: AP

Less than four months after Israel was scandalized by the CEO of French telecoms giant Orange saying the company plans to end its operations in Israel, one of Orange’s venture capital funds announced a $17-million investment in an Israeli startup. Business as usual, once again.

In Britain, meanwhile, less than a month after the main opposition Labour party voted in Jeremy Corbyn – the pro-Palestine and staunch supporter of boycotting Israel – as leader, the Conservative government announced plans to introduce legislation that will prohibit local councils from using their budgets to fund boycott resolutions. The aim is to stop such resolutions being made against Israel. Prime Minister David Cameron’s government wouldn’t be taking such a step if it feared it would cause an outcry.

Furthermore, research carried out by the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI) showed that, for all the talk of anti-Israel incitement on U.S. campuses, significant activity is taking place at only around 20 colleges, out of thousands.

So where is the boycott?

Mainly in the echo chambers of social media and in speeches by Israeli right-wing politicians eager to prove that the-whole-world-hates-us.

Even the cultural boycott seems to be largely a fiction, with the procession of box-office stars to Israel continuing. Former Pink Floyd member Roger Waters, who has become a one-man task force to ostracize Israel in the music community, is so frustrated at his lack of success that he wrote an open letter to Jon Bon Jovi (who performed in Tel Aviv in early October), accusing him of standing “shoulder to shoulder with the settler who burned the baby.” No less.

Where is the world determined to punish Israel for continuing the occupation? U.S. President Barack Obama didn’t even mention Israel or Palestine in his speech at this year’s United Nations General Assembly. The French government has shelved plans for a Security Council resolution that would set a timetable for negotiations and the establishment of a Palestinian state. India, which once automatically voted for every condemnation of Israel, is now a habitual absentee while signing new arms deals.

Chinese delegations are swamping Israel, searching for new investment opportunities. Russian President Vladimir Putin hosts Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Moscow and promises to take care of Israel’s security concerns in Syria. European lawmakers pass nonbinding resolutions to recognize a Palestinian state that have no diplomatic implications, while their governments have still to draft agreed guidelines on labelling goods made in the settlements. Labels, mind you, not a boycott.

Over four years after former Prime Minister Ehud Barak warned of Israel facing a “diplomatic tsunami” if it didn’t make progress in the diplomatic arena, the tidal wave has still to break on our shore.

Of course, some Israeli politicians will rush to take credit for their forceful action, blocking the wave of sanctions and breaching the walls of isolation. But the truth is, nothing has been done. The astronomic sums promised by Netanyahu to combat anti-Israel moves haven’t materialized; there isn’t even agreement on which ministry will get the money should it ever be allocated.

A nonexistent movement

Minister Gilad Erdan, who took upon himself the “anti-delegitimization” brief, has sunk into the corrupt morass of Israel’s police force. The anti-boycott task force that was to operate in the Prime Minister’s Office remains on paper. Even the organization set up in the United States to fight boycotts – funded by billionaires Sheldon Adelson and Haim Saban – has failed to take off due to differences between the two tycoons.

The boycott movement has failed because it doesn’t actually exist. BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) is an Internet fiction, a loose network of keyboard warriors and a few die-hard protesters prepared to spend their weekends shouting outside a small, Israeli-owned soap shop in London or picketing a “Tel Aviv Beach” event in Paris. They’re a passing and harmless nuisance. Nothing more. In most cases, the boycott attempts have achieved the opposite result, uniting local Jewish communities behind Israel – including many who are no fans of the Netanyahu government.

Most of Israel’s exports today are not easily identifiable products that can be boycotted, but technological components and software, usually sold to large companies and governments. A growing proportion of trade is with the Far East, where the entire concept of political boycotts is totally alien. Only financial considerations matter.

But even in the countries where BDS is ostensibly active, its effect is less than negligible. The water company supplying southeastern England has installed 600,000 advanced water meters made by the Israeli Arad company. For years, BDS activists have been agitating against the deal until, finally, they “won”: the water company agreed that residents who object could refuse the new meters and stick with the older model. Only a tiny handful of customers took them up on their offer. The world just doesn’t care. Give them high-tech, make business not boycott. They’re sick of hearing about the conflict.

It could all change. The tsunami may break and the boycott group balloon into a mass movement, like the one that challenged South African apartheid in the 1980s. For now, though, there is no indication of that happening. The United States and Europe are focusing inward on their own problems. The attention returns to the Middle East only when there’s concern that the region’s problems could impact them directly – in Islamist terror attacks or waves of refugees.

For better or worse, the extent of foreign media coverage is shrinking. And even though international leaders continue to arrive in Jerusalem, the standard statements on ending the occupation and the settlements obstructing the road to peace are made for the sake of protocol. The agenda in the closed meetings is mainly business and economic cooperation. The statesmen have despaired of solving the Israel-Palestine conflict in their lifetimes. They’ve moved on. We have exhausted them.

The Israeli left’s unspoken dream that overseas pressure will finally rid us of the occupation, that the threat of isolation will shake Israelis from their apathy over the unending injustice toward another people, isn’t about to come true anytime soon. If ever. We’re home alone with the Palestinians, and here is where we pay the price.

For decades, Israelis argued that the world should look elsewhere – to places where much worse injustices are taking place, to other conflicts and occupations. The world is now saying, “OK, you and the Palestinians sort things out between yourselves.”

The price of occupation and absence of peace will be paid at home, in local currency. The price of terrible moral erosion for what is now a third generation of young men and women carrying out orders to use live fire on children, conducting “mapping” missions in homes in the middle of the night, protecting Jewish rioters who take over Palestinians’ fields and viewing our neighbors through gunsights. The price of a country incapable of setting economic priorities, of solving its housing crisis and rebuilding a fairer society.

The price of occupation we pay daily is in our impotence to fight racism, corruption and inequality. It is the price we exact from ourselves, and no one from the outside is about to give us a discount. The world prefers business.

The writer is a journalist for Haaretz.