Isolated diplomatically by its Arab neighbors since its creation in 1948 and shunned economically by some anti-Israel nations and corporations in recent decades, Israel now stands at the precipice of a wide-scale economic boycott.
The demonization of the Jewish state that earlier had been limited to fascist governments and left-leaning academic institutions is increasingly gaining the veneer of mainstream respectability. In the past, the idea of branding Israel as an apartheid land, of cutting financial and cultural and academic ties with any institutions associated with Israel while ignoring the egregious actions of other nations, was largely confined to a small, obviously anti-Semitic fringe.
Now, a boycott of Israel no longer appears to be outside the pale of acceptable thought for many. It was the subject of dueling op-ed essays Sunday in The New York Times.
Consider these developments in the last few weeks: the American Studies Association voted to boycott Israeli universities, and dozens of U.S. college presidents pushed back, rejecting the idea of such a boycott; actress Scarlett Johansson became the center of controversy for appearing in a commercial for the West Bank-based SodaStream company and resigning her role as an ambassador for the Oxfam relief agency; former Pink Floyd lead singer Roger Waters called on fellow entertainers to boycott Israel; two of the largest banks in northern Europe announced they will boycott Israeli banks that operate in “occupied territories”; a bill that had passed the New York State Senate that would bar state aid to academic groups that boycott Israel stalled in the State Assembly after strong opposition mounted from the New York State United Teachers union and a coalition of civil liberties and Palestinian rights groups.
And, with the most sinister implications, Secretary of State John Kerry warned that Israel may by subject to a larger, more organized international boycott movement should Jerusalem not make desired concessions in the until-now unsuccessful peace negotiations with the Palestinians. His implied threat: give in to U.S. — and Palestinian — demands or Washington will turn its back when the rest of the world joins the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement.
Understandably, Kerry’s remarks drew immediate condemnation in Israel and its defenders in this country.
“As the key player in the [peace] process, the impact of your comments was to create a reality of its own,” Anti-Defamation League National Director Abraham Foxman wrote in a letter to Kerry. “Describing the potential for expanded boycotts of Israel makes it more, not less, likely that the talks will not succeed; makes it more, not less, likely that Israel will be blamed if the talks fail; and more, not less, likely that boycotts will ensue.”
Kerry’s words, even if well intentioned, could be harmful to Israel because they were uttered by a spokesman for the world’s only superpower and Israel’s closest ally. His words only serve to encourage intransigenceon the part of the Palestinians.
Fortunately, Israel has a strong economy. But in a region surrounded by hostile neighbors, it is vulnerable to isolation and coercion. And in a world where BDS is increasingly accepted, Jerusalem’s fears for the future are justified, especially when the U.S. secretary of state adds fuel to the fire.
Credit is due to Scarlett Johansson for withstanding the pressure of the anti-Israel chorus. We would expect John Kerry to do no less.