Israeli Agribusiness Demanding Relief From Government as BDS Intensifies
Shir Hever: The Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement is impacting Israeli export markets, particularly in the agricultural sector
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore. And welcome to this edition of The Shir Hever Report.
Now joining us from Germany is Shir Hever. Shir is a economic researcher in the Alternative Information Center, which is a Palestinian-Israeli organization active in Jerusalem and Beit Sahour.
Thank you so much for joining us, Shir.
SHIR HEVER, ECONOMIST, ALTERNATIVE INFORMATION CENTER: Thanks for having me, Jessica.
DESVARIEUX: So, Shir, give us an update on what’s going on with the BDS movement.
HEVER: I think the BDS movement is coming to a very crucial point. We see–there’s been several people also on The Real News speaking about how BDS is going so fast, there are more actions taken every day. One of the more famous ones from recent days was stopping a ship, an Israeli ship that tried to dock in Oakland, and about 3,000 activists managed to block that ship from docking. And there were activities all over the world, from Australia to Europe to East Asia and Latin America, all condemning the Israeli massacre, ongoing massacre in Gaza. So BDS is growing very strong.
But I think that that doesn’t necessarily mean that BDS is going to be a game-changer and resolve the current conflict in Palestine and stop the Israeli aggression. I think that–when I say it’s a crucial moment, it’s because it’s a sort of a test moment. At the same time that BDS is becoming so strong, the violence is escalating a lot. And the whole idea of BDS is completely abhorrent to the idea of violence. And Hamas Party, when they’re leading the armed struggle against the Israeli occupation, their motto, their statement, is that they have to use violence because nobody in the world cares about them, nobody’s going to offer them any other kind of support. So, obviously, people who support BDS are trying to undermine that message, to say, no, there is another way, not just the way of weapons and arms, to stop the Israeli occupation.
Now, what we see now is at the same time the Israeli public is splitting on this issue. And we have a lot of people, especially from the lower classes of Israel, especially people who are minorities, ethnic minorities who are being repressed inside Israel but still are Jews, who are adopting a very belligerent stance against Gaza, against Hamas, and are actually willing to make more sacrifices in order to increase the violence and increase the assault on Gaza. They are completely aware that because of this violence there’s going to be an economic price, there’s going to be more BDS, more sanctions against Israel, less trade, and that will hurt their standard of living.
But at the same time, there are the elites in Israel, people who are more engaged in international trade, owning companies that export, and they’re changing their tune very fast in light of this growing BDS campaign. If we look at how people responded to BDS over the last six years or so, that then most of these factory owners/exporters were trying to keep as much as they could secret. They didn’t want to talk about BDS, because they felt that if they acknowledged the existence of that movement, they would be actually maybe encouraging it. They also didn’t want to make public calls on the Israeli government to take into consideration the effect of BDS on the Israeli economy, because that would be perceived inside Israel as unpatriotic, maybe treacherous. How can you call on the Israeli government to succumb to this international pressure? Now that’s changing very fast, and we see especially farmers in Israel, which are exporting–their main export market is Europe–saying, well, actually, we’ve been under boycott for years, but now it has come to the point where we cannot be silent about it anymore, and we demand that the government will do something. Now we see factories that are really concerned about their sustainability in light of their ability to continue to export to the rest of the world. And this story of the ship to Oakland is a good example of that.
DESVARIEUX: But, Shir, what are they calling for, exactly? You said they want the government to do something. What is that something?
HEVER: I think that’s where it becomes very confused, because if we look at the Israeli politicians, they gave a sort of formula, and they talked about that a lot during the peace negotiations, which were overseen by Secretary of State Kerry. And those have collapsed, but just before the collapse, a lot of Israeli ministers warned that as long as they can keep the peace process alive, then they can avoid the full brunt of the boycott movement and maybe they can keep things going, the status quo going. Now the peace process has collapsed. Everybody’s aware of that. There’s daily violence on an almost unprecedented scale in Gaza. And more than 2,000 people have been killed. And in light of that, then it’s obvious that the BDS movement is going to grow stronger. And also, talking about the peace process now seems very hollow.
So what these Israeli businesspeople are saying: the government has to compensate us. The government has to give us some kind of economic support, money, to sustain us in light of this international boycott movement. But, of course, the government is not able to afford that. There is no way the Israeli government can just compensate Israel for losing its external trade.
So the real question is: is the Israeli public ready to sacrifice the economy on the altar of continuing this onslaught and on the altar of national pride and military victory? Or are they willing to make compromises and understand that [incompr.] be part of the international society, they have to respect international law?
DESVARIEUX: Shir, are there specific economic markers or measurements as some sort of measurement where we can say that BDS is having a direct negative effect on the Israeli economy?
HEVER: That’s something that has always been very notoriously difficult to measure. Actually, even before this assault on Gaza, there’s been a steep decline in Israeli exports, especially to Europe. Some Israeli economists try to say, well, this is just because of the economic crisis inside Europe; it has nothing to do with political issues. But now we’re seeing entire sectors of the Israeli economy that are suffering directly.
So the sector that has probably suffered the most is the tourism sector. The tourism sector, they’re not saying, we’re being boycotted by people because of political opinions; they’re saying people are afraid to go because of the war, and that’s why we see so many cancellations and so many losses.
But I think the agricultural sector, that’s where we really see the impact very wide and very deep, because a lot of Israeli companies–there is an Israeli fruit company that produces fruit juice, and they were in negotiations with some European companies in Sweden, France, and Belgium to sell their juice in Europe, and these companies initially told them, you know, if you–just give us proof that you don’t source your fruit from the occupied territory, that it doesn’t come from the West Bank. But then they changed their tune and said, you know what? We don’t want any kind of product that says “Made in Israel”. That’s obviously because of the boycott movement.
And what these farmers do, what these agricultural companies do then is they try to seek, very desperately, other markets, because with agriculture you can’t keep the goods forever. They’re perishable goods. So their growing market now is Russia. Russia is under international sanctions because of the crisis in Ukraine, and there are Russian companies that are willing to buy these goods from Israel. But they’re paying less. The prices are lower. And more importantly, after Israel is starting to make these connections with Russia, they’re losing their markets in Central and Western Europe. It’s very unlikely that they will be able to just rebuild those ties again as if nothing happened. And once the sanctions from Russia will be lifted–and they will probably be lifted sooner or later–then the full brunt of this crisis will be felt by the Israeli agricultural sector.
DESVARIEUX: Alright. Shir Hever joining us from Germany.
Thank you so much for being with us.
HEVER: Thanks, Jessica, for having me.
DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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