Ami Brand
Globes (Opinion)
July 14, 2011 - 12:00am

The Boycott Law, which it seems will have to overcome the hurdle of the High Court of Justice, has had one unexpected result. After a dormant decade, the moderate Israeli left is suddenly showing signs of revival. On the evening of the vote, following calls on Twitter and Facebook for a protest against the infringement of the right of free speech, several hundred demonstrators gathered in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv. Compared with the average attendance at similar events, this was an impressive achievement.

Business people in Judea and Samaria are encouraged by the passage of the law, but they are still suffering from the boycott imposed by the Palestinian Authority. The debate over the law made an impact in the media, which aroused some negative responses, while the clauses intended to deal with the original problem were eventually scrubbed from the bill because of pressure from the prime minister.

It's hard to know whether industry in the territories will in the end be harmed by the protest gathering momentum on social networks and around the world.

At the moment, people in the territories are giving out a message of business as usual, and tell of new buyers who want to support them, If that doesn't work, they say, there is now a law, and it will be possible to sue anyone who breaks it.

Bruno Landsberg, founder of cleaning products company Sano, recently joined the peace initiative led by Idan Ofer. As a veteran businessman, he finds boycotts of any kind disturbing, but is not impressed by the new law. "I didn't understand the Boycott Law, just as I don't understand laws that seek to forbid territorial change. There are things that happen, and they can't be prevented by the Knesset passing a law."

Does the boycott alarm you?

"I'm truly worried, because if they impose a boycott on certain products, after that they will boycott me too. I'm talking about a boycott overseas, which can't be pleasant for an export-oriented country. We have to realize that we are not alone in this world. Laws won't help. You have to understand why they are imposing a boycott, the causes of it."

The reason is the occupation.

That's what I'm talking about. We have to cure this by treating the cause of the boycott. I don’t like any boycott from whatever direction it comes, but this law is like a fire cupping cure for the dead. Will we pass a law about everything that's against us? It can be enforced in Israel, but what will we do overseas?"

Peace Now director Yariv Oppenheimer believes that the new law has achieved the opposite of its intended effect, and has succeeded in rallying leftists to the cause. "The immediate result of the law," he says, "is that now more people are boycotting products of the settlements than ever before.

"Awareness of the boycott and the perception of its legitimacy have risen. The reason for that, among other things, is people's desire to say 'this law is unacceptable to us.' Not everyone who will refuse to buy products from the settlements tomorrow will do so because of this or that stance on the territories, but out of an attempt to protest against this law."

Up to now, Peace Now has never supported a boycott.

"We have never encouraged people to buy products from the territories, but we have never taken a step such as we have taken in the past few days. Not even as individuals. I personally try not to buy products from the settlements, but I have never seen anything dramatic in that. Now, after the law has passed, I am much, much more forceful about it. Not because I think that that will stop the occupation, but because I think that that has to be the public response to laws like these."

Has the law boomeranged?

"As far as the Israeli public is concerned, the boycott of products from the settlements has never had the legitimacy it has today. The law has created legitimacy for it among much more moderate people in Israel and around the world."

Will the damage extend to within the Green Line?

"Clearly. All the production from the territories is not something that helps Israel, because as soon as something is made in the territories, there are plenty of people who will label all Israeli products as made in the territories. It doesn't help manufacturers in the territories, nor, in my opinion, does it help exporters in Israel proper. I think that if you ask workers and factory owners in the territories, they will tell you that the law has only harmed them."

But they demanded it.

"But now, they would prefer to keep the fact that they are in the territories as quiet as possible, and this coalition is outing them."

Can the left maintain such a boycott?p

"I don't know what will happen. I'm very concerned that the left will get annoyed and be in a fever for a week, and then go back to routine. But every blow like this, every piece of legislation like this, rouses more people. What the right is doing is to take a few steps too far, and that is what will bring the left back into the picture. Of course I would prefer that it did not happen that way."

Dani Dayan, head of the Yesha Council, the representative body of the settlers in the territories, believes that manufacturers in Judea and Samaria will not even need a week to get over the storm raised by the law. "I know of enquiries from consumers who have taken the lists and sought to find out where they can find the products," says Dayan. "I believe that it will not cause further damage, and I hope that enterprises that are boycotted will really sue, because now they can sue and receive compensation, which was not the case before. Even if it causes a certain rise in the number of boycotters, the increase in the number of people supporting us will offset the new boycotters."

Will the boycott take root among the moderate left?

"This kind of talk will continue to belong to eccentrics and extremists. I don't think that any sane person in Israeli society will join the boycott because of the law.

"There is a section of the law that states that the minister of finance can institute regulations and prevent companies that submit to the boycott from participating in government tenders.

"I think that anyone who sells us in order to gain a few cents from the Palestinians is not worthy of benefitting from the public purse. I have already approached the minister of finance on this matter."

Haya Ben-David is a business consultant with MATI, the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor center for promoting entrepreneurship, in Judea and Samaria. She has advised many businesses in the settlements. "I know of enterprises that have suffered from the boycott, that have been damaged by it from the start. What happens in Israel is not always what happens overseas. The fact that people have become aware of this here won't necessarily affect importers overseas."

How have businesses coped with the boycott overseas?

"It has led them to develop new markets. For every person who wants to boycott, there is someone who wants to buy. From a marketing point of view, it has sometimes been to a business's benefit. However, when you have orders cancelled, or you are not allowed to participate in a tender, it's unpleasant."

The EU demanded that the government should label products from the territories.

"There was a period in which the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor marked products, or permitted marking, or made it compulsory. They decided to label goods coming from across the Green Line."

How did you deal with that?

"Many manufacturers simply opened an office in Rosh Ha'ayin, Tel Aviv, or wherever necessary, and transferred goods via a warehouse or something like that. That was the way to solve the matter. In the end, the Jews found the way."

Yehuda Cohen, CEO of Lipski Plastic Industries in the Barkan Industrial Zone, is proud of his contribution to the formulation of the law, but is not happy with the final result. "You could say that the legislation began because of us, because of me, because of the Samaria Regional Council," says Cohen, "but this is not the law that I asked for. I have been boycotted by the Palestinian Authority for eighteen months through the most undemocratic law in existence: a Palestinian caught with a product of mine can expect five years imprisonment and a $15,000 fine. It’s not like when we have a 'Buy Israeli' campaign, and whoever wants to can choose to do so. They aren't running a 'Buy Palestinian' campaign. With them, whoever is found with a Lipski product will be punished.

"At the same time, my competitor from Hebron continues to sell his output in Israel. I came to the Knesset Economic Committee and asked for an eye for an eye. How can it be that my goods are boycotted in the Palestinian Authority, while similar Palestinian goods are sold in Israel without a problem? That's where the story started."

And does the law deal with that?

"The law passed this week in the Knesset is excellent for anyone with national pride. But it does not deal with the original problem, the Palestinian Authority boycott. At the beginning it did deal with that, but Bibi sent the minister of justice to take that part out at first reading, four months ago. The law as passed does not deal with the problem of manufacturers boycotted in the Authority."

Are you not seeing a fall in sales in Israel?

"You mean the lists being put out? Who makes these lists? Peace Now? It’s an irrelevant organization, completely marginal in Israeli society. They don’t represent a quarter of my consumers. Most of the nation despises Peace Now.

"Everything I do for industry in Barkan I do out of a spirit of Zionism. I think that this industrial zone is our chance for peace, and I invite everyone to come and see the co-existence we have here."

Do you feel you have won?

"We are one people. We must not boycott one another. Boycotts are unnecessary bullying. Peace Now has made itself even more marginal with its support for the boycott. By all means, express your views, but without boycotts, without spying on our activity."

On the left, they believe that steps like these will lead to an agreement.

"I suggest that they should not harm the industrial zones, which are the bridge to peace. This is our hope. They provide a living to both peoples, and if we destroy this industry, then we will not leave an opening for hope and co-existence. This is a place without politics, purely work. Some of the Palestinians who work in my business are managers, and it's a pleasure for me to work with them and run a company in Barkan. I don't argue with anyone who says that it's not my territory. Fine, if in the permanent settlement they decide that this belongs to the Palestinian Authority, they don't have to liquidate it. Let the Palestinian Authority run the business. Meanwhile, we are providing people with livelihoods."


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