Last week, battles were being waged — one with words and the other with bullets. Casualties in the battle with bullets were far more easily quantified: 1,900 Syrians were killed last week while peace negotiations were underway between the principals in the Syrian civil war. The tragedy continues there unabated. Estimates of the total death toll in the conflict now exceed 120,000 civilians.
The war of words, however, is fought in battles of black and white newsprint and color images. It is longer in duration and more decisive in its influence on the outcome of events. In accordance with the adage that “the pen is mightier than the sword,” the side that controls the message will be the winner.
This is the primary battle that Israel faces today.
The world recognizes that Israel is vulnerable to the word and has decided to challenge Israel in the media, today’s very real battlefield. This battle has been joined on every front, from the threat of financial sanctions from the European Union to something as seemingly innocuous as the production of a popular household product, which ironically benefits its Palestinian employees as much as anyone else, if not more.
For the last few weeks, the cultish devotees of BDS — Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (more accurately: Benighted, Deluded, and Sanctimonious) — have been amplifying their message of hate, demanding the world boycott the popular SodaStream product because its factory in the Mishor Adumim industrial park is within the “settlement” of Ma’ale Adumim, which they claim is in “Occupied Territory.”
What the company does occupy is the working hours of its 950 Arab employees (450 Israeli Arabs and 500 Palestinian Arabs) among the plant’s 1,300 employees. SodaStream, however, isn’t paying its Palestinian Arab workers what they’d get from a Palestinian employer. It’s paying them Israeli wages, which are typically triple the salaries of Palestinians working in Yehudah and Shomron.
In addition, these employees receive the social benefits mandated by Israeli law, a concept unknown in Palestinian-controlled areas. In fact, according to a Palestinian employee, working conditions there are outstanding. He, as an observant Muslim, appreciated that prayer times are not deducted from break allowances. Many of the company’s supervisors are Muslim and direct Israeli-Jewish employees. The company is clearly run as a meritocracy, as any well-run company should be.
SodaStream CEO Daniel Birnbaum inherited this Mishor Adumim site. He stated that, given his choice, he would probably build the factory elsewhere, but claims that the company remains there out of loyalty to its Palestinian Arab workers, a little over 40 percent of the company’s workforce. If the company relocated, most of them would not be able to retain their jobs.
To the BDS movement, the wishes of these happily employed Palestinians are irrelevant. The movement would ecstatically sacrifice them on their altar of sanctimonious anti-Israel propaganda.
The European Union has no actual army with which to attack Israel, so it attacks verbally and with financial threats. In November it threatened Israel with exclusion from its Horizon 2020 Research and Development program. Israel and the EU reached a compromise that permits Israel to participate, but on distinctly EU terms that stipulate that no EU grants, prizes or financial instruments — such as loans — could go to Israeli entities operating outside the Green Line, including in eastern Yerushalayim and the Golan Heights.
More recently, in a statement delivered on January 22, the European Union ambassador to Israel predicted that if Israel continues to expand its presence beyond the Green Line without a peace agreement being signed, it “will find itself increasingly isolated. Not necessarily because of any decisions taken at a government level but because of decisions taken by a myriad of private economic actors, be it companies, be it pension funds, be it consumers who will be choosing other products on the supermarket shelves.”
The ambassador’s remarks proved prophetic. A week later the two largest banks in Scandinavia announced a boycott against Israel’s largest banks, citing “legal and ethical” reasons regarding the banks’ activities beyond the Green Line.
The power of words is the real power in this war. The words emanating from the European Union and from world leaders such as Secretary of State Kerry and President Obama, from the BDS Movement and the numerous NGO (non-governmental organization) chorus against Israel are their bullets, meant to weaken the nation and force it into submission while emboldening the Palestinians. Prime Minister Netanyahu was correct when he said Kerry’s recent remarks — envisioning Israel growing more “isolated” and facing an intifada” — would only create a greater intransigence among the Palestinians.
If only the world would move past the might of “the pen” and remember instead that “silence is golden.”
Meir Solomon is a writer, analyst and commentator living in Alon Shvut, Israel, with his wife and two children. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org