With all the noise coming from the BDS movement, it’s easy to miss the real news: Not only are countries not being intimidated by the anti-Israel pseudo-human rights activists who demand that they boycott Israel, but governments that traditionally boycotted Israel out of fear of angering the Arab world have been quietly increasing their economic activity with the Jewish state.
Take Japan, for instance. For decades, the resource-poor country, dependent on oil from the unstable Middle East, kept its distance from Israel. No Toyotas in the Promised Land. But the picture has changed to the point that Japan is today Israel’s fourth-largest market in Asia (which has overtaken the United States to become Israel’s largest trading partner after Europe).
Israel-Japan bilateral trade in goods in the first seven months of 2016 rose to $1.4 billion from $1.1 billion.
“Geopolitics is changing in the Middle East and as oil prices come down, strategically it’s not as important,” says Yoshimitsu Kobayashi, chairman of Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings.
But even if Japan is losing its fear of being denied Arab oil, what could Israel have to offer such a high-tech giant? State-of-the-art technologies in defense and cybersecurity, low-cost generic medications for its aging population — courtesy of Teva — and a culture of innovation that is respected around the world.
Following in the footsteps of thousands of other leading high-tech companies from around the world, Japanese firms are setting up research and development centers in Israel, buying start-ups, and entering into partnerships at unprecedented rates.
Mitsubishi’s Kobayashi, who led a delegation from the Japanese business lobby to Israel in May, summed it up best, when he said, “Japan is changing its mind.”
So are other countries. When Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu made a swing through Africa this summer he discovered a continent that was eager to do business with Israel.
His presentations of Israel’s latest technological advances generated tremendous excitement. According to Hamodia’s military correspondent, A. Pe’er, at the end of one meeting, one leader announced that he wanted Netanyahu to speak to his friend. He picked up the phone and within two minutes, the prime minister was speaking to the president of the most important Islamic African state.
What’s changed for these countries, among other things, is the emergence of Islamic State, which they now understand could reach deep inside their countries and wreak havoc, as happened in Yemen, Syria and the Horn of Africa. Their concern for the “Palestinian problem” is taking a back seat to concern for their very survival.
And they realize that only Israel, which unfortunately has vast experience in combatting terrorism, has the experience, technology and military intelligence to help them fend off IS.
Economic ties with at least seven African countries are being established and expanded. For now, they are being kept secret (as are economic ties with much of the Arab world). But they could pave the way for greater cooperation and alliances that may someday be translated into diplomatic support in international bodies.
Even Arab countries are changing their mind. Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States and other moderate countries understand that Islamic State and a nuclear-armed Iran are threats just as great to them as to Israel. Today, cooperation with Egypt is at unprecedented levels; the traditionally cold peace has never been warmer. Turkey has renewed diplomatic ties, in part because it wants a stake in Israel’s huge off-shore natural gas finds.
The geopolitics have changed. Israel is not isolated.
All this is not to say that Israel and Jewish groups around the world can afford to ignore the BDS movement. The lie that the founders of this movement are pushing — that they are peace-lovers who simply want a Palestinian state in the pre-1967 lines — must be exposed.
That is why the government of Israel has allocated funds to combat BDS and placed Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan, a capable communicator, to head the campaign, and why leading philanthropists and activists throughout the Jewish world have signed on.
“My job is to reveal their true colors,” notes Erdan, who was in London this week to present Israel’s case. “We have documentation of many prominent BDS activists, when they have their guard down, answering the question whether Israel can exist as a Jewish state if it withdraws [to 1949 armistice lines], and they always answer no, the Jews have no right to their own state…. BDS is pure anti-Semitism, based on hating Jews and a refusal to recognize the Jews’ right to exist, let alone have a state.”
But while it’s important to make maximum effort in battling the slanderers, we must not lose sight of the fact that BDS activists are a minority, albeit a vocal one, and that they are not succeeding.
Foreign investment in Israel last year increased 71 percent, and this year appears just as promising. The world is changing its mind and that’s good news for Israel.