Academic journal article Middle East Quarterly

A European Boycott of Israel?: The Jewish State's International Standing

Academic journal article Middle East Quarterly

A European Boycott of Israel?: The Jewish State's International Standing

Article excerpt

Where is the European Union headed in its policy toward Israel? Its recent decisions seem to be building momentum in opposite directions at the same time. One path is marked by important new agreements expandingM economic cooperation with Israel. The other is shaped by a new EU directive that could encourage boycotts of Israel's major banks and many of its key companies and research institutions.

On the positive side, in July 2012, the EU took unprecedented measures to enhance its relations with Israel in sixty trade and diplomatic policy areas, including increased access to its single market, closer cooperation on transport and energy, and enhanced ties with nine EU agencies.117 And in October 2012, despite fierce opposition from the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement seeking such actions against Israel, the European parliament ratified a to facilitate the export to Europe of Israeli industrial products.118 The Israeli Foreign Ministry called it "an extremely important agreement" that "deepens the bilateral relations between the EU and Israel"9 while the Council of the European Union, the union's supreme executive authority, welcomed both agreements as showing "the significance the EU attaches to its relations with the State of Israel" and "the importance of further developing our broad, bilateral partnership."120

Contrary to these affirmations, the EU also issued a new guideline whose implementation could profoundly disrupt relations with Israel. In July 2013, the union promulgated a new directive that could encourage a boycott of Israeli banks operating in Jewish communities in east Jerusalem and anywhere beyond the pre-1967 lines. The guidelines apply only to settlements but, if strictly implemented, could lead to a wider EU boycott not only of settlement entities and activities but also Israeli institutions operating primarily in "Israel proper." The secondary effects could be even greater as they are adopted by European banks and companies making their own decisions.

Tzipi Livni, Israel's chief peace negotiator and chair of the liberal Hatnuah Party, said, "True, [the European boycott] starts with settlement [goods], but their problem is with Israel, which is seen as a colonialist country. Therefore, it won't stop at the settlements, but [will spread] to all of Israel."121 Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's former national security adviser Yaacov Amidror described the directive as a "conscious decision" to attack Israel politically and economically and a "type of an economic boycott."122

If implemented in a manner that impedes cooperation with Israel, the guidelines could harm European interests as well. Israel is a very good customer for European products: In 2012, it imported 46 percent more from the EU than it exported back ($26.7 vs. $18.3 billion). Enhanced trade between Israel and the EU is creating more jobs in Europe than in Israel. Israeli purchases from the EU have increased by nearly 50 percent since 2003. Israel now imports half as much from Europe as Australia does and about 60 percent as much as Saudi Arabia.123

Most European officials acknowledge that cooperation with Israel in research and development is in Europe's interest and not just in Israel's. For instance, Israel was the only nonEuropean country invited to take part in the Horizon 20/20 program promoting research and development, and Europe's countries benefit from closer cooperation with tech-savvy Israeli firms. As CNN reported, American technology companies are also "on a shopping spree in Israel, spending billions on ever larger deals and fueling the country's startup success story. ... Microsoft in Israel estimates that about $13 billion in Israeli tech acquisitions have been completed since the start of 2012."124 Impeding European cooperation with Israeli firms hurts both sides, not just Israel.

The Slippery Slope

Any new impediments mean that Brussels is putting a roadblock in front of its own declared goal of expanding trade, investment, and research cooperation with Israel. …

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