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May 26, 2010

Boycotting Israeli goods is the right thing to do

Reuel S. Amdur

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The Palestinian boycott of Israeli goods from the West Bank is hurting. That is clear from the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who is visiting Canada next week has undertaken to denounce it.

“Israel aspires to economic peace.  We have removed checkpoints, eased the lives of Palestinians and are working all the time to advance the Palestinian economy.  Despite this, the Palestinians are opposing economic peace and are taking steps that in the end hurt themselves.”

The products Israel produces in the West Bank are quite varied, but many of them are consumer products, some with limited shelf life, making them to some degree dependent on the local Palestinian market. 

Thus, Israeli companies in the West Bank produce prepared salads, dairy products, tahini, and halvah among other items. Non-food products include plastic furniture, cosmetics, carpets, and pencils. 

The boycott is causing enough damage that the Israeli Manufacturers Association is calling for financial compensation from the Israeli government.

According to Haaretz, Irit Ben-Abba, director of the economic affairs division of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, and Yael Rabia-Tzadok, who heads the ministry’s Middle East division, have complained about the boycott to the U.S., the European Union (EU), and Tony Blair, the envoy of the Quartet. 

It appears that the Palestinian boycott is evidence of the growing influence of the Palestinian Authority’s Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad.  In another action, he has taken part in demonstrations against the separation wall in Bil’in, where the wall is confiscating Palestinian farm land. 

The status of Israeli products from the West Bank has been an issue for the EU, which has a trade treaty with Israel.  The EU has determined that products from the Occupied Territories are not included in the agreement, and as a result they are not exempt from regular tariff rates. 

In order for the EU to know if a product comes from the West Bank, Israel must now indicate the name of the location—the city or town—on the “made in Israel” label.  Additional costs due to the tariffs levied by the EU have caused a beverage producer, Soda Club, to move back to Israel from the West Bank.

In Italy, two grocery store chains are no longer buying any Israeli products because of uncertainty of whether they come from Israel or the West Bank.  The boycott movement is growing, much to Israel’s annoyance.

Here in Canada, we do not have a clear list of West Bank Israeli products coming in. 

However, there are some products which have been identified: Achdut Tahini, Pri-Vayerek olives, Barbet jam (sold by wholesaler Supreme Foods of Concord, Ontario), and Ahava Dead Sea cosmetics. 

Ahava is available in at least some Rexall drug stores and the Bay.  You really can do without these products. 

For those wanting to carry the boycott farther than just the Occupied Territories, anti-Israeli Apartheid groups advise that products with a bar code beginning with “729” come from Israel.  The “7” is to the left of the bar.  However, some Israeli products have a different code.

A boycott of everything Israeli is part of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions campaign, but beyond consumer goods the movement runs into difficulties. 

Israeli products are mainly military hardware and some are very specialized such as a huge solar energy installation in an American desert, and medical equipment. 

The Palestinians are too dependent on Israeli products to boycott all of them, though targeting specific items might be feasible. 

The Palestinian Authority might identify companies that sell heavily in the Territories and they might then look at various factors: the politics of the owners, the extent to which the product is essential, and the availability of alternatives. 

Hitting at Israeli companies in the West Bank is less problematic and does have an impact.  Just ask Netanyahu.

Of course, as everyone knows, Israeli officials are all heart when it comes to the Palestinians!

Industry, Trade, and Labor Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer called attention to the harm that the boycott will do to the Palestinians themselves.  25,000 are employed by Israelis in the West Bank. 

Well, Fayyad is letting it be known that the Palestinian Authority is planning to order them all to quit. 

He just does not appreciate the fact that the right-wing Israeli government and the rabid settlement movement have nothing other than the interests and the well-being of the Palestinians at heart.

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