Israeli, EU Trade in Tact Despite BDS

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- Military threats aren't the only challenge facing Israel. The nation must also deal with an intense economic campaign, called BDS (boycott, divest and sanction), a movement spearheaded in Europe. But despite the BDS campaign, Israeli exports to the European Union's 28 member nations are holding steady and even increasing.

"The business community in Israel is not worried," Shraga Brosh, former president of the Manufacturers Association of Israel, told participants at a one-day conference co-sponsored by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and the Konrad Adenaur Foundation on Monday. "Business is business and politics is politics," he said. "It's business as usual."

The conference, entitled "Europe and Israel: a New Paradigm," featured discussion on mutual interests in economy, energy and research; security and shared strategic threats; anti-Semitism, the peace talks and a look at how the E.U. and Israel can forge ahead in the future.

The head of the European Union delegation to Israel, Ambassador Lars Faaborg-Andersen, told participants the "ebb and flow" of relations is often tied to progress in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. The E.U. has been particularly critical of the "settlement issue" and has tried to punish Israeli businesses, many of them successful, which employ Jews and Arabs in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank).

Working Together

Brosh explained why it's counterproductive to move factories in industrial parks outside the "green line," the 1949 armistice lines, where Israelis and Palestinians work side by side, receiving the same pay and benefits. Such moves will leave hundreds of Palestinians unemployed and unable to find comparable work, he explained. If you really want to support the Palestinian economy, you create jobs that provide an environment of cooperation between Arabs and Jews.

Israeli hi-tech can help bridge the ever-widening social gaps both here and abroad, he said. In business, it's about building teams of people with different strengths and the same thinking can be applied to countries.

Spreading the success of Israel's hi-tech economy to raise society's weaker sectors is a workable strategy because the distinction between hi-tech and everything else is disappearing. Fifty percent of traditional Israeli industries are fully immersed in hi-tech.

"There's tremendous demand. Companies are knocking at our door," Brosh continued. "So if 10 out of 100 companies don't want to do business with us, so what? Why focus on the people who don't want to work with us. We have plenty of people who do want to work with us."

Brosh suggested that legal action may be the best defense against the E.U.'s one-sided demonization of Israel, asking where the lines should be drawn.

Support for Jewish State 'Racist'

The same people who claim to be in the forefront of human rights issues are in the forefront of the BDS campaign. They present Israel and any Jew, or non-Jew, who supports the Jewish state as racist. Zionism, they say, is endemically racist.

Brosh claims it's necessary to tackle these exploiters of human rights and expose the real interest of the proponents of the BDS campaign.

"Palestinianism" has become almost a religion in itself, and critics say Europe is a long way off from dealing honestly with daily incitement against Israel and the Jews.

Meanwhile, Dan Catarivas, director of Foreign Trade and International Relations for the association, explained that reconstruction in Europe following the Second World War began with economic projects "that created confidence."

Israel was one of the first countries to establish trade relations with the European community in the mid-1950s. By 1975, there were 75 free trade agreements between Israel and Europe, which, he predicted, will continue to be Israel's major partner for years to come.

In 2013, the U.K. became a major export partner with Israel, followed by the Netherlands, Germany and France.

Israel is a transformation economy. It takes raw material and transforms it into state-of-the-art products, doing business with such giants as Intel, Microsoft, Google, and Apple. Israel is a leader in the field of water technology and hydration of arid lands and crops and enjoys "a massive and very productive synergy with the U.S. and other countries."

New Opportunities to Co-Innovate 

There's a whole new world of opportunities, emerging markets, to co-innovate with country/culture-specific products for new markets. Building relations with new markets is a process that takes time explained Saul Singer, co-author of the Start-up Nation. "Israeli exports are the growing part of our economy," Singer said.

Hebrew University Prof. Shlomo Avineri said there's a racist cloud over Europe whose historical and political roots must be understood. Why, he asked, has the E.U. spent more time on the issue of products from Judea and Samaria than on the situation in Syria and recently in Ukraine?  It has been difficult for the E.U. to have a coherent foreign policy, but Europe is not Israel's enemy. Europeans and Israelis have many common interests.

"We have to be aware we have them and work on them," Avineri said. "We have a deep commonality of values. We should focus on our common interests."

Free trade is in everyone's interest, he continued. Anti-Israel rhetoric validates Islamists, exacerbating the problem.

Former Italian politician, author and journalist Fiamma Nirenstein, said inside the hearts of many Europeans is a hidden love, sympathy and admiration for Israelis. Many realize the Jews have lived here for 4,000 years and have never really gone away. We need people who can build bridges -- people, not politicians, build bridges, she said.

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