Settlement Boycott Call Likely To Fall Flat

Trouble With Beinart's Plan: There's Not Much to Boycott

By Nathan Guttman

Published March 22, 2012, issue of March 30, 2012.
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By most standards, SodaStream is a great Israeli success story. The company’s product, a home carbonating device for soft drinks, is sold by all major retailers in the United States. The company’s stock is traded in Nasdaq. But if a call to boycott products from Jewish settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank gains traction, SodaStream, with its manufacturing center in the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, could become a target of protest.

Peter Beinart
courtesy of peter beinart
Peter Beinart

Boycotting Israeli goods produced in exclusively Jewish West Bank settlements has been an integral part of the agenda of groups on the far left of the Israeli-Palestinian debate for years. But a March 18 op-ed in The New York Times by prominent liberal author Peter Beinart could push the idea into the mainstream, or at least fire up a debate about its merits.

Beinart, a former editor of The New Republic, is a longtime Israel supporter who passionately backs a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In his op-ed, Beinart called on American Jews and others to distinguish between Israel within its internationally recognized pre-1967 borders — whose products he urged supporters of Israel to promote — and what he calls “nondemocratic Israel.” By this, Beinart meant the occupied territories on the other side of the Green Line that marks Israel’s pre-1967 boundary. Their continued retention, he fears, will mean the end of Israel as a democratic state with a Jewish majority.

Boycotting settlement products could send a symbolic message to Israelis, as Beinart suggests. But on a practical level, such a boycott would be hard to implement and its economic ramifications would be minimal. Israel and the United States do not keep records of settlement products sold in America, but based on existing trade data it is clear that the numbers are marginal.

In 2010, the United States bought $21 billion worth of goods from Israel. Diamonds, pharmaceuticals, electronics, machinery and medical products made up three-quarters of these imports. None of these industries has a significant manufacturing presence in the West Bank. For the most part, Jewish settlements in the West Bank are either bedroom communities for Israelis working within the 1967 borders or homes for service workers employed by the government and local authorities in the West Bank. Small industrial zones in East Jerusalem — which Beinart specifically exempts from his boycott call, though it lies beyond the Green Line — and around the major settlement blocs manufacture mostly for the local market and are not significant exporters.

Therefore, a settlements boycott, even if carried out in full, would hardly make a dent in the Israeli economy— or even in the settlements’ own economic condition.

To have an effective symbolic impact, supporters of Beinart’s proposal would have to focus on several high-profile goods identified with West Bank Jewish settlements. The product most commonly targeted by boycotters is a line of cosmetics made of Dead Sea minerals and marketed under the brand name Ahava. In 2009, the activist group Code Pink launched a campaign to boycott this company’s products, which are manufactured in Mitzpe Shalem, a kibbutz built in 1976 on lands that Israel gained in the 1967 Six Day War. Despite numerous demonstrations and calls to refrain from purchasing Ahava’s creams and bath salts, they are widely sold throughout the United States, with an annual sales drive in malls before the holiday season. The company, which is privately held, does not provide detailed information on its sales.

Additional settlement exports include foods and wines sold in small quantities in kosher grocery stores in the United States.


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