TEL AVIV — Israeli defense companies led by Elbit Systems are girding for global protests of their products, trade partners and subsidiaries as their government wages a high-profile pushback against the anti-occupation movement and its threat of economic sanctions.
Israeli opposition leaders joined the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in waging diplomatic and economic war against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, a growing coalition of Palestinian and international organizations and groups that Israel claims is inherently anti-Semitic and bent on its demise.
The movement has already claimed credit for prompting Barclays Bank and Norway's pension fund to divest from Elbit stock; for killing a small research satellite program with an Elbit subsidiary in Brazil; and for causing disruptions at three Elbit factories or subsidiary facilities in Europe.
On July 6, to commemorate one year since the start of last summer's war in Gaza, the movement is calling for mass protests at UAV Engines Ltd., an Elbit subsidiary near Birmingham, England. Nearly a dozen organizations are promoting the upcoming demonstration, timed for 7 a.m. to disrupt workers about to begin their shifts.
"Groups and campaigners from across the UK are going back to Elbit's factory to demand that the UK stop arming Israel," an organization called Block the Factory advertised on its Facebook page.
In addition to calls for a military embargo against Israel, the BDS movement is targeting Elbit and other companies for providing intrusion detection systems and other elements used to bolster Israel's security barrier around the West Bank.
Other companies targeted or flagged for their support of what BDS condemns as Israel's "aApartheid wWall" include Magal Security Systems, Israel Aerospace Industries' Tamam division and Controp Precision Technologies.
"Against attempts to attack Israel with lies, false accusations and boycotts, we must line up — right and left — to rebuff the pressure; expose the lies and attack those who attack us," Netanyahu told Cabinet ministers June 7. "We will gather forces around the world to shatter the lies of our enemies, and we will fight for Israel's right to live in peace and security."
Initiated as a grassroots movement in 2005, BDS aims to use economic sanctions to end Israel's occupation of disputed territories captured in 1967; dismantle the separation barrier erected around the West Bank and East Jerusalem; and promote the so-called right of return for Palestinian refugees from Israel's 1948 war of independence.
Israel's left-wing Meretz party and anti-occupation activists here insist BDS's primary focus is to delegitimize the Israeli occupation, and not Israel as a whole.
"There's a world of difference between actions taken against products made in Israel and those made or associated with activities in the territories Israel continues to occupy after 48 years and hold under military rule," said Meretz Party leader Zehava Gal-On.
Nevertheless, center and left-of-center parties who fought hard (and unsuccessfully) in recent elections to unseat Netanyahu are now backing the Israeli premier's calls to "boycott the boycotters."
"It's a huge anti-Semitic movement that is gathering momentum, and we need to move from defense to offense," said Yair Lapid, a former Netanyahu coalition partner and finance minister who now sits in opposition as head of the centrist There Is a Future party.
In a June 8 interview with Israel Radio, Lapid — like Isaac Herzog, leader of the Zionist Union, Israel's largest opposition party — insisted that on this issue, the opposition is in lockstep with Netanyahu's coalition.
"I'm the first to criticize the government's policies, but BDS is not driven by goals of having the Palestineian Authority alongside Israel. They simply want the state of Israel to cease to exist," Lapid said. "We all need to be drafted into battle against this threat."
Mikhael Manekin, managing director of Molad, the center for the renewal of Israeli Democracy, disagrees.
"It's easy to get caught up in this knee-jerk reaction when the actual existence of the state seems threatened. However, a level-headed look at the facts paints quite a different picture from the defensive panic that Netanyahu and his hawkish government are strewing," he said. "Contrary to popular perception and the daily messages issued by the prime minister's office, Israel does not suffer from international delegitimization. Boycotting the entire state of Israel — as opposed to boycotting its actions in the West Bank only — is a relatively marginal phenomenon that has not gained mass popularity.... Instead of joining in the clamor of right-wing alarmists, this is an opportunity for those who believe in two states to demonstrate responsible leadership."
In a June 9 interview, Manekin, a captain in the Israeli Army reserves, noted that threats to divestment from Israeli firms is far more serious than threats of boycotts. He called on the government and opposition leaders to work toward a clear strategy of safeguarding Israel's position in the global community through delineation of what transpires within and beyond the 1967 Green Line.
"Strident self-justification is not a serious strategy. The world wants to know what Israel intends to do, if anything, to right the wrongs of a nearly half-century occupation," Manekin said the left-wing activist.
Industry executives last week declined to comment for the record on the activities of BDS or the Israeli government's tactics in combating the threat of delegitimizing economic sanctions. Privately, however, many were skeptical of the government's combative approach and would prefer to allow events to play out with minimal publicity.
"The impact of BDS is small, but the noise they make is thunderous. And now we must deal with hype coming from our own government, which is delivering publicity into the hands of these detractors," an industry executive here said.