Mazal Mualem, al-monitor.com
Image from interview, with caption: A protester chants slogans near a banner reading "Boycott Israel" during an anti-Israel march in Malmo, Sweden, March 7, 2009.
The economic cost that Israel is paying for the current wave of terror can be seen in how the malls have emptied out. The consumers are not only scared to shop there, they aren’t in the mood to shop. Just like after every outbreak of violence, statistics will soon be released to back up these observations. “Add the fact that certain countries already boycott us for political and ideological reasons, and the negative impact on the economy could be very significant,” said Shraga Brosh, president of the Manufacturers Association of Israel. In an interview with Al-Monitor, he calls on the government to include businesspeople in the country’s official public diplomacy campaign overseas, claiming that this tactic already proved itself during the first and second intifadas. ...
Al-Monitor: Do you have figures relating to the impact that the BDS movement [boycott, divestment and sanctions] is having on the Israeli economy?
Brosh: We don’t know how much the BDS movement has had an impact. The reason is that there are two sides to the boycott: the official BDS movement boycott, in which, for example, a shop in Sweden boycotts us. We know how to handle that through our embassy or the various economic ministries because boycotts are illegal. The bigger problem is dealing with boycotts that we don’t know about. So, for example, someone on the board of directors of a company can get up and say, “There’s a problem with Israel,” and then they decide to boycott us, without giving us the reason or even informing anyone that they really are boycotting Israeli goods. In that case, it is not as if some supermarket made a point of removing a specific product. They simply made a decision not to buy goods from an Israeli supplier.
I am very glad that our exports focus more on technology and innovation. We have to continue focusing on that, because then companies who refuse to buy from us end up losing out. They don’t buy from us because they like us. They buy from us because they think our products are the best, that they are the most technologically advanced and of the highest quality. Most of what we sell is not the end product that appears on the shelf. For the most part, it is the technology. So, for example, our exports in the auto industry come to over $1 billion in sales, which all boils down to a tiny computer in the car’s engine. That is why we must make it impossible for them to forego our products.
We must continue investing everything we can in innovation, while at the same time waging a public diplomacy campaign. Ultimately, an economic public diplomacy campaign led by businesspeople, who meet with their peers overseas, can bring about change. After all, what do we have to do with politics? We make a good product, we’re not against peace and we’re not opposed to the Palestinians. We just want to live in peace. These personal encounters are excellent. We had meetings like that during the first intifada. We sent delegations of three or four businesspeople to various world capitals. They spent two or three days in each city, met with the editorial boards of the local newspapers, gave interviews, relayed a message about a spirit and willingness of acting, and met with economic ministers.
Al-Monitor: The question is whether a public diplomacy campaign like this can replace policy.
Brosh: No, absolutely not. I am just talking about our ability to influence. I don’t always know who is boycotting me, but I do know that I must be at the front in the public diplomacy war. Furthermore, we are always going abroad, so use us. There should be no shame in repeating what already proved to be successful in the past. We used to have this type of commercial ambassadors. Before anyone of us ever went overseas, we would call the Israeli ambassador in that country. We would ask him if he needed help and whether he could arrange us a newspaper interview or a meeting.
People say that the Palestinians have the best public diplomacy in the world. That is because it was built up slowly, piece by piece. We have to do things that won’t cost us money. We have to rebrand Israel internationally as a country based on technological excellence. That way, they won’t just associate us with intifadas and the killings. ...