Boycotts will disappear when Israel advances peace, EU envoy says
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Boycotts will disappear when Israel advances peace, EU envoy says

Ambassador Faaborg-Andersen says European Union opposes BDS, argues that Israel inflates ‘marginal’ movement

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Lars Faaborg-Andersen, the ambassador of the European Union (EU), seen at the opening of Yedioth Aharonot's conference "Fighting the Boycott", at the Jerusalem Convention Center, on March 28, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Lars Faaborg-Andersen, the ambassador of the European Union (EU), seen at the opening of Yedioth Aharonot's conference "Fighting the Boycott", at the Jerusalem Convention Center, on March 28, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Without the Israeli-Palestinian conflict there would be no Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, the European Union’s envoy to Israel said Monday, arguing that the best way to fight BDS is to take steps to advance a two-state solution.

“The most effective antidote against the BDS movement is to solve the Palestinian issue. If there were no Palestinian issue, there would be no BDS movement,” Ambassador Lars Faaborg-Andersen said at a conference in Jerusalem.

At the very least, the boycott movement “would swing into virtually nothing” if there was no Israeli-Palestinian conflict “to tag unto,” he argued.

The EU does not expect Israel to be able to solve the conflict unilaterally, the ambassador stressed. “It takes two to tango. It takes the Palestinians also.” But it is important for Israel not to be seen as undermining a two-state solution, he said. “If more effort is put into showing a will to move forward and to obtain progress in this process, it would greatly weaken the BDS movement.”

Faaborg-Andersen added BDS is a “rather marginal” phenomenon that currently “has very little effect” on Israel. “That means that we have to, of course, stay vigilant in order to ensure it does not get further boosts and does not get further support. But I think it’s important to keep a sense of proportions here and ensure that we’re not to talking up this phenomenon rather than talking it down, and thereby giving it a platform that it really doesn’t have.”

There is “big difference between legitimate criticism of policies and BDS,” he said. “There’s a great risk, by lumping things together that really don’t belong together that you first of all give the BDS movement a prominence that it doesn’t have. And secondly that you cut off dialogue and conversation with those who are critical of the policies but are not supporters of BDS.”

Earlier during the conference, which was organized by the Yedioth Ahronoth daily newspaper, Faaborg-Andersen expressed the EU’s desire to see Israel thrive and said the union completely rejects any efforts to boycott Israel. “Let me make one thing 100 percent clear: The European Union is against BDS. Our policy is totally opposite of BDS. Our policy is one of engagement with Israel.”

The EU has “a long track record to prove” his point, Faaborg-Andersen said, citing the $30 billion bilateral trade volume and the fact that the EU is Israel’s “most important partner in science and technology.”

However, the envoy stressed, the EU thinks settlements are illegal under international law and a hindrance to the peace process. Settlement goods are sold freely and are “welcome on the European market,” he said, though they do not enjoy preferential customs treatment — products from Israel proper do — and have to carry an indication that they are from the settlements.

“Not even the Israeli government claims that the West Bank is part of Israel. So why would products coming from the West Bank be labeled as from Israel? We have no problems with those products; they just have to be correctly labeled,” he said. “This doesn’t amount to any kind of boycott.”

The EU’s envoy further said the union has recognized “on several occasions” that Israel “doesn’t face a level playing field” in international forums, such as the United Nations Human Rights Council.

No other country is singled out for routine scrutiny the way Israel is, he acknowledged. “We have been critical of that and we have also been trying in various ways to help Israel in overcoming some of these obstacles they are facing in terms of an unequal playing field in the Human Rights Council, for example.”

But there’s only so much the EU can do, he added. “We are 28 voices but the council is much bigger than that. So therefore we have to abide by the rule of the majority. And our position continues to be that these bodies, even though we might not always agree with the majority view, these bodies are important for international dialogue. And therefore our policy with them is also one of engagement.”

Faaborg-Andersen’s participation in the conference, and his appearance on a panel with former settler leader Dani Dayan, had led to harsh criticism from the BDS movement. In an open letter posted online, BDS activists called on the EU to withdraw the senior diplomat from the panel.

But Faaborg-Andersen said he was “totally undeterred” by these calls. “Sometimes I’m criticized by extremist settlers and today I am criticized by the BDS movement.”

President Reuven Rivlin, who also spoke at the conference, said that delegitimization of Israel lies at the core of the BDS movement, but warned against blacklisting legitimate criticism of Israel.

President Reuven Rivlin speaks during the Yediot Ahronot newspaper's conference "Fighting the Boycott" discussing issues and ways to fight the BDS movement, at the Jerusalem Convention Center, on March 28, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
President Reuven Rivlin speaks during the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper’s conference ‘Fighting the Boycott’ discussing issues and ways to fight the BDS movement, at the Jerusalem Convention Center, on March 28, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

“We must distinguish between criticism and delegitimization when we deal with the BDS. Criticism can be given also among friends, but it is important to make sure that it does not turn into the delegitimization of Israel,” he said.

Not everyone who criticizes Israeli policies opposes the state’s right to exist, the president continued. “The fact that we can bear criticism and successfully explain our positions in a debate within Israeli democracy is our strength. We must realize that there is no other way.”

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