Hebrew media review

Is Israel ready for a boycott?

The Hebrew papers take a crack at predicting what a boycott would look like, and whether Israel should be worried

In this 2010 photo, a Palestinian in the city of Hebron builds a miniature ship to show support for the flotilla to Gaza, which became the Mavi Marmara incident.  Israel has offered new compensation to Turkey to normalize the strained relations from the incident (photo credit: NAJEH HASHLAMOUN/FLASH90)
In this 2010 photo, a Palestinian in the city of Hebron builds a miniature ship to show support for the flotilla to Gaza, which became the Mavi Marmara incident. Israel has offered new compensation to Turkey to normalize the strained relations from the incident (photo credit: NAJEH HASHLAMOUN/FLASH90)

With no new speech by John Kerry to jump all over, the Israeli press is taking a moment to collectively ask, “Are we ready for a boycott?”

Maariv answers that question on its front page with the headline, “Foreign Ministry officials: The boycott phenomenon is spreading, but Israel is not prepared.” The paper reports that despite the growing threat of a boycott, sources in the Foreign Ministry say that the only plan the political echelon has involves proving Israel’s case in the court of public opinion, but that involves preparation which hasn’t occurred yet.

The article goes on to quote Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who rejects the claim that the best defense against boycotts is peace. Citing the recent decision by Danish and Dutch companies to divest from Israeli holdings, Elkin points out that the calls for boycotts have only increased with negotiations. “This shows that the theory that negotiations prevent boycotts does not work,” he said.

“Boycott Ltd.,” is how Yedioth Ahronoth labels a two-page spread showing countries around the world and listing how they might boycott Israel. In Australia, the focus is on the chocolate restaurant Max Brenner. In the UK, any boycott would likely have minimum damage, but the public fallout would hurt Israel’s image. In America, the focus of the boycott movement is on actors and art, and the paper highlights the recent example of Scarlett Johansson’s SodaStream troubles.

In an accompanying article, Yedioth quotes Foreign Ministry sources who offer a harsher warning. “The [current] boycott problem is marginal. A real boycott will erupt if Israel expands settlements and peace talks fail.”

But Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon doesn’t seem very worried about a boycott, or anything else, if the talks with the Palestinians fail. Israel Hayom quotes him on its front page saying, “If there’s no agreement – we’ll manage.”

The paper also has an op-ed by Gonen Ginat who takes a look at a past boycott call and shows how it failed. Reaching back to the pre-state days, Ginat tells the story of General Evelyn Barker, the British military commander in Palestine in 1946, who tried to quell the rebellion against the British by prohibiting British people in the country from buying from Jews. However, Barker’s underlying anti-Semitism caused a storm in Parliament and the boycott failed.

Ginat explicitly states that Kerry is not anti-Semitic and that he was only interpreting the international playing field when he warned at the weekend of the looming boycott dangers. But he criticizes how Kerry handled his speech, saying, “Kerry deals with the subject like a hippopotamus who decides to stretch out in a glass-blower’s shop.” He writes that the threat of a boycott reminds Israel of darker times of anti-Semitism and while the US may have Israel’s best interest in mind, it is for Israel alone to decide how to act.

Lots of negotiations, no deals

Haaretz goes its own way for its front page news, reporting on secret talks between ultra-Orthodox leaders and the IDF over the draft issue. The paper reports that despite blustery statements from the ultra-Orthodox leadership, behind-the-scenes negotiations found them “thoughtful and pragmatic” regarding the issue of military service. The two sides have apparently agreed to build an ultra-Orthodox-only draft center at the IDF’s induction base at Tel Hashomer, which is set to open in March.

Also appearing on Haaretz’s front page is the news that Israel is offering Turkey $20 million to help families of those killed and wounded in the May 2010 Mavi Marmara raid. The amount offered by Israel is up from a previous offer of $15 million, but is less than the $30 million that Turkey demanded. Sources also told the paper that Netanyahu gave the negotiating team $3 million wiggle room in order to make a deal.

While an agreement with Turkey may be in reach, one between the government and Rabbi Yoshiyahu Pinto may be farther off. Israel Hayom reports that investigators negotiated for seven hours on Sunday with Rabbi Pinto’s lawyers over the rabbi’s involvement with senior police corruption investigator Menashe Arviv. All the bigwigs of the Justice Ministry were there, including Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan and head of the Justice Ministry’s Police Investigations Department Uri Carmel. Despite the marathon session, Rabbi Pinto reportedly held firm to his precondition for turning state’s witness: that all other bribery cases against him be dropped.

Education issues

The decision not to fire a teacher who called the IDF ‘immoral’ has put education in the spotlight, with the furor continuing unabated on Monday. Haaretz reports that Education Minister Shai Piron responded to the controversy by telling teachers, “The IDF is a moral army, and be careful not to undermine it.” The paper points out that it’s the first time Piron has commented on the subject, even after hundreds of teachers signed a petition calling on him to do so. He wrote, “I believe in teachers. Even when they are wrong. Good teachers are those who do not waive their right to speak out.” However, Piron also wrote that a good teacher must also know when not to express an opinion.

While Piron has declared that he believes in teachers, Maariv reports that Ethiopian teachers don’t believe in the Education Ministry. Teachers who immigrated from Ethiopia claim that they are not being integrated into the country and are forced to work at menial jobs instead of teaching. Maariv reports that of 146,000 working teachers in Israel, only 230 are from Ethiopia.

“But it turns out that the gates are locked not only to teachers who were educated in their home country, but also to those who have studied teaching in Israel,” the paper writes. Ethiopian-born teachers who were trained in Israel and submitted their degrees to the Education Ministry also are not being hired. The ministry promised the paper that “we will meet with representatives of the teachers to find a solution.”

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