Netanyahu calls ministerial meeting on European boycotts

Session spurred by Dutch firm’s decision to cut ties with Israeli banks over government’s West Bank policies

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting, November 17, 2013. (Photo credit: Yossi Aloni/POOL/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting, November 17, 2013. (Photo credit: Yossi Aloni/POOL/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will convene a meeting Wednesday morning with senior ministers in order to discuss growing concerns over European sanctions against Israel.

The session will include most of the government ministers, Haaretz reported, including Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Finance Minister Yair Lapid, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Education Minister Shai Piron, and Science and Technology Minister Yaakov Peri.
Military Intelligence, Foreign Ministry, Mossad and Shin Bet representatives will also attend, as will the Attorney-General and Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories.

This is the first time Netanyahu’s government has sat down to seriously debate strategies to counter European boycotts. A senior government source told Haaretz that the meeting was spurred by the announcement earlier this month from the Dutch firm PGGM, one of the 20 largest pension asset managers globally, that it had divested from five Israeli banks because they are involved in financing the construction of Jewish settlements in occupied territories.

Boycott Israeli apartheid (photo credit: Tapash Abu Shaim/Palestine Solidarity Campaign UK via Facebook)
Boycott Israeli apartheid (photo credit: Tapash Abu Shaim/Palestine Solidarity Campaign UK via Facebook)

Earlier this month, the European Union’s Ambassador to Israel, Lars Faaborg-Anderson, told Channel 2 that “if the settlement business continues to expand, Israel will be facing increasing isolation.” Faaborg-Anderson told The Times of Israel in an interview last week that if Israel’s settlement policies wrecked the current US-led peace efforts, then Israel would be held responsible for the failure of the negotiations, and rightly so. “Naturally” and “logically,” he said, “the blame will be put squarely on Israel’s doorstep.”

Britain’s Ambassador to Israel, Matthew Gould, said only a last-minute compromise over the Horizon 2020 multimillion euro scientific cooperation project prevented “a big rift between British and European science, and Israeli science, and that would have been a tragedy.” Gould said Israel is “losing support” internationally, and “I worry that in five years Israel will wake up and find that it doesn’t have enough friends.”

Attorney Daniel Reisner, of the leading Tel Aviv law firm Herzog, Fox & Neeman, told Channel 2 that Israeli businesses were turning to him in increasing numbers because of cancelled contracts, conflicts with international boards, lost investments and all kinds of other boycott-style pressures stemming from international opposition to Israel’s presence in the West Bank and settlement policies.

Numerous pension funds in Scandinavia and the Netherlands have already divested in Israeli defense contractor Elbit Systems over concerns about its activities in the occupied territories.

Up until last month, the European Union had been considering measures to clearly label products made in the settlements, a move that could harm sales. But discussions on labeling have been put on hold for now, because Europe is working closely with US Secretary of State John Kerry to support ongoing Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that are supposed to conclude in April.

Last month, the American Studies Association, a 3,800-member group of American scholars, endorsed a boycott of Israeli universities.

Also in December, Vitens, the largest supplier of drinking water in the Netherlands, decided to end cooperation on projects with Israel’s national water carrier Mekorot over its operations in West Bank settlements.

Some 550,000 Israelis now live in settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, captured by Israel in 1967 along with the Gaza Strip. The 2.5 million Palestinians living in occupied territories want a state in those lands and say Israel’s settlement building program jeopardizes peace talks and preempts their outcome.

Times of Israel staff and AP contributed to this report. 

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