Editorial | Taking swipes at Israel from the corporate boardroom

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So far, our series of cover stories on the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS) has explored anti-Israel activism on campus. However another, quieter BDS front has opened up, this one more insidious, and an actual threat to Israel’s economy.

That is BDS in the corporate boardroom.

As our cover story lays bare, steady BDS pressure on corporations with ties to Israel has begun to do damage. Employing such tactics as proxy ballot resolutions, activists strive to label Israel a violator of human rights on the same level as Burma and Sudan. The goal is to shame companies into turning their financial backs on Israel lest they find themselves branded as enablers of human rights abuse.

This effort has had more success in Europe, where anti-Israel sentiment is more pervasive. The European Union has called for special labels on Israeli products originating in the West Bank, and companies such as France’s Orange and Veolia have begun pulling out of Israel altogether.

One Israeli study projects $10 billion in annual losses should a total European boycott take hold.

Here in the United States, it’s been slow going for corporate BDS, but not for lack of trying. Year after year, activists have brought thinly veiled anti-Israel resolutions before shareholders of corporations such as Caterpillar and Hewlett-Packard, chiding the companies for abetting what they describe as Israel’s human rights abuses against Palestinians.

The resolutions routinely draw a small though growing number of shareholder votes, and none of the targeted companies has ended ties with Israel. But pro-Israel activists worry that the companies eventually may feel the public relations damage isn’t worth it and will exit the Jewish state, taking their dollars with them.

Currently, foreign investment in Israel remains robust, with billions of dollars betting on the Israeli market and Israeli innovation. It won’t be easy for BDS to slow that train down.

The take-away is this: Student senates on college campuses can pass all the Israel divestment resolutions they like, with little result. Not one university has divested from Israel. The same cannot be said of the BDS campaign at the corporate level.

Companies seek profits. One pathway to that is avoiding controversy. If BDS activists make doing business with Israel a net negative for corporate America, we may see a retrenchment of bilateral economic ties.

That would be a tragedy. The Jewish community and supporters of Israel should pay serious attention to this growing threat.