Business leaders, officials lament the heavy toll BDS has taken on Judea and Samaria

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At a gathering of senior Israeli officials, business leaders and other global representatives at the Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference, the BDS movement was at the forefront of discussion following the recent news of Airbnb’s decision to delist some 200 rental properties in Judea and Samaria.

Speaking at the conference, Israeli Israel’s Minister of Strategic Affairs Gilad Erdan called the decision “appalling in its hypocrisy, outrageous in its discrimination and counterproductive in its effects.”

Erdan told conference attendees that considering Airbnb’s decision to give in to the pressure of the Human Rights Council and BDS activists, his ministry is examining numerous courses of action—from attempting to explain to the company why its decision is misguided and harmful to asking senior U.S. officials to consider making use of existing anti-discrimination and counter-boycott legislation.

However, Erdan said he was not only concerned about the financial impact of boycott on Jewish residents of the settlements, but also that this policy of distinguishing or differentiating between Israel, and Judea and Samaria, is “counterproductive because it aims to undermine the very activities that can form the basis for a viable peace.”

He said the best model for Israeli-Palestinian coexistence can be found in Israeli industrial parks in Judea and Samaria.

“In these areas, Israelis and Palestinians, Jews, Muslims, Christians and Druze work together in mutual respect and harmony, yet these areas are a main target of the policy that calls to distinguish between Israel, and Judea and Samaria,” explained Erdan. “Nothing could be more counterproductive to peace.”

Yehuda Cohen, CEO of Lipskin Company, who spoke on a panel called “Coexistence in Conflict: How BDS Undermines the Chance for Peace,” agreed with Erdan. The panel was one of many held throughout the nine-hour conference, which drew some 400 ambassadors, ambassadorial spokespeople and military attachés from around the world.

Cohen employs 100 people in his plastic factory located in the Barkan industrial zone: 70 Palestinians and 30 Israelis.

“I give my Palestinian workers hope that they can build their homes, hope they can send their children to university, hope they can live a normal life,” said Cohen, noting that these employees make higher salaries in Israel than in the Palestinian territories.

His factory, he said, “is a bridge for peace.

“If BDS or any kind of labeling or boycott is successful, we can say we lost the option to live in this area,” said Cohen. “I believe that work brings hope and boycott brings suffering.”

A struggle to maintain their pioneering spirit

Take the case of SodaStream. In October 2015, some 500 Palestinians lost their jobs when the SodaStream headquarters moved from its location in the Mishor Adumim industrial park in the West Bank to a new facility in Lehavim, inside the Green Line, as a result of pressure by the BDS movement.

“There was no great elation for the BDS movement because it quickly discovered that hundreds of Palestinians lost their jobs,” said Oded Ravivi, the mayor of the West Bank community of Efrat, who also spoke on the panel. He said what BDS supporters don’t understand is that the outcome of BDS is worse for the Palestinians.

In the Jordan Valley, regional council head David Elhayani expressed similar sentiments. He said in his role he focuses on preserving an environment of peace where Israelis and Palestinians can work side by side.

Elhayani oversees 28 Jewish villages in the region, including Mehola and Bekaot, which comprise approximately 15,000 residents. The Palestinian inhabitants of the Jordan Valley live in 10 cities and villages, including Jericho—the administrative capital of the Palestinian Authority—that have a total population of approximately 50,000.

On his own spice farm, Elhayani employs some 25 Palestinian workers.

“We live with each other and each other’s children,” said Elhayani. “When you work together for 10 and 12 hours in the fields, you become good friends.”

But residents of the Jordan Valley struggle to maintain their pioneering spirit due to hard blows, mainly from BDS activists in Western Europe.

In 2010, Europe’s highest court ruled that goods manufactured in Israeli settlements in the West Bank cannot be imported into the European Union duty-free, like all other products made within Israel’s 1967 borders. As such, Jordan Valley farmers must pay full export taxes; the Israeli government now reimburses the farmers the difference.

A few years later, the European Union stopped accepting the organic certification of products produced in the region.

Then, in 2015, the European Union insisted that some goods produced on land seized in the 1967 war must be labeled “made in settlements.” Many grocers stopped carrying Jordan Valley products at all.

“It has had a major financial impact,” said Elhayani, who told several stories of this vineyard or that pepper farm closing down. He said area farmers used to sell 100 percent of their products to Western Europe, and now only about 20 percent are sold there. Instead, they sell to Russia or other places for 30 percent to 50 percent less money.

The Ministry of Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy is now partnering with the Jordan Valley Regional Council on a new project to combat BDS that includes participation in international conferences at which products, such as dates and wine from the Judea and Samaria, are distributed to participants, along with information on industrial development in the valley. Special emphasis is placed on the innovative solutions to agricultural challenges that serve both the Israeli and Palestinian communities, and the day-to-day peaceful coexistence that working together fosters.

At the Jerusalem Post conference, such a table was set up so that diplomatic attendees could taste and touch the innovation coming out of Judea and Samaria. Elhayani helped staff the booth.

Roadmap to Conflict

Ron Brummer, director of operations at the Ministry of Strategic Affairs, said that beyond the financial cost of the BDS movement, the movement should also be called out for what it is: a modern form of anti-Semitism.

Brummer, who was likewise on the BDS panel at the Diplomatic Conference, said that according to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, anti-Semitism includes any claims that the existence of the State of Israel is a racist endeavor. It is considered anti-Semitic to apply double standards to Israel by requiring of it behavior not expected by any other democratic nation, to use the symbols and images associated with classic anti-Semitism or to draw comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.

Further, Erdan said that the Ministry of Strategic Affairs recently exposed numerous connections between leading BDS groups and designated terrorist organizations, such as Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

“These connections should not come as a surprise, said Erdan. “BDS and terror are two sides of the same coin. Both reject the right of the Jewish people to a national home. Both spread incitement aimed at demonizing the Jewish state. And both justify violence against Israeli civilians as legitimate resistance.”

Brummer blamed the success of BDS on European diplomats, many of whom were sitting in the front rows of the conference auditorium during his panel.

“BDS exists mainly because of European funding,” he stated bluntly. “You have to realize that any victory for BDS is a defeat of coexistence.”