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Ben S. Cohen

Ben S. Cohen

Posted: November 19, 2010 04:12 PM

When I read this report on the Electronic Intifada website claiming that the largest pension fund in The Netherlands had divested from the Israeli companies in its portfolio, it struck me that the campaign to subject Israel to a regime of Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions - BDS for short - had hit a milestone. No longer, I said to myself, is this a matter of campus gesture politics. The long-awaited South Africa effect is finally manifesting.

Then it occurred to me that the story might not be true. I contacted the fund's managers, the Dutch company PGGM, and they confirmed my suspicions.

Back in May, Israel's economic vibrancy secured its admission into the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD,) which gathers together the world's developed countries. As a result, funds focused upon emerging markets were obliged to withdraw their investments from Israeli companies, who'd moved to the different benchmark for developed markets. Bottom line: this had absolutely nothing to do with politically-motivated divestment.

If you read the Electronic Intifada piece closely, you'll notice the giveaway line "...divested from almost all the Israeli companies in its portfolio," begging the question of why, if you've embraced the BDS gospel, would you not divest from every single one? Again, the answer is that the Dutch fund didn't divest in the first place. That is why, in its portfolios that deal with developed markets, you will find two Israeli companies - the software developer Checkpoint (now there's a line for all you budding comedians) and the supermarket chain SuperSol.

This isn't the first time that BDS advocates have clumsily spun purely financial decisions as divestment. As Jon Haber, a particularly tenacious critic of the BDS movement, has observed, a pattern of hoaxes is clearly visible. In February 2009, Hampshire College officially denied the claim of a pro-Palestinian student group that it had divested from Israel. Up next was Blackrock, the UK investment firm, whose Vice President informed pro-BDS activists that its decisions regarding investments in Israel had nothing to do with political considerations. Then it was the turn of academic retirement fund TIAA-CREF to depress the mood at the BDS party by denying that it, too, had divested.

We're not done yet. There was the Motorola hoax. And perhaps most famously, Harvard University, which found itself thrust into the public eye as the latest champion of BDS this past summer. "The University has not divested from Israel," a spokesman calmly explained. "Israel was moved from the MSCI, our benchmark in emerging markets, to the EAFE index in May due to its successful growth. Our emerging markets holdings were rebalanced accordingly."

Harvard worked with the same set of considerations which informed the Dutch pension fund's decision - maybe, when the BDS campaigners failed to co-opt the jewel in the Ivy League's crown, they resolved to try their luck in Holland.

To anyone encountering the BDS issue for the first time, it must seem odd that a campaign that touts its moral integrity resorts to willful dishonesty as a strategy. If anything, the BDS movement's reliance on lying is a reflection of its manifest failure. Over a year ago, Jon Haber reached a conclusion which is just as insightful now:

Having failed to get a single college or university to divest in the Jewish state, having lost their few attempts to win a divestment victory with municipalities and unions, and now having lost the support of the Mainline Protestant community (once the flagship for the BDS enterprise), "Team Divestment" has been reduced to manufacturing pretend victories where none exist. The strategy seems to be to anticipate likely financial decisions (such as companies trying to get rid of their Israel-Africa shares as fast as possible, given the company's huge losses and exposure in the real estate markets), send out press releases claiming that these normal business transactions actually represent political choices on the part of large institutions, and hope someone in the media takes the bait.

But no one is taking the bait. In part, that's because the lies are so downright amateurish. Yet a no less important factor is the widespread understanding that BDS is not merely a tactical choice, but a tangible expression of an ideology which holds that Israel must be quarantined until it ceases to exist. And as anyone with the slightest shred of moral intelligence understands, such a ghastly outcome will be arrived at not through a peace process, but through a genocidal war.

Expect, therefore, more spectacular BDS failures in the coming months.

 

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