When it comes to the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, we tend to focus on the first two parts of the international effort to delegitimize the Jewish state. So, we properly cry foul when college students launch a boycott of Sabra hummus — which happened several years ago in Pittsburgh — or mount a vote to get their schools to divest from corporations that do business in the West Bank. But aside from a cancelled concert or two, the BDS campaign hasn’t “hurt” Israel through boycott or divestment efforts.
With the progress of a new BDS bill through the Irish parliament, however, the movement’s third plank — legal sanctions — appears to be on the brink of exacting real pain. The only question is, who will feel the pain more if the Irish sanctions law is enacted, Israel or Ireland?
Last week, legislation sailed through the second of five steps in Ireland’s lower house on its way to becoming law. Although opposed by Ireland’s minority government, the country’s leaders have been unable to stop the momentum of a bill that, if enacted, would criminalize the selling of goods or services that originate in areas that Israel did not control prior to the end of the 1967 Six-Day War. That means importing produce grown in the Golan Heights or the West Bank, or providing legal services in Ireland from an office in East Jerusalem, could subject a person to a 250,000 Euro fine or five years in jail.
Given the realities of today’s global commercial environment, an entire host of corporations stand to be ensnared by the proposed law. For years, Ireland has convinced businesses to establish headquarters or relocate there, wooing multinational firms with low taxes and a high-tech workforce. Many of those companies — including Apple, Google, Microsoft and Facebook — also have offices in parts of Israel beyond the 1967 borders. They also do business in the United States, which itself forbids cooperating with another nation’s boycott of Israel.
Israel, which summoned the Irish ambassador for a formal dressing down, is properly concerned. But several issues raise the specter that not just Israel, but Ireland itself could suffer substantially from the ill-conceived law it is developing. That’s because the European Union, of which Ireland is a member, sets a uniform standard on trade, which the new law violates and which could open Ireland to very costly E.U. monetary sanctions. Even more concerning, however, is the prospect that multinationals doing business in Israel might either abandon the Irish market, flee Israel’s high-tech (and low cost) platforms, or subject their businesses to the whims of Irish prosecution. Neither outcome will be pretty.
In their rush to achieve “justice” for the Palestinians — one legislator even wore a keffiyeh during the debates — Irish lawmakers stand to place their own economy at risk. They should take a little time to get their own (lower) house in order.