BDS and the Myth of Economic Pressure

The BDS movement is based on a single uber-myth – that economic and political pressure forced apartheid South Africa to fall. And if it can bring down South Africa, it can bring down Israel as well.

It’s a myth, however, because it’s simply not true.

According to research conducted by Ivo Welch, boycotts, divestments, and sanctions had virtually no impact on South Africa. “Individual divestments, either as economic or symbolic pressure, have never succeeded in getting companies or countries to change,” he wrote in the New York Times.

Referring to an initiative at Stanford University to force the administration to divest from coal-mining companies, Welch pointed out that the South Africa model cannot serve as an example for success.

But didn’t a similar boycott force South Africa in the 1980s to abandon apartheid?

Unfortunately not. In an academic study, my co-authors and I found that the announcement of divestment from South Africa, not only by universities but also by state pension funds, had no discernible effect on the valuation of companies that were being divested, either short-term or long-term.

And there was no real effect on the composition of their shareholders between institutional and noninstitutional investors. We looked hard for evidence linking boycotts and sanctions to the value of the South Africa’s currency, stock market and economy. Nothing.

In other words, the only real effect of BDS is in the area of public relations. And that’s why BDS activists push one divestment measure against Israel after another, even after a string of failures. Every campaign is another chance to promote their anti-Israel narrative and infect more people with their poisonous message.

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Welch noted that the ostracism South Africa suffered influenced South Africa’s President F.W. de Klerk more than the economic pressure:

Of course, not everything is economics. Morals matter. Would I have divested from South Africa? Yes, but I would have had no illusion that doing so would have made a difference.

Morals do matter, and that’s exactly why the BDS movement continues to fail. Israel is not apartheid South Africa, no matter what BDS supporters want people to believe. And the goals of the BDS movement as nowhere near as noble as the goals of those fighting real, rather than imagined, apartheid.

Mitchell Bard, assessing the state of the BDS movement, found the moral element severely lacking:

Their arguments do not resonate, especially when they are exposed as Israel deniers with no interest in the welfare of the Palestinians, peace, or human rights beyond the West Bank. Their goal is simple, the eradication of Israel.

That also explains why the strategy of cooperation and dialogue is so repulsive to the BDS. It might improve the situation but it won’t bring about the end of Israel.

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