Israel's season of grace

16/08/2012 17:45


Israel supporters have something to be cheerful about. The summer of 2012 has been a rare season of grace for Israel and a dreadful time for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, which is committed to undermining Israel’s economy and eroding the country’s international reputation.

With the exception of Normal Finkelstein’s defection in February, the BDS movement had – until recently – enjoyed a litany of successes, with Israel advocacy groups constantly playing catch-up. Lately, however, Israel’s detractors have been on the backfoot.

Earlier this month, campaign group Honest Reporting successfully forced The Guardian newspaper to retract the claim that Tel Aviv is the capital of Israel. It remains to be seen whether the paper will concede that Jerusalem is the actual capital. In July, the BBC was pressured into changing the wording on its Olympics website regarding the status of Jerusalem. The BBC’s initial designation of Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine and not Israel elicited furious protests from Israeli officials and media watch groups. In the end, the BBC compromised and cited Jerusalem as Israel’s “seat of government.”

In the world of culture, big names like Morrissey and Madonna have defied  the boycotters and played in Israel. The Red Hot Chilli Peppers have so far resisted calls to boycott the Jewish state and are due to perform in Israel next month. Canadian-based Cirque du Soleil is currently doing a three-week stint in Tel Aviv. Over in the UK, Israel's Batsheva Dance Company is expected to perform three shows in Edinburgh. Despite pressure from Israelophobes, the festival's directors have refused to cancel the appearances.

In sport, UEFA president Michel Platini has rebuked the Palestinian Football Association for lobbying against Israel and has rejected calls to strip Israel of next year’s European Under 21 Championship  football tournament. And despite the International Olympic Committee’s refusal to commemorate the Munich Massacre, the widespread political support for a memorial for the eleven murdered Israeli athletes was an unusual but welcome display of support for the Jewish state.

On the political stage, the European Union has upgraded trade and diplomatic relations with Israel, which is something of a defeat for those who believe relations should be frozen until Israel pulls out of Judea and Samaria. Of course, there is still bad blood between Europe and Israel over the status of the settlements, and Israel is right to be wary of the EU’s pro-Palestinian bias.

The UK government, too, has quietly acknowledged its desire to build trade relations with Israel. At a time when the British economy is in the doldrums, there is talk of encouraging a stronger partnership between UK and Israeli companies in the areas of innovation, hi-tech and science. While bilateral trade has consistently been in excess of £2 billion over the last decade, it rose to £3.75 billion over the 2011-12 period.

On the political scene, the lack of popular protest over Israel’s imminent attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities indicates there will not be repeat of the anti-war hysteria of 2003 when the pro-Islamic Stop the War coalition marched through the world’s capitals. President Obama, meanwhile, is hamstrung by his own inability to dictate events, allowing Israel to formulate a timetable to attack Iran, which may well take place before the presidential elections in November.

Apart from the situation in Syria, the most significant development in the Middle East is the level of security cooperation between Israel and Mohamed Morsi , the new Islamist president of Egypt. The recent murder of 16 Egyptian soldiers by terrorists in the Sinai has resulted in an unforeseen upgrade in relations between Jerusalem and Cairo. Only weeks after the Muslim Brotherhood swept to power, Israel has permitted Egypt to use attack helicopters in the Sinai. At the same time, relations between Hamas and Morsi are under strain because of the suspicion that the terrorists came from Gaza.

On the whole, Israel and her advocates have enjoyed the fruits of summer. The fanatical BDS movement has been unable to capitalize on Israel’s lack of popularity. The attempt to equate Israel with South African apartheid does not appear to have caught the public’s imagination, thanks to the efforts of pro-Israel groups which have put immense pressure on retailers and governments to resist the BDS agenda.

Of course, The Guardian may still refuse to acknowledge Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and relations between Israel and Egypt may fall apart tomorrow.  But perhaps the past few weeks are a sign of things to come – a sustained season of success for the Jewish state and a winter of discontent for those who disparage and delegitimize Israel.