Monday, 30 January 2012

The Failure and Futility of BDS

As part of my very short series of reasons not to worry about the PSC I explain how the BDS campaign has been a failure and is now completely futile.

The BDS campaign in the UK is more than ten years old now. According to the UK Foreign Office, Israeli exports to the Britain have grown every year in that period except during the first couple of years when Israel's economy faltered and again in 2009 for similar reasons. In 2010 it was worth just under £1.5bn representing a little over 4% of Israel's exports.

The campaign certainly hasn't captured the imagination of the British public. The only times that I can recall it being discussed widely in the UK media was when the notion was being thoroughly lambasted from all quarters. It's true that some trade unions have called for or even demanded a boycott but it seems doubtful to me whether even those hundred or so delegates who voted for the motions actually intended to follow it. If the annual campaign against Israeli dates during Ramadan is anything to go by, the BDS supporters are struggling even to convince Muslims not to buy Israeli produce.

As the movement failed to work on the masses the PSC has changed tack, deciding to focus almost all of its energy on a completely futile campaign that is guaranteed to provide it with a never ending stream of "victories". This is the so-called Bin Veolia campaign.

The campaign aims to convince local authorities to exclude Veolia from public contracts. However, under European and UK law it would be completely illegal for any government body to exclude Veolia's bid for political reasons. The PSC likes to claim that companies can be excluded if they're guilty of "grave misconduct" and that that clause applies to any company operating in the West Bank. Unfortunately, the clause only comes into effect once a company has been convicted by a court or tribunal of breaking the law.

Leeds City Council told their local PSC branch as much, going further by pointing out that the company has never been excluded by any council. The branch refused to listen, claiming that Veolia had "lost billions of pounds worth of contracts" due to BDS.

And this is why the PSC loves the campaign so much - they're guaranteed victories. Most people would quickly realise that no company is ever going to win every tender process it enters. Its obvious, therefore, that Veolia will fail in numerous bids. But for the BDSers, every time it doesn't win they can claim credit.

This is what the BDS campaign has become - lots of energy spent to achieve nothing except the continual victory claims. For example, last year the PSC claimed a victory after John Lewis stopped stocking Ahava products. Unfortunately, John Lewis then called the claim "false and misleading" and declared that the boycott campaign had had no effect on the sales of the products.

The national PSC must be aware that the campaign against Veolia winning public contracts can never achieve anything, so why do they spend so much effort on it? One possibility is that it's a very good way of appearing active, appearing to win and keeping the activists happy. Regardless, its good to note that if all the PSC can do is call for something that councils know to be illegal, then friends of Israel needn't get overly concerned.

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