Raza Anjum is the Chairman of Conservative Connect, a city lawyer and a former Policy & Press Advisor to CCHQ.
“Britain opposes boycotts; whether it is trade unions campaigning for the exclusion of Israelis or universities trying to stifle academic exchange, Israel’s place as a homeland for the Jewish people will never rest on hollow resolutions passed by amateur politicians.”
Those were the words of David Cameron in a rousing speech he delivered in the Knesset last year.
Having just returned from Israel and the Palestinian territories as part of a Conservative Future delegation – which was set up in coordination with Conservative Friends of Israel and the Israeli Embassy in London – I have first-hand knowledge of the serious concern felt across the Israeli political spectrum of the Palestinian-led Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
The BDS movement, which seeks to economically isolate Israel, has received noticeable international press coverage in recent weeks as it approaches its tenth anniversary. A series of events have also made front-page headlines in Israel.
These include the recent statement made by Stephane Richard, the CEO of the French telecommunications company Orange, that he would sever ties with the company’s Israeli partner if possible. Richard later apologized for his comments, which he said, were misunderstood.
Closer to home, symbolic support for the BDS movement has come from the UK’s National Union of Students (NUS), which decided this month to formally ally itself with the campaign.
In response, Israel and its global supporters have ratcheted up their efforts against the BDS movement, declaring it a new type of enemy with anti-Semitic undertones that seeks to de-legitimise Israel as the national Jewish state.
Whilst in Israel, I read an Israeli newspaper which reported that according to a leaked government report, the BDS movement could cost the Israeli economy $1.4bn a year. I was also told by Israeli Parliamentarians and young political activists that there is public concern that the boycott seeks to undermine Israel’s legitimacy.
My perspective on the matter is clear; de-legitimising the state of Israel is wrong and any form of anti-Semitic activity is wholly unacceptable.
As a Conservative, I believe in freedom as an unqualified concept and am proud to belong to a party led by David Cameron, who has made it clear that he is against the boycott. It is also important to note that the boycott is a serious threat to Britain’s extensive commercial, academic and scientific collaboration with Israel.
My recommendation for UK government policy is to respond to the current situation by assertively pressing ahead with Anglo-Israeli trade and investment. There are now well over 300 Israeli companies in the UK, responsible for creating thousands of jobs, and the total value of trade and services between our nations is now well over £4.5 billion a year.
But more can be achieved, and the benefits of closer Anglo-Israeli business partnership are extensive.
Whilst in Israel, I visited Tel Aviv, the birthplace of the Israeli start-up nation. This city has created conditions for young entrepreneurs to flourish and has produced leading technological visionaries. It’s no surprise that only the Silicon Valley surpasses Tel Aviv when it comes to developing and commercialising leading-edge technologies.
Forging ahead in advancing closer business, scientific and technological links with Israeli companies and organisations is beneficial for our own economy.
We should also be clear that the best way to deal with the boycott movement is to actively oppose those that seek to undermine Israel, by pro-actively seizing business opportunities between Britain and Israel.As close friends, there will undoubtedly be occasions when Britain and Israel have differences of opinions relating to the Palestinian-Israeli peace process.
In the words of David Cameron, the British Government position on the Middle East peace process is “clear” and is based on a “sovereign, viable and independent Palestinian state, based on 1967 borders, with mutually agreed land swaps, alongside a secure Israel. And Jerusalem, a sacred city to three great world religions, must be the shared capital for both sides.”
But a diverse and vibrant economic relationship with Israel is in Britain’s best interests and re-affirms UK’s ability to work in partnership with those that uphold our values of democracy, rule of law and economic freedom.