Running the Numbers

Given that the theme of this year’s increasingly fraying “Israel Apartheid Week” is Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), I thought it might be useful to summarize the progress of the BDS movement since it began a decade ago. Because so much of the BDS project is based on words, including competing claims of success and failure, I thought it best to provide a summary based primarily on numbers which (as I recall from my business days) are the only things that tend to get preserved as information travels up or through an organization.

Since these numbers need to be “scored” against some criterion, I’ve decided to abandon my usual critique of the BDS narrative and, in this instance, accept as a given their primary thesis: that economic activity related to Israel translates to political approval or disapproval. Now some people may say this is overly generous in that it allows them to continue to claim that purely economic decisions are actually fueled by partisan considerations. But if we accept (albeit temporarily) their founding principle on a micro level, then they must also be willing to be judged along the same criteria on a macro basis. And regarding that macro basis, here is Exhibit A:

My goodness! During the very period when BDS was supposedly on the march, the size of Israel’s economy (as measured by GDP) nearly doubled from $110B to $190B. Now given that the BDS project is based on their activity having economic consequence for the Jewish state, the takeaway from this chart seems to be that such consequence has been an explosion of growth in the Israeli economy.

Now no doubt some divestniks will cry foul and insist that their “movement” is concentrated outside of Israel and is based on getting individuals and organizations to stop buying Israeli goods or investing in Israeli companies (or in companies that in some way benefit Israel). In which case, the numbers that would be more relevant would be Israel exports, not GNP. While this information was harder to obtain based on a US dollar metric, the following table (based approximately on constant 2000 Israeli Sheckls) shows a trend similar to GDP growth:

In other words, Israeli exports are growing rapidly and fueling the hot Israeli economy that the boycotters have spent the better part of a decade working tirelessly to bring to its knees. And as far as divestment (i.e., stopping the flow of investment dollars into Israel) goes, as has been recently documented the European venture capital markets currently invest more in Israel than they do in any single European country. In other words, even in Europe (which has been the target of even more aggressive boycott and divestment activities than the US) the BDS formula that translates investment and divestment into political support indicates overwhelming enthusiasm for the Jewish state.

Now I suppose the divestment crew can always retreat to the unstated fact that the whole BDS enterprise is really a propaganda exercise, more concerned with getting their anti-Israel narrative made part of the public record within companies, schools, churches, unions and other institutions targeted by divestment activists. If that’s the case, the goal is BDS could be said to not be immediate economic punishment, but a gradual erosion of public support for Israel which may someday lead to effective boycotts, divestment programs or actual sanctions a la South Africa.

If that’s the case, the last numbers the BDS crew has to deal with are these ones:

Yes, as it turns out, after nearly ten years of BDS-related propaganda targeting Israel’s most important ally, the United States, support for Israel has grown almost 20 percentage points.

It’s easy to get lost in the rhetoric of accusation and counter-accusation, claims of success and fraud, questioning of motives, etc. that so-much characterizes the debate over BDS. But when you simply look at the numbers, and take as granted the causal connection between economics and political support the boycotters insist we must do, it’s hard to find a movement that has been more counter-productive to its own aims than boycott, divestment and sanctions.

After a decade of tireless efforts on the part of champions in the cause of BDS, Israel has become more economically successful (wildly so), with exports from and investment in the Jewish state growing rapidly and showing no signs of slowing. And despite (or possibly because) of their non-stop attempts to insert the Arab-Israeli dispute into every civic institution in the land, general public support for Israel is today at an all-time high.

Which leaves we supporters of Israel with an interesting conundrum. Should we continue to fight against BDS or simply stand back and let a movement so successful in shooting itself in the foot continue to fuel the success of the Jewish state?


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14 Responses to Running the Numbers

  1. Michael Duke March 5, 2010 at 1:46 pm #

    This needs to be taught in every classroom, in every conference room, and in every boardroom.

  2. Michael Duke March 5, 2010 at 2:14 pm #

    As for the “conundrum” — it's no fun handing out free passes.

    Why deprive ourselves of the opportunity to pass out Kleenex and Band-Aids when we hear the bangs and see the toenails go flying?!

  3. Mr. Gerson March 5, 2010 at 3:42 pm #

    We should definitely continue to battle the BDS movement, and we shouldn't be so comfortable to assume that we are completely safe – but privately we can snigger at their failures. 🙂

  4. Elise Sheppard March 5, 2010 at 7:04 pm #

    Jon, I love you! Thanks for your insight! When I think about the BDS movement what pops into my mind are two pictures: The first is of a spoiled little boy about 5 years old, stamping his feet in a hissy fit (I've never used this phrase before, but it fits here) because he wants a lollipop and is just told he can't have one; the second is an image of a truly unfortunate autistic child who can't function in the real world and sits on the floor all day self-destructively banging his head against the wall.

  5. Michael March 7, 2010 at 9:47 am #

    Really nice to know. Just playing the adversary's advocate for a moment, the BDSers could also point to the last graph and find eroding public support for Israel outside the US, principally in Europe. They could uphold that measure as an indicator that eventually they will have success as was the case with South Africa.

  6. Corky Gonzalez March 8, 2010 at 7:19 pm #

    Do you have any comparative work looking at South Africa? was the anti-apartheid movement succesfull in decreasing the GNP of the county? My understanding is that the anti-apartheid movement was started in Britain in the late 50's and didint end until the early 90's. so, less than a decade of date is not super duper pursuasive (unless you can indicate that the South African apartheid movement was successful by the late 60's in reducing South Africans gnp)

  7. Eliyahu m'Tsiyon March 8, 2010 at 8:08 pm #

    Corky, as you know, the claim of “Israeli apartheid” is another Big Lie of the 20th century.

    One of the big differences between Israel and South Africa is that Jews are the majority in Israel whereas the whites were a minority in South Africa. Further, the racial differences between Jews and Arabs are not readily obvious as in black and white. There is a wide range of skin colors, hues and shades among both peoples, and many Jews are darker than many Arabs, despite the commonly held, conventional misconceptions.

    I also wanted to point out to Jon that we are doing better than he wrote. The chart shows that our GNP increased from $110 B to $199.5 B from 2000 to 2009, and not as written in the body of the text above.

    Jon, you've got a great site. But it bothers me that the “apartheid” Big Lie gets any credibility at all.

  8. Jon March 9, 2010 at 4:06 pm #

    In response to the last two comments, this original piece simply views three specific trends (economic growth, exports and popularity) during the ten year period when BDS has been working tirelessly to get all three trends to go down. The fact that they've gone up during this period could be significant, or could simply be what is called a “naive corollary.” But, as I noted in the original piece, the criteria I choose to measure against was the BDSer's own premises of economic activity = political support, so if they have a problem with these assumptions they will have to debate it with themselves, not me.

    As for similar trends affecting South Africa, this question makes the assumption that Israel and South Africa are in any way comparable which – outside of those involved with the Israel Apartheid Week project – most people reject. The last commenter dissects why this is a false comparison on a political level, and I think you’ll find it equally fallacious when comparing the two economies (one built upon mineral wealth, one based on intellectual capital).

    But if the BDSers want to stick with this strategy for another 40 years to see if it will finally pay off, they are of course free to do so.

  9. Anonymous March 9, 2010 at 5:22 pm #


    Thanks for the data. Only time will tell if the BDS gang manage to do anything much beyond staining Israel's reputation and keeping the Palestinians hostage to the agendas of Iran, Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the former Soviet Union.

  10. Anonymous March 11, 2010 at 9:41 pm #

    GO BDS!!!

  11. Anonymous March 11, 2010 at 9:45 pm #


  12. Mr. Gerson March 12, 2010 at 11:59 am #

    I think we are doing quite a poor PR job at the moment, but thanks!

    Meanwhile you use thuggery, lies and libel as you march lock step with genocidal terrorist networks sworn to the destruction of the Jews.

    No rug is capable of hiding that; you have to hope that people choose to be wilfully blind as they wade through the mass of sewage.

  13. Jason March 14, 2010 at 5:32 pm #

    It's great to hear that the BDS campaign has been an economic failure!

  14. David Kessler December 21, 2011 at 1:02 pm #

    Whenever I see the letters BDS, I feel like asking them why they are so into Bondage Sadomasochism and Domination – or is it Beating, Spanking and Discipline?

    But seriously (if one can take such people seriously), they are out of touch if they think that a boycott will work. Israel is an advanced country – so advanced that even Arab countries buy from Israel, albeit through intermediaries. That they cannot even comply with their own boycott, should be a clue to the absurdity of their position.

    Perhaps they should instead engage with Israel instead of engaging in feeble boycotts that merely make them look ridiculous.

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