PennBDS: Economics of BDSers Preoccupation

This is part of a series of articles based on the program of the upcoming PennBDS conference.  Check out this landing page to find out more.

Economic discussions by BDS supporters tend to focus on just two subjects:

(1) The amount of foreign aid received by Israel from the US (which, depending on which BDSers you talk to ranges from three-billion to eleventy-jillion dollars per year), and;

(2) A pigeon-Marxist analysis that begins with the assumption that the Israeli-Palestinian dispute fits perfectly into the framework of European colonialism, and selects facts to interpret accordingly

There is some slight variation in the analysis with groups like WhoProfits? (whose head will be covering this topic at the PennBDS conference) pretty much offering Orthodox “class analysis” based on Israelis playing the role of “white” colonial power and Palestinians as the exploited “brown” natives.

Minor deviations can be found in the writing of Noam Chomsky (for whom all roads lead to American imperialism) and Naomi Klein (whose eccentric views of economics, while wrong, at least seem like something written since the 19thcentury).But on the whole they all share the same narrow focus on Israel, the Palestinians and maybe the US, with every other economic player in the conflict erased from the boycotter’s spreadsheets.

Now I could take on the aid issue by highlighting that money the US provides to Israel to defend itself should be compared to much higher sums Americans pay to defend Europe directly, or that no US foreign aid budget would get passed if not for the presence of Israel-related assistance in it (two topics taken up at length in the terrific book The $36 Billion Bargain).

Similarly, I could point out two Middle East peoples (the Egyptians and the Palestinians) who receive a least two dollars in foreign aid for every three received by Israel (from the US in Egypt’s case, and from the US and Europe in the case of the Palestinians) and ask who’s gotten more or made more out of this largesse.

And with regard to the narrow “Israel-imperialism” focused political messaging masquerading as economic analysis, I could simply widen the lens to include other players with economic skin in the game (including close to two dozen Arab League states that control a majority of the world’s oil wealth) and ask Who Profits? in keeping the Arab-Israeli conflict at a perpetual boil.

But for this piece, I’d like to spend time looking at a little-discussed but important economic element: that of waste.

For example, consider the amount of money and human capital Israel has to expend to ensure it can defeat any number of opponents who remain in a declared state of war against it.  (Israel is often criticized for maintaining this level of military power, although, as Ruth Wisse has pointed out, if Israel wasn’t in this position we would not be having these conversations since the country would have ceased to exist long ago).Now it’s true that this need to focus on things military have had some spill-over positive effects in terms of national cohesion and a growing high-tech industry. But I suspect that nearly every Israeli would trade these all to put their money (not to mention their children) to other tasks.

Comparable billions spent to “support” Palestinian refugees over the last 60+ years can probably be characterized as something worse than wasteful since those dollars have gone into perpetuating conflict and misery, in contrast to money spent on every other refugee population on the planet which is directed towards solving rather than extending global problems.

Looking at indirect costs, the terror industry requires two critical components: people ready to kill and people ready to apologize for the killers.  And the first other industry that these two evils converged on was air travel where hijackings were pioneered by enemies of Israel and then elaborately justified by terror’s apologists in (among other places) the halls of the United Nations. So consider everything from the cost of airport security, to the time you spend checking through security, to the human and financial cost of 9/11 as a tax those dedicated to Israel’s defeat place on the world.

Then there are opportunity costs, including joint projects that could marry the benefits of resources and know-how throughout the Middle East to solve problems in areas such as water, energy, the environment and health, instead of squandering precious dollars and human effort on the perpetual war against the Jewish state.  And let’s not begin to add up the costs of impoverished and embittered men, women and children across the Middle East who could be busy solving the world’s problems, rather than creating new ones.

Taken together, the waste caused by this war against the Jews and their state (whether a shooting war from Hamas or a propaganda war from the attendees at PennBDS) climbs into the trillions of dollars (which itself is small, compared to the value of a single human life).

So please forgive me for not taking the self-serving economics of BDS proponents any more seriously than their moral pronouncements.  In both cases, their cause comes at too high a price.

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