Photo Credit: Asher Schwartz

Israel is fighting an ongoing war for her survival. BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) is one weapon employed to destroy the liberal democratic state of Israel. For many BDS supporters, Israel is a proxy for West. This enmity against Israel by the left is not new.

In July 1971, Tuvia Arazi, director of the Political -Economic Planning Division of Israel, announced that his division could cease their eleven year campaign against the Arab Boycott of Israel.  The Boycott, he declared, “does us infinitesimal harm now. It is so inefficient and ineffective that we simply don’t need this Division anymore.”  His division had an annual budget of $15,000 and at the peak of their activity had a staff of seven men and women. The Arab League’s Boycott Office, based in Damascus, had 18 branches and a staff of 200. By the time the Israeli division terminated its work, there were only two individuals left with the primary financial assistance being provided by Jewish organizations throughout the world. [1]


The Arab plan to boycott Jewish and Zionist products and manufactured goods did not originate in December 1945 when the Council of the Arab League issued the first formal Boycott declaration. At the Fifth Arab Congress meeting in Nablus in 1922, the Arabs passed a resolution to boycott Jewish business concerns. [2]

Calls for anti-Zionist boycotts increased throughout the 1930s. The world Islamic Congress held in Jerusalem in 1931 called for “the protection of the Holy Places in Palestine by boycotting Zionist goods.” A year later, the Arabs tried to boycott the Tel-Aviv Levant Fair, and in 1933 the Arab Executive Committee recommended a boycott of “Zionist goods, products, and commercial premises.” In September 1937 at the Pan-Arab conference in the Bludan, Syria a resolution passed calling the boycott “a patriotic duty.”  Evidently this did have some effect; since reports throughout the Middle East described that few Arabs were patronizing Jewish establishments. [3]

Yet despite Arab appeals and urgings during the pre-World War II war era, the boycott did not play a significant role in Arab and Jewish commerce. [4]   Boycott activities were suspended during the war. In December 1945, the boycott declaration developed by Awni Abdul Hadi, one of the foremost members of the Arab Higher Committee, was promulgated. It declared that “Jewish products and manufactured goods shall be considered undesirable to the Arab countries,” and urged all Arab “institutions, organizations, merchants, commission agents, and individuals… to refuse to deal in, distribute, or consume Zionist products and manufactured goods.”[5]

The Arab League announced that beginning January 1, 1946 its seven member states (Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen) would initiate a boycott against all Jewish produced goods in Palestine. Abdul Rachman Azzam Bey, the League’s Secretary, explained the decision was essential because Jewish industry in Palestine is “based on Zionist funds, collected in foreign countries to serve a political purpose: the establishment of a Jewish national home and state in Palestine.” This objective “is not realizable,” he said, “except by the exploitation of markets in Arab countries.”[6]

Though Arab rulers offered their fullest support to the boycott, there is scant proof of its success.  Jewish and Arab markets were so closely interdependent that the boycott could not be implemented without harming the Arabs more than the Jews. (Ibid.) The Jewish Agency protested to the U.N. that “economic warfare against a section of a neighboring country is in conflict with the purpose and spirit of the United Nations, and contrary to the provisions of the charter” and urged the United Nations to inform the Arab states that the boycott conflicted with their responsibilities as members of the United Nations. [7]

To the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry meeting in Cairo, Egypt in March 1946, Abdul Rachman Azzam Bey testified that the boycott was justified as part of the resistance against Jewish immigration, and would be repealed only if the Zionists abandoned their political aspirations in Palestine. (Ibid. 1213.) While conducting their investigations in Palestine, the Committee found the boycott had “little effect thus far on the general economic situation.”[8]

On June 12, 1946, the Boycott Committee’s suggestions were formulated in a resolution to the council. Of particular importance is the first sentence: “The [Permanent Boycott] Committee suggests to the Council that that it should recommend to the [Arab] Governments the adoption” of measures to implement the boycott. The Committee used the words “suggests” and “recommend” rather than requiring the Arab states to enforce the boycott because since 1950, the Arab states were not obligated to do so. [9]

Until 1951, the Arab League Boycott Office was led by an Egyptian Coast Guard officer since the boycott had been designed to thwart smuggling of Israeli goods. Once Israel became a state, the boycott expanded to economic warfare. [10]

Prior to the Arab League Council moving to Damascus in 1949, the Central Boycott Committee together with its branch offices, announced a new policy that Arab countries were forbidden to import Israeli goods. The purpose was to prevent “Israel’s goods from reaching Israel, sabotaging the industrialization of Israel, and obstructing export of Israel’s commodities.”[11]

To ensure these objectives would be realized, the Arab states passed legislation prohibiting their citizens any personal or commercial relationships with Israel and Israelis. Violators were subject to up to ten years in prison and hard labor and fines up to $14,000. Telephone, postal and telegraph services and all communications by rail, sea, air, and highway between Israel and the Arab states were severed. [12]

On February 1950, the Egyptians created an extensive inventory of goods that were prohibited to pass through the Suez Canal. The Committee extended the list “to include shipping services in an attempt [not only] to obstruct the flow of refugees from Arab countries to Israel,” but to stem trade to and from Israel. [13]

As of September 1950, ship and oil tank owners were obligated to guarantee none of their shipments would be discharged at an Israeli port. Surrendering their log books became mandatory. Ships having docked in Israeli ports were blacklisted and refused provisions, fuel and repair services in Egyptian ports. Failing to adhere to these policies would affect the ship neutrality as a result of this “hostile act,” allowing the ship to be detained and its cargo impounded. [14]

Though new boycott regulations and policies continued to be instituted, as of 1970, Dan Chill found the “Arabs have been unable, or unwilling, to apply the Boycott regulations with precision and uniformity.”[15] “Far from ‘strangling’ Israel,” the boycott might have “stimulated” the Israeli economy “by promoting greater self-reliance,” according to foreign correspondent Frank Gervasi. [16] [Historian Mitchell Bard added that before the Arab oil boycott of 1973, the boycott was viewed as a “toothless and gutless” propaganda maneuver.  Once established, the oil embargo was perceived as a means to compel the United States to lessen its support for Israel. [17]

Bard explains there is “the primary boycott prohibits direct trade between Israel and the Arab nations. The secondary boycott is directed at companies that do business with Israel. The tertiary boycott involves the blacklisting of firms that trade with other companies that do business with Israel.”[18]

Ed Husain, a Muslim and a senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, says that Gulf States and others, including Palestinian Arabs, continue to circumvent the boycott. [19]   According to Khaled Abu Toameh, an Israeli-Arab journalist, more than 40,000 Palestinian Arabs have permits to work in Israel. Another 15,000 Arabs work in Jewish settlements ignoring the official prohibition. Over 100 senior PLO and Fatah officials possess Israeli-supplied VIP passes affording privileges forbidden to most Palestinians. Among these privileges is the right to enter Israel and travel abroad at will. This benefit that has been in force since Israel and the PLO signed the Oslo Accords in 1993. [20]

Leading PLO and Fatah officials continue to shop in Israeli-owned business establishments throughout the country including Judea and Samaria. One member of the PLO Executive Committee and his family were seen shopping in Jerusalem’s Malha mall together with his private driver and maid. The wife of a senior PLO official recently spent $20,000 for dental treatment in Tel Aviv despite having distinguished Palestinian Arab dentists in Ramallah, Bethlehem and Nablus. [21]

In the meantime, Arab and Muslim masses remain wedded to boycotting everything Israeli. This attitude is reinforced by leading religious leaders like Sunni Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who is banned from the U.S. and Britain for promoting violence against Israel and American forces in Iraq. Aside from advocating suicide bombings against Israelis, al-Qaradawi routinely justifies his fatwas forbidding Muslims to have any contact with Israel on his Al Jazeera program that reaches tens of millions worldwide.  He addressed more than a million Egyptians assembled in Tahrir Square to commemorate the uprising and honor the martyred dead. [22]

How Effective Was the Arab Boycott?

In its prime, the Office of the Arab Boycott (OAB) blacklisted 8,500 foreign companies for purchasing products from Israeli companies, docking at Haifa port, maintaining a presence in Israel, or involved in any enterprise benefiting Israel financially. With regard to the secondary boycott, the OAB forbade foreign companies from working in Arab countries if they conducted any trade or commercial business with Israel. The tertiary boycott barred foreign firms from procuring technology from, and forming partnerships or joint ventures with foreign blacklisted companies. This situation no longer exists. [23]

In a report by the Congressional Research Service, a “think tank” providing reports to members of Congress, Martin A. Weiss, a specialist in international trade and finance, confirmed that the Arab League does not enforce the boycott, which member states are not obligated to support. Enforcement “appears sporadic,” he said. Some members of the Arab League engage in limited trade with Israel. Some do so while avowing public backing of the boycott. [24]

Arab and Israeli companies were able to evade the boycott with the help of Aramex, a company that delivers products around the world.  Israeli customers were given U.S. mailing addresses to send their merchandise. Once they arrived, Aramex exchanged the Israeli postal stamped packages and sent them to Arab destinations in U.S.-stamped packages. [25]

One trade expert contends the boycott “is a dying animal.”  Another said,” Besides Syria, the Arab boycott is now just lip service.” Danny Halperin, who founded and headed the Israeli Authority Against Economic Warfare (IAAEW), announced “Today the Arab boycott is all bark and no bite… We succeeded.”[26]

One Arab official agreed with this assessment. “Boycotting Israel is something that we talk about and include in our official documents,” he noted, “but it is not something that we actually carry out — at least not in most Arab states…” Egyptian journalist Dina Ezzat suggested one reason for the “impotence” of the Arab Bureau for the Boycott of Israel is “the lack of political will on the part of most Arab states for a boycott of Israel.” [27] “The Arab League claimed American pressure against the boycott has influenced its ability to sustain it.”[28]

BDS Takes a Different Direction for a Wider Audience

On July 9, 2005, the boycott took a different, perhaps insidious, direction they hoped would gain a wider and a more receptive worldwide audience.  On that day, the Palestinian Arabs issued a call for an international campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel “until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights” by:  1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall; 2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and; 3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.[29]

Fast forward to 2021, many efforts to prevent international trade with Israel have been thwarted, leading to the conclusion that BDS is failing.

The ever-increasing number of American states, including New York, Texas, California, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio, Tennessee, Florida, North and South Carolina, Illinois, Georgia, Colorado, Alabama, Minnesota, Nevada, Kansas, Arizona, Iowa, Indiana, Virginia, and Maryland, that have adopted laws thwarting companies engaged in BDS from receiving government contracts adds to this premature attitude of triumphalism.

Nations, university scientists and others seeking the latest in advances in cyber-technology, scientific, technological, medical, and business innovation will not be deterred by BDS campaigns. Enlightened self-interest is a key motivating factor for acquiring cutting-edge technologies, which is why BDS has not damaged Israel’s economic growth. Yet, the decision by Ben & Jerry’s ice cream company to stop selling its products in the “Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories,” demonstrates the war against BDS has not yet been won.

On a final note, we must not forget that disputes about BDS began in the universities, notes historian Jeffry Herf, but quickly became subjects for journalists, academic and intellectual journals, media editorials and Washington think tanks. Their articles encourage the language of moral equivalence against Israel. These negative characterizations are reflected in the biased courses offered by universities, which will profoundly influence the views of future generations.


[1] Dan S. Chill, The Arab Boycott of Israel: Economic Aggression and World Reaction (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1976.), x.; during a visit to Washington in 1975, the Israeli Minister of Commerce, Chaim Bar-Lev, said: “The Arab boycott means nothing to us. It has no effect on Israel,” Nancy Turck, “The Arab Boycott of Israel,” Foreign Affairs Volume 55. Number 3 (April 1997): 472.
[2] Palestine: A Study if Jewish, Arab, and British Policies Esco Foundation for Palestine, Inc. Volume One (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1947), 480.  At the First Palestine Arab Women’s Congress in October 1929, they appealed to “every Arab to buy nothing from the Jews but land, and to sell them everything but land,” Chill, op.cit. 1
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5 Frank Gervasi, The Case for Israel (New York: The Viking Press, 1967).130.  During the following February, the Arab League Council created a permanent Boycott Committee “to implement and enforce” the Boycott. Chill, op.cit. 2.
[6] Palestine: A Study if Jewish, Arab, and British Policies Esco Foundation for Palestine op.cit. 1205.
[7] Ibid.
[8] (Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry – Chapter IV
[9] Chill, op.cit.2.
[10] Robert W. Macdonald, The League of Arab States: A Study in the Dynamics of Regional Organization (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1965), 118-119.
[11] Gervasi, op.cit.129; Chill, op.cit.2.
[12] Gervasi, op.cit. 129-130.
[13] Chill, op.cit.3.
[14] Ibid; Abba Eban, Voice of Israel (New York: Horizon Press, 1957), 259-275.
[15] Chill, op.cit.4.
[16] Gervasi, op.cit.134.
[17] Mitchell Bard, The Arab Lobby: The Invisible Alliance That Undermines America’s Interests in the Middle East (New York: HarperCollins, 2010), 111.
[19] Ed Husain, “End The Arab Boycott of Israel,” The New York Times (March 6, 2013).
[20] Khaled Abu Toameh, “The Palestinian Authority’s Inconvenient Truths,” Gatestone Institute (January 3, 2013).
[21] Ibid; Allison Kaplan Sommer, “Women of the Mall: The Middle East needs less praying and more shopping,” Haaretz (August 12, 2013).
[22] Husain, op.cit; David D. Kirkpatrick, “After Long Exile, Sunni Cleric Takes Role in Egypt,” The New York Times (February 18, 2011); Ed Husain, The Islamist: Why I joined radical Islam in Britain, what I saw inside and why I left (New York: Penguin Books, 2007.)
[23] Orly Halpern, “Arab boycott largely reduced to ‘lip service,’” The Jerusalem Post (February 2, 2006).
[24] Martin A. Weiss, “Arab League Boycott of Israel,” Congressional Research Service (January 17, 2013):2.
[25] Orly, op.cit.
[26] Halpern, op.cit.
[27 Dina Ezzat, “Boycott Israel? Not so simple,” Al-Ahram Weekly Issue Number 581 (April 11-17, 2002.)
[28] Martin, op.cit.2.
[29]; Omar Barghouti, BDS: Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions: The Global Struggle For Palestinian Rights (Chicago, Illinois: Haymarket Books, 2011), 4-5; Sriram Ananth, “The Politics of the Palestinian BDS Movement,” Socialism and Democracy Volume 27, Issue 3, (November 22, 2013): 19, 129,135, 137;

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Dr. Alex Grobman is the senior resident scholar at the John C. Danforth Society and a member of the Council of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East. He has an MA and PhD in contemporary Jewish history from The Hebrew university of Jerusalem. He lives in Jerusalem.