The Heartless Boycotters of Israel

Life does imitate art.  The recent announcement that the Soros Fund Management (SFM), the family office of the billionaire George Soros, bought shares of SodaStream International Ltd., the maker of home soda machines, could have been taken from Oscar Wilde’s play The Importance of being Earnest.  Has George Soros been leading a double life, “pretending to be wicked and being really good all the time”?

George Soros may not have expected that the Palestinians would express gratitude for his generosity toward them.  But even more, he could not have imagined that they would, in such ungrateful manner, bite the hand that fed their cause.  He may now be beginning to see the light.  The mild-mannered Soros must be amazed at the explosion of rhetoric directed against him by the Palestinian and other bigoted boycotters of Israel caused by the revelation that the Soros firm bought $24.3 million of the shares of the Israel-based SodaStream company.  Soros, simultaneously, also bought 5.7 million more shares of the Israeli drug company Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, Ltd., which was already in his investment portfolio.  His holding in that company is now valued at $373 million, about four percent of the holdings of SFM and 5.8 per cent of Teva’s total stock.

All should have known that Soros, after all, is in the business of making money – not, as some have supposed, more concerned with political causes.  Therefore, he must have been surprised by the immediate and extreme condemnation of him by members of the anti-Israeli Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, whose efforts he had generously supported.  They called for a boycott of Soros’s Fund Management and his Open Society Foundations (OSF) because of his investments in Israeli companies that they consider in violation of international law, since these companies operate in disputed areas in the West Bank.

The Palestinian boycotters, in ludicrous accusatory fashion, now argue that Soros’s and OSF’s investment in SodaStream and Teva is incompatible with his support of educational, human rights, and cultural projects in the area of Israel and Palestinian territory.

The irony is truly Shakespearian in character.  How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless taker of gifts.  Soros’s OSF has given large grants both to Palestinian organizations and to Israeli non-governmental organizations critical of Israeli policies.  All of them have accused Israel of committing “war crimes,” and many have taken part in the international BDS movement and in legal campaigns to file international lawsuits against Israeli officials.

The bigoted boycotters seem unaware of the contribution of Teva to welfare, including their own.  The company, with headquarters in Petach Tikva in Israel and employing 46,000 people in 60 countries, is the largest generic drug manufacturer in the world, developing and supplying health care systems worldwide with specialty medications and more than 350 high-quality generic medicines.  As a distribution company, it also delivers health care products and services, hospital supplies, dialysis equipment, and diagnostics globally.

One of the top ten pharmaceutical companies in the world, Teva is responsible for 34 billion generic prescriptions.  It claims that one of every six prescriptions in the United States is filled with a Teva product.  The boycotters themselves must have benefited, perhaps their very lives preserved, from the use of those prescriptions.  Why do the Palestinians and the boycotters they have influenced and pressured want to prevent people in the world from benefiting from the Teva enterprise?

The bigoted response to Soros’s purchase in SodaStream is particularly troubling because the company has already recently been the object of bigotry.  It was the target of the prejudiced Oxfam International and all the biased boycotters when the firm hired the actress Scarlett Johansson, one of Oxfam’s “ambassadors,” to be its global spokesperson.  Everyone is now familiar with the bigotry of Oxfam, which was so discourteous to Johansson because of her relationship with SodaStream, for the reason that the Israeli company operated one of its many factories in Maale Adumim, originally a settlement but now in essence a small town near Jerusalem.

The BDS movement has targeted many other Israeli and international businesses in addition to SodaStream.  The BDS list includes all Israeli banks, Caterpillar, Africa Israel, Mekorot (the Israel national water company), Ahava (the cosmetics company making products using mud and compounds from the Dead Sea), Elbit (the defense electronics company), Veolia (the waste management, water, and transport company), and G4S (the British private security company in which Bill Gates’s Foundation has made a considerable investment).  George Soros and his OSF with their vast holdings may have invested in some of these “targets.”

The political viewpoint of Soros and his associates is well-known, and they have invested openly in a host of organizations and outlets that can be considered advocates of their point of view.  Given the present controversy, it is worth reconsidering the Soros contributions to organizations involved in Middle Eastern issues.  

In a very useful study titled "Bad Investment," Alexander H. Joffe and Gerald M Steinberg have pointed out the Soros funding of many of the organizations connected with Israel and Palestine.  None of them are concerned with promoting democracy or economic development in Palestinian society, nor are any concerned with the numerous problems in Arab societies.  All are concerned with criticism of Israel or engaged in anti-Israeli campaigns.

Using virtually the same language, some of these organizations – such as the Palestinian Center for Human Rights in Gaza, Al Haq (defending human rights in Palestine), and the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights – and Israel groups such as Breaking the Silence (a veterans protest movement), Yesh Din (defining the rights of the Palestinian population under Israel occupation),  B’Tselem (documenting Israeli human rights violations in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip), Gisha (protecting the freedom of movement of Palestinian), and Adalah (defending the rights of Arab citizens of Israel) misuse concepts of international law and human rights in order to criticize or to isolate Israel politically, academically, and economically.  Or, like Molad: the Center for the Renewal of Democracy, they may send negative messages by arguing that solutions to Israel’s “social, economic, and diplomatic ills” can be found by establishing a more democratic political system, or by issuing personal attacks on Prime Minister Netanyahu.

The objective of other organizations that various Soros enterprises have funded is to influence American public opinion to weaken support for Israel.  High on this list are the following: the Center for American Progress, founded by John Podesta , now a senior adviser to President Obama, to improve America “through progressive ideas and action”; Media Matters for America, whose mission is to engage in “guerilla warfare and strategy” against Fox News and Rupert Murdoch; the Institute for Middle East Understanding, the “independent, non-profit” organization working to increase “public understanding” of many aspects of Palestine, Palestinians, and Palestinian Americans; Human Rights Watch; and the National Iranian-American Council.  Though there may be legitimate differences of opinion on their inclusion in this list, two organizations, J Street and the New Israel Fund, may be included in this category.

Now that the Palestinian boycott movement has attacked him, can one feel sorry for the billionaire George Soros, who has given part of his reputed $23 billion to anti-Israeli causes aimed at overcoming the “pro-Israel lobby” and the “pervasive influence” of AIPAC on American foreign policy?  Soros in the past has explained that he abstains from commentary on Zionism because he is “interested in the universal human condition. But I never opposed it [Zionism] actively.”  The moment has now arrived for him to live up his statement by continuing to invest in the Israeli economy and by speaking out in praise of the diversity of all kinds in Israeli democracy and condemning the bigoted, biased prejudice of the Palestinians and others to whom he has been so generous.

Michael Curtis is author of Jews, Antisemitism, and the Middle East.

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