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Bashar al-Masri: Activists boycotting Israel have made a huge mistake



Rawabi WestBank Palestine (39 of 53)
Bashar al-Masri, the
Palestinian-American billionaire behind the planned city of

Jacobs/Business Insider

  • Bashar al-Masri, a Palestinian-American billionaire, is the
    developer behind Rawabi, the first planned city in the West Bank
    built by and for Palestinians. It’s a $1.4 billion project.
  • Masri has called Rawabi a “Marshall Plan to pick up”
    Palestine’s economy, but has been criticized by Palestinian
    activists for working with Israeli companies and the government
    to build the city.
  • Masri told Business Insider that he thinks activists have
    made a mistake by targeting all of Israel with boycotts and
    divestment actions. If activists focused on boycotting the
    400,000 Jewish-Israelis living on settlements in the West Bank,
    he said, the international community would be far more

Palestinian-American billionaire developer Bashar al-Masri is the
brains behind Rawabi, a
$1.4 billion planned city of 40,000 in the West Bank, the
territory home to 2.6 million Palestinians.

It’s a project he has personally described as “a Marshall Plan to
pick up” Palestine’s economy. It’s also a project that has
received plenty of criticism from Palestinian activists who have
said it “deepens
Israel’s grip on the West Bank
” and its economy. Numerous
Israeli companies were contracted in the construction of Rawabi
and Masri, by necessity, worked closely with the Israeli
government to get the city approved.

In a recent conversation with Business Insider, Masri said
such activists miss the point: it’s a reality that Israel and the
Palestinian territories’ economics are intertwined. As he put it,
200,000 Palestinians
already work in Israel and every freezer
in the West Bank stocks Israeli ice cream.

Many pro-Palestinian activists see any cooperation with Israel as

Many pro-Palestinian activists believe that any cooperation with
Israel is negative. The chief activist movement pressuring
Israel — Boycott, Divestment, and
Sanctions (BDS)
— seeks to isolate Israel economically
and politically for its treatment of Israel’s Arab-Israeli
citizens and its occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East
Jerusalem.  A major issue is the settler movement in the
West Bank, where more than 400,000 Jewish Israelis have
established communities on lands within the Palestinian

Started over a decade ago, the BDS movement has had
its share of successes
, pressuring companies like Israeli
appliance manufacturer Sodastream, getting some pension and
sovereign wealth funds to divest, and convincing the singer Lorde
to cancel her concert in Israel. Experts have suggested the
movement could cost Israel between
$15 billion
$47 billion
 over the next decade.

But, as of yet, no major corporations have stopped doing business
in the country and many Jews, American, Israeli, and otherwise,
see the movement as “anti-Israel” and “anti-Semitic,
arguing that it unfairly singles out Israel for human rights
violations when other countries have worse records,” according to
Vox’s Zeeshan Aleem.

Activists are focusing on Israel — they should focus on the
settlements instead, according to Masri

beit el settlement west bank israel
general view of the West Bank settlement of Beit El is seen near
Ramallah Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017.

Associated Press/Tsafrir Abayov

Masri thinks activists have made a mistake by attacking Israel as
a whole, rather than focusing on the settler movement in the West
Bank. If activists focused boycotts on settler communities in the
West Bank, rather than Israel as a whole, Masri said, there would
be far more support from the US and Europe.

“They wrote Israel proper into the battle and no big company is
going to sign on to that,” said Masri.

By targeting boycotts and divestment actions against all of
Israel, Masri went on, activists have made it easier to pass laws
in the US that prevent boycotts against Israel. Numerous such

state laws have passed in recent years
; a similar such bill

was introduced into Congress
several months ago.

“It would have been a great tactic if you were boycotting the
settlements, and most likely you could have won boycotting the
settlements,” Masri said. “You would have waved that flag to
Israel, and said, ‘Hey Israel, you can’t continue your atrocities
without any backlashes.’ You would have been much stronger.
Israel would have listened. It’s maybe too late now.”

He’s not alone. Naomi Paiss,  the former vice president of
public affairs for the New Israel Fund, has
written in the past
that while boycotts are legitimate
tactics, in the case of Israel, they are
counter-productive and inflammatory.” The BDS movement,
she wrote, 
has served as a bogeyman for Israel’s
right-wing to prove to the populace that the world is
“anti-Israel.” Boycotting goods and services from the
settlements specifically was another matter, she wrote.

“We must engage, rather than disengage,”  wrote Paiss,
in a call to support pro-democracy and anti-occupation groups and

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