OPINION: Targeting Israel by boycotting products and people with Israeli connections is not only misguided but counterproductive to trade, international relations and peace between Israel, the Palestinians and Arab nations.
Much of this activity takes place on university campuses, particularly the University of Sydney and the University of NSW, where we saw a small but tense protest against the opening of a Max Brenner chocolate shop.
Putting aside that Jewish shops were targeted in 1933 by the Nazis in Germany, and we wouldn't expect one to be targeted in Australia in 2013 (not to mention the virulent anti-Semitic comments made on social media), what about the economics of the boycott?
If we boycotted all goods, services or individuals with Israeli connections, what would that mean at UNSW?
Many medicines are manufactured by Israel's Teva Pharmaceuticals, the largest generic drugs company in the world. AZT and hypericin-based drugs that help HIV and AIDS sufferers were developed or improved following research at the Weizmann Institute of Science or the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Sufferers of diabetes would not be able to use insulin measuring and injecting devices created by Israeli scientists. Patients with multiple sclerosis would be denied Copaxone, one of the most efficient medicines and the only non-interferon agent, developed by Teva. Ditto for sufferers of Parkinson's disease, strokes, Alzheimer's, epilepsy, glaucoma or brain tumour, or those in need of a kidney transplant. But hey, it's all for a good cause.
UNSW would also have to remove all Intel Pentium and Celeron computer processor chips from personal computers, as these were developed or manufactured in Israel. Anti-virus software and personal firewalls would also need to be removed. Computers running Windows XP operating systems were developed in Israel. All Microsoft operating systems would have to be boycotted, as Microsoft is heavily reliant on its Israeli research and development centre.
Likewise for mobile phones, as this technology was developed in Israel, where the first mobile phones were manufactured.
In agriculture, we'd have to give up products that use irrigation and agricultural technology provided by Israel, including many in Africa and in China, India, Indonesia, Nepal and much of the emerging world. We'd have to boycott many fruit and vegetables enhanced using Israeli technology and the Vietnamese dairy industry (helped by Israeli technology), Georgian crops (saved by Israeli plants and seed technology) and anything Peruvian (assisted by Israeli hydro-electricity). It would also affect Israeli-developed water-saving and sewage treatment technology used across more than half of the planet, which helps make Australia an "effluent society" (as Gough Whitlam once put it).
Disaster relief has employed Israeli resources and technical assistance in the Congo, Angola, Romania, Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, Haiti, the Chilean mine disaster, the Christchurch earthquake and humanitarian disasters in Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Mexico, Chad, Sudan and Malawi.
That's OK. We can just ask Bono and Bob Geldof to stage a few more rock concerts.
Finally, if the boycott affected economists with links to Israel through teaching, visiting, honorary degrees or joint research, we would have to stop teaching the textbooks of many Nobel prize-winning economists. Think Samuelson, Fischer, Solow, Friedman, Arrow, Klein, Liebenstein, Kahn, Sraffa, Kaldor, Lerner, Krugman, Feldstein, Kindleberger and many more. It would wipe out most of our human capital in economics and the social sciences in general.
The net result? The boycott would hurt the poor and the sick and undermine food security and the campaign to end world hunger, which would undermine efforts to find a peaceful resolution to the Middle East. At best the boycott is ridiculous; at worst, it is sinister and anti-Semitic (judging by comments made on social media). I am very proud that my employer, UNSW, has said that although it encourages free expression and open debate on campus (that is lawful, respectful and responsible), it deplores all forms of racism and anti-Semitism. We must ensure university campuses remain tolerant, safe, diverse and respectful in the true Australian democratic tradition.
Tim Harcourt is the JW Nevile Fellow in Economics at the Australian School of Business, UNSW.
This opinion piece was first published in The Australian.