The Abba musical Mamma Mia! could be the first casualty of a growing Israeli backlash against a proposed British academic boycott of Israeli universities.
The British production, due to open in Tel Aviv in a few weeks, has been jeopardised by threats from local theatre companies who refuse to stage it in retaliation over threats from the University and College Union to boycott Israel for occupying Palestinian land.
But the musical is only the beginning, says a group of Israeli politicians who drafted a law that could trigger a consumer boycott of an estimated £1.2 billion of British imports sold in Israel every year.
“The British people should know we are very disappointed in England,” said Otniel Schneller, an Israeli parliament member who helped to draft the Bill aimed at punishing Britain.
“For me, the cost of lost business is not important. It is impossible for us to have economic relations with a country that promotes such anti-Semitic policies,” he said. Britain is Israel’s third largest trading partner, behind the US and Germany, according to the country’s Ministry of Trade.
If adopted by the Knesset, the law would require British imports to be labelled clearly, making it easier for shoppers to shun the goods. Machinery, electronics, pharmaceuticals, cars and diamonds are among Israel’s top imports from the UK.
Political observers say that there is growing public support for the Bill. The Israeli Government, leading Israeli academics and newspapers have roundly condemned recent moves by Britain’s largest trade and lecturers’ union, with some commentators branding its actions anti-Semitic and the result of the influence of Britain’s growing Muslim community.
In Israel travel agencies are discouraging tourists from travelling to Britain. Some union workers are refusing to unload British imports and some Israeli importers have threatened to cut ties with British suppliers in protest.
A number of prominent Israeli academics, including Itamar Rabinovitch, the former president of Tel Aviv University and a leading author, have expressed outrage at British unions for targeting the wrong people, arguing that Israeli academics are among the most fervent opponents of Israel’s occupation.
But among some Palestinians, the view is different. The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel called boycotts a valid tools to end the occupation.
“The Palestinian call for institutional boycott of Israel, which is principally inspired by the antiapartheid struggle in South Africa, is the most morally and politically sound resistance strategy to counter Israeli apartheid and colonial policies,” Omar Barghouti, a Campaign leader, said. He has organised a tour next month of British universities and colleges for pro-boycott Palestinian academics.
A visit to Israel yesterday by Bill Rammell, the Higher Education Minister, to show solidarity with Israeli academics did little to quell the controversy. Speaking at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, he called the planned academic boycott of Israeli universities fundamentally wrong. He also criticised Israeli restrictions that stop Palestinian students attending Israeli universities, or students from Gaza travelling to study in the occupied West Bank.
Hitting where it hurts
— Exports from the UK to Israel amounted to about £1.2 billion
— British imports from Israel amounted to just over £700 million
— Eleven Israeli companies are listed on the London Stock Exchange
— Almost 30 other Israeli companies, including Elron Investments and Sky Vision, are planning to float stock on London’s AIM market this year
— Britain exported more than £110 million of military equipment to Israel during its occupation of Palestinian territories and war with Lebanon (Source: Israel-British Chamber of Commerce)
-Times Online (www.timesonline.co.uk) June 11, 2007