Blog Post


A Song in Israel

A Song in Israel


The Eurovision song contest is presently taking place in Israel. My wife laments that Americans are generally oblivious about this spectacular event (and soccer as well) which is quite popular in Europe and elsewhere, watched my millions. The Israeli entrant won last year and the rule is that whichever country wins becomes the host the following year.


Of course The NY Times covered the story in the most negative way possible in their article, Eurovision Arrives in Israel in Range of Rockets and the Focus of Protests. Here is a smidgen of their screed:


With one of the largest television audiences in the world for a live cultural event, Eurovision is a rare opportunity for Israel to try to rebrand itself as a tourist destination rather than a country defined by its conflict with the Palestinians and perennially on the brink of the next war.


And this, in a nutshell, tells you what is wrong with the Times and the other Israel-haters who are stuck in a time warp and completely clueless to the new reality of Israel. Israel is hardly a country “defined by its conflict with the Palestinians and perennially on the brink of war”. If it were, the following would not be, as reported in The Jerusalem Post on January 6:


More than four million tourists visited Israel in 2018, an increase of 14% from 2017 and 42% from 2016, the Ministry of Tourism announced Sunday. In all, 4,120,800 foreign visitors came to Israel in 2018, the ministry statement said.


Consider that for a moment. 4 million visitors to a tiny country whose whole population is just 9 million. I have witnessed this renaissance with my own eyes. I lived in Israel from July 1979 to 1988, in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem – the epicenter of tourism. It was very busy only at certain times like in the summer and during holidays. But most of the year it was pretty quiet. But now, when I go back in January or November – not exactly high tourist seasons – it is mobbed. There is no quiet, dead season anymore; only busy and super busy.


So apparently, all things considered, it doesn’t seem like the BDS – Boycott, Divest and Sanctions – people are having a whole lot of success. Don’t get me wrong, it is terrible movement that we need to fight against and indeed it has made it very uncomfortable for Jewish students on many campuses. But as a movement, it is, thankfully, a complete failure. They would like to make Israel a pariah state where no one visits or invests, but that will not happen as I made clear a few years ago:


“Boycott pressure – is it really so powerful that it can crush and change the course of companies and even countries? Um, actually… no. At least according to Ivo Welch, a bit of an expert on these matters as professor of finance and economics at the Anderson Graduate School of Management at the University of California, Los Angeles and his op-ed piece in The New York Times. In his article he is not even addressing BDS but was reacting to Stamford University’s decision to divest from coal-mining companies. 


Tonight the 20,000 students at Stanford will sleep more soundly. Earlier this week, a group called “Fossil Free Stanford” persuaded the university’s endowment to divest its stock holdings from coal-mining companies. The world will be a better place.


Except that it won’t be. Individual divestments, either as economic or symbolic pressure, have never succeeded in getting companies or countries to change…


But didn’t a similar boycott force South Africa in the 1980s to abandon apartheid? Unfortunately not. In an academic study, my co-authors and I found that the announcement of divestment from South Africa, not only by universities but also by state pension funds, had no discernible effect on the valuation of companies that were being divested, either short-term or long-term. And there was no real effect on the composition of their shareholders between institutional and noninstitutional investors. We looked hard for evidence linking boycotts and sanctions to the value of the South Africa’s currency, stock market and economy. Nothing.


In retrospect, our evidence should not be surprising. For each investor and business that withdrew, there were others standing by ready to step in.


And that last line is the kicker. Let’s face it, businesses are primarily in the business of making money and not making the world a better place. And granted, while some corporations have introduced an ethical dimension to their trade such as Ben and Jerry’s who donate 7.5% of their pretax income to a charitable foundation or Starbucks who does the same, the bottom line is that this is not what drives their bottom line – profits do. So if there is a good investment out there, when one investor pulls out, another will come along and fill the vacuum.”


The Israel-bashers can try as hard as they can to portray it as a country in constant conflict and on the brink of war, and I am not playing down the real threats to Israel. But for those of us who visit frequently and certainly for those who live there, Israel is fun, historical, spiritual, amazing, has the best food and is filled with people who are living life to the fullest.


So the investments will continue to flow into Israel, the singers will continue to visit and sing, the religious pilgrims will continue their trek in the footsteps of their religious founder, the Bar Mitzvah celebrations will continue at the Kotel with drums and ululating women; all of it fulfilling the words of the prophet, Jeremiah from thousands of years ago: “Thus said the Lord: Yet again there shall be heard in this place, about which you say, ‘It is destroyed without man and without animal’ – in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem… – the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride.”


The songs in Israel are loud and they are clear and they are filled with joy.


I am standing tall not giving in

‘cause I am someone,

I am someone

And now I’m done, I’m coming

Now I’m done, I’m coming

Now I’m done, I’m coming home

-Kobi Marimi, Israel’s representative for this year’s Eurovision


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