Boris Johnson believes a “completely crazy” trade boycott against Israel lacks support – with only a “few lefty academics” pursuing the cause.
The London mayor questioned the logic of shunning the Middle East’s one “functioning democracy” as he kicked-off a three-day trade mission in Israel and the Palestinian territories.
He wants Israeli companies to return his confidence in their economy by treating London as their first priority when expanding outside of Israel.
— Justin Cohen (@CohenJust) November 9, 2015
Ongoing violence in the region has seen several knife attacks against Israelis and a number of Palestinians shot dead by Israeli security forces.
UK MPs have previously condemned the “terror attacks” on Israel’s citizens and aggression against Palestinians.
Speaking during a visit to Tel Aviv, Mr Johnson told reporters: “(A trade boycott) would be completely crazy.
“Why would you – of all the countries in the region, why would you boycott the one which is actually a functioning democracy and a pluralist, open society and all the rest of it?”
The Conservative MP added: “I think the movement for a boycott is not very well supported. A few lefty academics probably.”
Mr Johnson’s remarks came before he is expected to deliver a similar show of support before an audience of around 300 people in Tel Aviv, which will include senior Israeli politicians, business figures and British expats.
In 1917, British foreign secretary Arthur Balfour promised the Zionists a homeland in Palestine – known as the Balfour declaration.
And Mr Johnson, who worked on an Israeli communal settlement – a kibbutz – in his early 20s, is expected to say: “Whatever the criticisms of Israel may be, some of them justified, some of them less so, and even if it is a tragic fact that the Balfour declaration has been fulfilled more in the protasis than in the apodosi – i.e. the first clause and not the saving clause – it is still the case that Israel is the only democracy in the region, the only free country, the only pluralist society.
“And that is why I believe so fervently in this country and always have done, and that is why I reject completely the suggestion of some UK academics that Israel – of all the countries in the Middle East – should be the subject of a boycott.”
Mr Johnson wants to build London’s trading links with Israel – particularly with technology businesses – and is expected to praise the country for its innovations, including fish and chips.
He plans to say: “I know the record of this country in devising everything from the Uzi to the USB stick to the Ladyshave, though let me ask you – where was the first TV, machine gun, penicillin, the theory of evolution?
“And yet sometimes it is the synergy between the two, between the London environment and Jewish brilliance, that produces the real innovation.”
He is expected to add: “Jewish people have given us nuclear fission, they have given us silicon chips and they have given us fish and chips.
“We gave you the Balfour declaration, you gave us fish and chips.
“That is a partnership – it is a partnership in innovation, and that spirit of innovation is only possible because of our shared values, values that are not trivial, that are often under siege and that we must defend together.”
Mr Johnson is touring Tel Aviv before visiting Jerusalem and the Palestinian city of Ramallah later in the week.
He experienced a shaky start at the Tel Aviv stock exchange, with trading initially appearing to make a positive start after he officially opened business for the day.
Before he left the stage, Mr Johnson added: “Well done the stock exchange. It seems to be turning a bit red now. Never mind. Shares on the whole seem to be going up. I’m an optimist at heart.”
His trip is likely to be regarded as not only an attempt to boost London’s standing on the global stage but his own too, ahead of a future Tory leadership contest.