By Jeffrey Heller
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voiced confidence on Monday that world demand for Israeli high technology will enable his country to outflank pro-Palestinian groups advocating its economic boycott.
"I think it's important that the boycotters must be exposed for what they are - they're classical anti-Semites in modern garb. And I think we have to fight them," Netanyahu said in a speech to a conference of U.S. Jewish leaders.
He was referring to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, sponsored by pro-Palestinian intellectuals and bloggers, which campaigns for a blanket boycott of all Israeli goods and questions Israel's legitimacy.
But Netanyahu, citing in particular Israel's cybersecurity industry, said the heads of international high-tech companies he has met "all want the same three things: Israeli technology, Israeli technology and Israeli technology".
"The capacity to innovate is a great treasure of profound economic value in today's world," he said. "And that is something that is bigger than all these boycotters could possibly address."
On its website, the BDS movement accuses Israel of denying Palestinians "their fundamental rights of freedom, equality and self-determination through ethnic cleansing, colonization, racial discrimination and military occupation".
In a speech at the same conference earlier in the day, Finance Minister Yair Lapid reiterated his concern that Israel would be blamed if current U.S.-brokered peace talks with the Palestinians failed and could face European economic sanctions as a result.
At a Munich security forum two weeks ago, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry touched a nerve in Israel by pointing to "an increasing de-legitimization" campaign building up against it internationally and "talk of boycotts" if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict did not end.
Israeli chief peace negotiator Tzipi Livni has described the talks, which began in July, as "the wall stopping a wave" of economic boycotts. And she has cautioned that Israel could face the sort of isolation imposed on South Africa during years of apartheid.
Companies in Israel's largest economic partner, the European Union, have already started to signal their concern.
A large Dutch pension fund, PGGM, said last month it was divesting from five Israeli banks because of their business dealings with settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, territory that Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
The boycott issue also grabbed headlines several weeks ago in a public rift between Hollywood actress Scarlett Johansson and the charity Oxfam over her endorsement of an Israeli firm operating in a Jewish settlement in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Johansson quit her role as an ambassador for Oxfam, shortly before the airing during the Super Bowl of an advert in which she fronts for the Israeli soda maker SodaStream.
Jewish settlements are deemed illegal under international law, a position that Israel disputes.
(Editing by Tom Heneghan)