Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Movement

by Jared Feldman

In recent years, the campaign to delegitimize and demonize Israel, which began in earnest at the 2001 UN Conference Against Racism in Durban, has intensified.  This campaign, which is being driven by NGOs in the Middle East and throughout the world, distorts the history and national aspirations of the Jewish people to live in peace in a homeland to which we have been connected continuously and profoundly for more than three millennia.  The legitimate right of Israel to defend itself from terror often is ignored.  Israeli policy and actions are not beyond criticism; but we have witnessed a continuing flow of inaccurate charges of human rights violations and outrageous comparisons of Israel to apartheid South Africa and even to Nazi Germany. 

 

Increasingly, these attacks on Israel have carried a false imprimatur of international law, in which misinformation is used to accuse Israel of violating universally accepted conventions and norms.  Such attacks are then used as a basis for justifying international isolation, economic sanction, and even the prosecution of Israeli officials.  Frequently deficiencies in Israel’s record are exaggerated while those of its adversaries are minimized. The many ways in which Israel has sought to comply with international norms and conventions, often to its own tactical disadvantage, tend to be overlooked.

 

This reality is evident at the United Nations, particularly in its Geneva-based Human Rights Council, which has become a major source of material utilized by the delegitimization activists.  One egregious example is the biased “Goldstone Report,” as it is known, which placed unwarranted blame on Israel for its conduct during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza (December 2008-January 2009). Largely overlooked in the Report were Israeli efforts to protect innocent human life while conducting an asymmetric war against an amoral adversary, the terrorist organization Hamas, which routinely employed non-combatants as human shields. 

 

It is within this framework, in which Israel is repeatedly blamed regardless of the truth, that anti-Israel activists have honed in on Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) as a tactic to isolate and deligitimize the State of Israel.  Common to most BDS calls are distortions and outright fabrications of facts, misrepresentations of international law, and a false assertion that the proffered action somehow will improve the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace. Often, the very existence of a state for the Jewish people is perceived as the root of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.    

 

The spheres in which the BDS movement operates include, but are not limited to, campus/academic, church, civic, corporate, labor and culture.   The danger of the movement is not that it will have significant short term impact in these various spheres.  Rather, unless effectively countered, over time it may have the corrosive effect of changing the culture of political discussion and making it harder for people of goodwill to publicly support Israel.   If support for Israel begins to be seen as de facto racism, this could provide fertile ground for the growth of anti-Semitism.  Experience in the Jewish community relations field has shown that successful efforts to combat BDS draw from some common strategies, particularly the importance of building solid relationships with decision-makers and opinion elites, and the use of messages and approaches tailored to each particular sphere. 

 

The JCPA believes that:

  • The campaign to delegitimize Israel and the BDS movement, serves as a distraction from the critical task of trying to bring peace to the Middle East. It should, nevertheless, be regarded with the utmost seriousness and urgency.
  • The promotion of boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against Israel evidences a troubling double standard – singling out Israel for blame. It polarizes individuals, Israel, and communities in such a way that the proposed actions themselves, and not peace, become the central issue, thus making real contributions to peace more difficult to achieve.
  • The use of boycotts, divestment, and sanctions in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian-Arab conflict is an effort to reward intransigence by suggesting that international pressure can replace efforts to negotiate in good faith. These activities detract from the goal of a lasting and solid peace based on co-existence and productive economic relations.
  • Those opposed to the existence of the State of Israel are tenacious and will continue to intensify their campaign globally, within local communities and on the campuses. It is imperative that the field remain vigilant to the BDS campaign and respond to it with vigor.
  • Those seeking to hasten peace should focus on efforts of reconciliation, including investment in the many meaningful coexistence programs that are necessary to foster a generation of Israelis and Palestinians, which will work and live side-by-side and move past the teaching of hate and violence.

 

The community relations field is encouraged to:

  • With the assistance of the Jewish Federations/JCPA Israel Advocacy Initiative (IAI), develop a comprehensive, continental, and community-based strategy to counter the campaign to delegitimize Israel, which includes effective responses to the BDS movement and to legal dimensions of this issue, utilizing resources within the field, as well as other Jewish and non-Jewish organizations committed to this cause.  Components of this strategy include:
  • Confront boycott campaigns with campaigns to purchase Israeli goods or partner with Israeli organizations, with the aim of ensuring that every boycott campaign is a net failure, in so far as it results in enhanced cooperation with Israelis[1]
  • Respond swiftly to false or distorted media statements about Israel;
  • Educate professional and lay leadership as well as high schools and college students about the nature, tactics and dangers of the BDS movement, and train them to effectively counter BDS initiatives nationally and in local communities;
  • Redirect those in the spheres above who might be vulnerable to BDS activity to invest instead in programs that promote peace and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians.
  • Vigorously combat slanderous attacks, including the retrograde, anti-Semitic fabrications that have been levied against Israelis that are reminiscent of the ancient blood libel.

 


About the Author


Jared Feldman