Israel is a strong country. From the ashes of the Holocaust, it has grown to become a leader in defense, technology, medicine, literature, and economics. More than 8 million people of all ethnicities and religions live there as citizens with democratic rights, and millions more Jews embrace it as their homeland, even as they make their lives in the Diaspora. It is the antidote to thousands of years of exile and persecution, the realization of the Jewish right to self-determination.
Israel cherishes its democratic values, and like all democracies, it has its flaws. Yet, as the world grapples with the tremendous woes of our day – with terrorism and radicalization ubiquitously rearing their violent heads, and human rights violations continuing uncurbed in so many countries rife with oppression – a movement has arisen that proclaims Israel to be beyond flawed, and rather the source of one of the greatest contemporary evils.
This global campaign undermines Israel’s right to exist, to be a nation among nations. It is so convincing that many of its supporters don’t even realize what it really means.
This campaign is gaining steam and finding support almost daily, on the internet, in supermarkets, and in the keystones of higher learning. And it is a threat to both the State of Israel and to Middle East peace. We call it the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, because that’s what it calls itself. However, the real threat is neither boycotts, nor divestments, nor sanctions.
So what makes it such a threat?
BDS is merely a grassroots and loosely organized movement, after all. They aren’t threatening Israel or the Jewish people with knives, or bombs, or rockets. And yet, they pose a threat of a different kind.
BDS claims to oppose Israel for occupying Palestinian land. It says only boycotts, sanctions and divestments can possibly change Israeli government policy and free the Palestinians from the yolk of discrimination and oppression.
But this slogan is dangerously misleading. BDS is not anti-occupation, it is anti-Israel. It is anti-Zionist. And ultimately, it is anti-Semitic.
BDS rejects that it is anti-Semitic, but the facts speak for themselves. BDS wants the world to boycott all of Israel and has shown that it willing and capable of applying its campaign to anyone who even supports Israel. BDS denies the Jewish people’s right to self-determination – the reason the State of Israel exists.
For the leaders of BDS, a Palestinian state and a Jewish-Israeli state are mutually exclusive. And their goal is to see the creation of a Palestinian state – at Israel’s expense.
Around the world, people have rallied behind BDS as a pet cause, the latest fad in activism, claiming to oppose the oppression of the Palestinians, without fully realizing that many BDS activists actually want Israel to disappear as a Jewish state.
These supporters may not realize that attempts to delegitimize the State of Israel deny the discoveries and achievements that consistently make this world a better place; that they damage genuine efforts for peace in the Middle East. They don’t realize that they are taking jobs and opportunities away from Palestinians; that they strengthen extremists on both sides, rather than promoting the peace efforts the region so desperately needs.
The Palestinians have the right to self-determination, just as the Jewish people do. World efforts in this region should be focused on the realization of the two-state solution, not on delegitimizing Israel. Boycotting Israel will not bring Middle East peace; a Palestinian state will not emerge from the erasure of the Jewish state’s right to exist.
In academia, boycott activities are especially pronounced and particularly concerning. Academia should be a field for open thought and discussion, not for exclusion and intimidation. Instead of encouraging debate, BDS silences voices and engenders fear among Israel-supporting students. No less dangerous is the phenomenon of faculties from universities around the world boycotting their counterparts in Israel, leaders in academia, where institutions of higher-learning are open to people of all races and ethnicities, from nearly every country in the world.
We must continue to champion Israel’s academic initiatives and bring attention to Israel’s advances. It is imperative to create a landmark initiative to work with students worldwide, to ensure that youth not be swayed into blind activism against Israel, and to give them the necessary resources to promote Israel and stand their ground against detractors.
The political dimension of the boycott campaign has found its way to some of the top echelons of the international community, managing to hijack the UN Human Rights Council and obfuscating the serious need to attend to global human rights violations that continue unfettered. BDS’ arguments have gained support from politicians in certain parts of the world, and are creeping toward changing the stance taken by many governments and businesses toward Israel. And still, countries like Saudi Arabia enjoy increased attention and investment.
The hypocrisy of these double standards when it comes to human rights and civil liberties must be exposed. We must show the world the true Orwellian face of the Israel boycott movement.
The State of Israel has been at war since its establishment, and the Jewish people have always been persecuted, fearing the enemy all around them. While on the whole we are lucky today to live free from violent expressions of anti-Semitism, in some parts of the world, Jews still fear for their safety and for their right to live as Jews. The State of Israel provides all Jews with the assurance that no matter where they are, and no matter the circumstances, they will always have support.
Israel is a strong country, but it is not perfect. It is an active democracy that must constantly grapple and contend with its reality in a neighborhood of adversaries. Its internal politics are diverse, and its varying discussions of how to end the conflict are constant. Israel is a strong state, but it is not an island. Israel needs the world to stand beside it, as it contends with these fateful decisions. It needs the world to stand behind the Jewish people’s right to self-determination.
Robert R. Singer is the CEO and executive vice president of the World Jewish Congress