The Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) campaign is inherently antisemitic. BDS campaigners deny this. They indignantly claim that they have nothing against Jews or Judaism, and are “only” opposed to Zionism and the State of Israel. They are either being disingenuous or it is evidence of their utter lack of comprehension of the protean nature of antisemitism. Regardless, the aims, rhetoric, and actions of the BDS campaign show it is a campaign seeped in antisemitism.
The antisemitism of the BDS campaign manifests itself in three main ways.
Firstly, BDS denies the right of national self-determination to the Jewish people in their national homeland. The Jewish people are indigenous to the land of Israel, and there has been continuous Jewish habitation in the land for 3,500 years. BDS campaigners support a State of Palestine for the Palestinian Arab people, which will give paramount expression to their aspirations, language and culture, and their predominantly Arab and Islamic identity. Yet they deny this same right of national self-determination to the Jewish people with regard to Israel. This form of discrimination is antisemitism.
The official aims of the BDS campaign, if implemented, would turn Israel from a Jewish state into another Arab state, primarily through the BDS demand that millions of descendants of Arab refugees be free to migrate to Israel. This is despite the fact that the vast majority of these descendants are natives or citizens of other states. BDS leaders like Omar Barghouti and Ali Abunimah advocate a “two-state solution” which would consist of one Judenrein state populated exclusively by Palestinian Arabs and another Arab-majority state in which any Jews allowed to remain would be a barely-tolerated, disenfranchised minority. (This is what Barghouti meant when he infamously declared that he wanted to see a “Palestine next to a Palestine”). Jewish sovereignty in any part of historic Israel is anathema to BDS campaigners. The only state in the world which they target for destruction is the one and only Jewish state.
BDS campaigners lie shamelessly in order to demonise and delegitimise Israel. Every facet of Israel is scrutinised, every shortcoming is exposed, every mistake is condemned, every normal behaviour is given a sinister spin, and every good aspect is either ignored or reinterpreted as being part of a malicious ulterior agenda. When more ammunition is required to demonise Israel then outright lies are fabricated and are spread quickly and widely. No other state in the world is treated with such insidious double-standards. The demonisation and lies are used in the attempt to deny Israel its right to exist.
Secondly, BDS campaigners portray Israel using the same demonising and hateful language and false accusations that were previously used against Jews and Judaism. Their discourse on Israel is often framed in falsehoods steeped in traditional anti-Jewish motifs – the Blood Libel, deicide claims, poisoning water, killing children, blood lust, and conspiracy theories about Jews aiming to control the world. The lies and demonisation are used to breathe new life into old anti-Jewish prejudices to further the propaganda war against Israel that denies it legitimacy as a state and a part of the family of nations.
It is this nexus which makes ostensibly ordinary political discourse about Israel or Zionism antisemitic, as the negative sentiment, rhetoric and stereotypes about the Jewish people and the Jewish religion are revived, repackaged and re-applied to the Jewish state.
Thirdly, the rhetoric and actions of BDS campaigners in the West create a poisonous atmosphere for Jews in the diaspora. Long-standing anti-Jewish canards, tropes, stereotypes, and imagery are being used not only against Israel, but also against all who support Israel’s right to exist, which includes the vast majority of Jews. It has become acceptable within the BDS campaign not only to demonise Israel, but also to openly discriminate against, vilify, and threaten Jews simply for supporting Israel’s existence.
It is antisemitic for BDS campaigners to target Jewish-owned shops, synagogues, Jewish theatre groups, kosher products, Jewish university students, and the like. It is utterly hypocritical for them to piously disclaim that there is any antisemitism in their actions. Their actions are not only anti-Zionist, as they claim, but anti-Jewish. Replacing the word ‘Jew’ with ‘Zionist’, while using the same old malicious anti-Jewish descriptors and engaging in the same old anti-Jewish behaviour is simply not a credible defence.
Jewish concerns over antisemitism, in general and within the BDS campaign, are dismissed by BDS supporters as merely a cover to distract attention from criticism of Israel. As the number and severity of antisemitic incidents, and the level of shrillness of antisemitic discourse, continues to rise around the world, BDS campaigners are in denial when they fail to acknowledge that their own immoderate rhetoric has given licence to this conduct. When has demonising a people not led to a rise in contempt, hatred, and violence against that people?
In summary, the BDS campaign is antisemitic in three main ways: by denying to the Jewish people the right to national self-determination, by using classical anti-Jewish motifs and themes to demonise Israel, and by targeting all Jews who support Israel’s right to exist. These are not just anti-Israel, but anti-Jewish.
From time immemorial the Jewish people have been subjected to discrimination and demonisation, oppression and ostracism, vilification and violence, massacre and eventually genocide. Many of the older persecutors are gone, or are side-lined, but the targeting and persecution of Jews lives on through the BDS campaign and its supporters and allies.
The essence, if not the aim, of BDS is that Israel, and its Jewish citizens and supporters around the world, will continue to be demonised, incited against, and turned into pariahs, and become targets for physical violence. The BDS campaign needs to be exposed for the bigoted and racist campaign that it is.
Julie Nathan is the Research Officer for the Executive Council of Australian Jewry.