We all know the clichés about two Jews and three opinions, so it is somewhat remarkable to have 131 international Jewish organizations agree to co-sign a statement condemning the anti-Semitic boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign to delegitimize Israel. On the other hand, it should not be surprising to find a wall-to-wall consensus opposing a movement whose raison d’être is the destruction of Israel.
The genesis of the statement dates to 2009 when I co-chaired the task force on delegitimization at the Global Forum on Combatting Anti-Semitism convened in Jerusalem by the Israeli Foreign Ministry. Our task force sought ways to address what was then viewed as a developing threat. Shortly thereafter, BDS advocates introduced some of the first campus resolutions asking their universities to divest from companies doing business with Israel.
During the high-profile debate that occurred at Berkeley, Jewish students advocating divestment spoke at the student government meeting and essentially said, Hillel and other Jewish or Israel-oriented organizations don’t represent the Jews, we do. You can probably still find the clips on YouTube.
That Jews would make such a claim was not unusual. In recent years, Jews who take issue with the policies of Israel and the “establishment” Jewish organizations have made similar assertions that, despite all evidence to the contrary, their fringe views are held by most American Jews. Too often these lone wolves on campus get away with claiming to represent “the Jews” because their non-Jewish peers do not know better. Outside the campus, the media gives these outliers a platform that exaggerates their influence because the eccentricity of their opinions is more newsworthy than Jews supporting Israel.
To show students, in particular, that the lone wolves were just that, I crafted a statement condemning BDS with the intention of getting as many organizations as possible to sign it so pro-Israel students could demonstrate the consensus in the Jewish community. As you can imagine, fashioning a statement that Jews from right to left and Reform to Orthodox could agree to was a challenge. It had to take into account the First Amendment, academic freedom, and distinctions between anti-Semitism and legitimate criticism of Israeli policies. Those caveats, however, could not dilute the principal message that Jews oppose the BDS campaign because it does not contribute to peace or promote human rights, but does seek to destroy Israel and sew discord on campus.
The statement notes that “academic, cultural and commercial boycotts, divestments and sanctions of Israel are: counterproductive to the goal of peace; antithetical to freedom of speech and part of a greater effort to undermine the Jewish people’s right to self-determination in their homeland, Israel.” It also condemns the extremist rhetoric of the delegitimization movement.
The signatories acknowledge that criticism of Israel is legitimate, but note that criticism becomes anti-Semitism “when it demonizes Israel or its leaders, denies Israel the right to defend its citizens or seeks to denigrate Israel’s right to exist.”
The statement expresses particular concern with the BDS movement on campus because it “is antithetical to principles of academic freedom and discourages freedom of speech,” has provoked “deep divisions among students,” and has “created an atmosphere of intolerance and hatred.”
The statement calls on “students, faculty, administrators and other campus stakeholders to uphold the academic and democratic values of a free and civil discourse that promotes peace and tolerance.”
More than 60 organizations signed the statement when it was issued in 2011. Unfortunately, it was largely forgotten as the BDS movement ramped up its efforts in subsequent years. Consequently, I decided it was time to reissue the statement and to ask additional organizations to co-sign to reassert the depth and breadth of the Jewish world’s opposition to the campaign to ostracize, punish, and threaten Israel. As of today, 131 international Jewish organizations have co-signed the statement, once again reflecting the consensus across the political and religious spectrum.
Students may still be educated about the anti-Semitic nature of the BDS campaign, but many professors are a lost cause. In an act of masochism, I sat through a panel discussion at the Middle East Studies Association conference where one Ph.D. after another lauded the BDS movement, spouted outright lies (“Israel murdered Yasser Arafat”), defended terrorists (“I have mad love for Rasmea Odeh”), ignored human rights violations that could not be blamed on Israelis, and redefined anti-Semitism to exclude discrimination against Jews and calls for the destruction of Israel. Sadly, but not surprisingly, Jewish faculty were among the most vocal supporters of BDS.
Still, this consensus statement should be used by students whenever divestment is proposed on their campus. It should be used to bolster state legislatures considering joining the 24 states that have adopted anti-BDS measures. It should also be given to every member of Congress to encourage them to support the Combatting BDS Act of 2017 currently under consideration.
The good news is that BDS advocates are, for the first time, on the defensive as more Americans recognize their position is fundamentally anti-Semitic, hurts Palestinians more than Israel and is antithetical to peace.
Dr. Mitchell Bard is Executive Director of AICE and author/editor of 24 books including Myths and Facts: A Guide to the Arab-Israeli Conflict, The Arab Lobby, and the novel After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.