Israel will soon host the opening stages of the Giro d’Italia, the first time the prestigious race will take place outside of Europe. Considered the most beautiful of cycling’s three Grand Tours, Giro d’Italia is the world’s fourth most watched sporting event, with an estimated one billion people expected to tune in.
Naturally, Israel’s critics are outraged. According to the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, the tour is a “perverse effort to conceal crimes of occupation and apartheid” through sport-washing.
It’s an accusation that is as absurd as it is tired.
When Israel hosts the largest LGBTQ Pride Parade in the Middle East and Asia, its “pink-washing.” When musicians play concerts in Tel Aviv, it’s “art-washing.” When the Jewish state sends humanitarian aid teams oversees or treats wounded Syrians in its hospitals, it’s “relief-washing.” When it champions clean energy by utilizing solar, biomass and wind energy sources, it’s green-washing.
That’s right, even green-washing.
BDS is sounding increasingly desperate. As it should, because the movement is deeply out of touch with reality.
For one, Israel’s relations with its toughest critics in Arab- and Muslim-majority states are steadily improving. We have seen warming ties between Israel and Riyadh, most notably when the Saudis granted Air India permission to fly through their airspace to Israel.
On the sidelines of the 2017 United Nations General Assembly, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi held his first-ever public sit-down with Prime Minister Netanyahu. Soon after, Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, expressed his opposition to the Arab states’ boycott of Israel.
That’s a bummer for BDS leaders.
Who can they count on if not the very nations and leaders that once matched their howls of anti-Israel indignation? Ignoring the obvious winds of change, BDS leaders have doubled down on demonizing Israel.
Criticism of a country’s policies is legitimate, and in fact critical to maintaining vibrant democracy. But obsessively singling out a country and holding it to a different standard than any other country points to something nefarious.
Last week, 17 civilians, including seven children, were killed in a Syrian regime bombardment of the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp south of Damascus. I have yet to see BDS proponents – a movement that exists to champion the human and aspirational rights of the Palestinian people – camp outside the UN protesting the loss of innocent life.
Since the Syrian civil war began seven years ago, more than 4,000 Palestinians have been killed in the violence. The deaths haven’t elicited a single BDS-led protest or march against the Assad regime, and certainly not a sanctions movement.
The BDS movement’s interest in assisting the Palestinian people takes a backseat to delegitimizing Israel. There is an obvious moral perversion in a faction that denounces the only democratic nation in a region notorious for stoning women, hanging gays, and persecuting religious minorities.
It is increasingly clear that BDS is driven by anti-Semitism, in effect, if not always in intent. Its leaders reject the two-state solution and call for the end of self-determination for the Jewish people. The movement’s founder Omar Barghouti has made no secret of his feelings. He supports “armed resistance” against Israel and has avowed, “Definitely, most definitely, we opposed a Jewish state in any part of Palestine.”
Fortunately, BDS has failed miserably to weaken or isolate the Jewish state. Instead, Israel has experienced unprecedented growth and become increasingly secure economically, socially, and diplomatically. Exports to the European Union continue to rise and trade between Israel and India has increased by 2,000 percent over the last twenty-five years. At the same time, Israel has become a recognized international powerhouse in high tech, biotech, agro-tech, and cybersecurity.
On the diplomatic front, Israel is similarly gaining ground. Last month, 40 United Nations ambassadors visited Israel – that’s 20 percent of the members of the global institution that is arguably most critical of Israel. In the coming months, five countries will follow the United States’ lead and open embassies in Jerusalem. More are expected to follow.
Major artists and celebrities are flocking to Israel, Israeli television shows adapted for overseas audiences are earning accolades, and Israeli cuisine and wines are gracing the covers of international food and wine magazines.
The result is that tourism is booming. The number of visitors to Israel last year soared 22 percent, with a record 3.6 million people. The Israeli Tourism Ministry believes that figure could hit 5 million this year, thanks in part to the Giro d’Italia, which will be the largest sporting event that Israel has hosted.
Israel has just turned 70 and its future is bright. Word is out that Israel is open, cosmopolitan, bustling, and fun.
Visitors can’t help but fall for the country’s stunning beauty and the captivating charm of its people. They quickly discover that Israel is where new age meets old world, where sacred meets secular, and these dualities are enchanting.
Giro d’Italia visitors will soon learn this as well; and they will enjoy 4,000 years of Jewish history as they make history.