BDS: A Trap Americans Must Avoid

On Tuesday, Ilhan Omar proposed a resolution aimed at justifying the boycott movement against Israel, known as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). In introducing her resolution, Omar had the audacity to put BDS and the Palestinian cause on the same moral plane as the American boycott of Nazi Germany and the non-violent black civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Americans must understand that Omar’s resolution puts Americans at a moral crossroads. We are faced with a stark choice: Do we preserve our own cultural norms of tolerance and respect for all religions, or do we make room for the virulently, and violently, anti-Jewish cultural norms of Jew-hatred that too often have found expression in Europe and the Arab- and Muslim-dominated Middle East and North Africa (MENA)—the lifeblood of BDS? The answer must be a resounding “no” to BDS and Omar’s resolution.

All immigrant groups bring to America their unique cultural perspectives. As Americans, however, it is our responsibility to zealously guard uniquely American principles such as religious tolerance and not allow them to be toyed with—even by fellow Americans, if, for example, their cultural traditions allow them to think nothing of portraying a violently anti-Jewish cause as legitimate and deserving of American support. Even if one believes Palestinians got a raw deal, endorsing a hate-based boycott of Israel does nothing to help resolve the dispute.

In judging this resolution, Americans must know that boycotting Israeli companies has been shown not to hurt Israel. Instead, BDS directly harms Palestinians, when businesses are forced to close and employees are laid off as a result of boycott activity.[1] Many Palestinians will tell you BDS hurts Palestinians.[2]

The truth is Arab- and Muslim-dominated states have a long history of using boycotts to try to starve the Jewish State of resources, business partners and other important relationships. The Arab boycott against Israel was started by the Arab League Council, in 1945.[3] It continued through the 1970s and ‘80s; though, by the 1990s, it had lost some steam.

BDS emerged after Israel refused to submit to a July 2004 “ruling” of the International Court of Justice condemning its security barrier—a barrier that was erected to stop Palestinian suicide bombers from entering Israel.[4] Over a four-and-a-half-year period, more than 1,000 Israelis were murdered and hundreds more were injured and maimed as a result of the bombings. Foreigners, including Americans, were also killed and wounded.

So much for Omar’s claim that BDS is a “non-violent” movement. 

According to Omar, anti-boycott legislation infringes on free speech rights. Americans should not be fooled by this claim. Anti-boycott legislation does not block anyone’s right to free speech. Anyone who wants to can refuse to purchase Israeli products, if they feel that is the right thing to do. 

In the 1970s, Congress passed two boycott laws that prohibited U.S. companies from cooperating with foreign boycotts not sanctioned by the U.S.[5] At the time, the Arab boycott was the main concern, but the laws apply to all unsanctioned foreign boycotts. The laws ensure America’s foreign policy and economic interests are not undermined through the participation of American businesses in boycotts conducted by foreign governments. At a signing ceremony, President Jimmy Carter said the “issue goes to the very heart of free trade among nations.”[6] He added the law was designed to “end the divisive effects on American life of foreign boycotts aimed at Jewish members of our society.” We can all be thankful that these laws have mostly kept this kind of divisiveness from taking hold in the U.S., at least until now.[7] It seems like most Americans would want to protect ourselves from the influences of hostile governments, but maybe Omar has other ideas? 

There is more than enough evidence to show that BDS is, in fact, a hate-based cause that aims to eliminate the state of Israel. It does nothing to further peace, and it actually harms the  Palestinians it claims to  support.[8]

When it comes to Omar’s resolution, Americans should keep two points in mind. First, the resolution is an attempt to normalize, here, in the U.S., the religious intolerance that has repeatedly poisoned Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. Specifically, it sows division by targeting Israel—and by association Jewish Americans—for isolation. There is no question, the rise in antisemitism in America and around the world is directly related to the relentless smearing of Israel by BDS supporters and others who hope to dislodge the Jews from their ancient homeland in the Arab- and Muslim-dominated MENA. Second, in sanctioning BDS, Omar’s resolution opens a door for foreign entities to undermine American foreign policy and economic interests, here and abroad. BDS targets Israel, a loyal and valued ally of the U.S. Beyond the devotion to freedom and religious tolerance that Americans and Israelis share, the U.S.-Israel relationship is a catalyst for developing new technologies, both civilian and military, as well as for the sharing of intelligence and security solutions. Rep. Omar is free to keep Israeli products out of her home. Americans who prize the uniquely American principle of religious tolerance, and who wish to keep American foreign policy and economic interests from being undermined by foreign boycotts, must act to ensure that BDS is never sanctioned. Contact your representatives in Congress and insist they reject Omar’s, or any, pro-BDS resolution.

1. “While the broader Israeli economy is presently shielded from BDS, one victim is SodaStream, an Israeli company manufacturing DIY soda that shuttered a West Bank factory and moved it to southern Israel. This cut hundreds of jobs for Palestinians that reportedly paid between three and five times the local prevailing wage.” (https://www.forbes.com/sites/carriesheffield/2015/02/22/boycott-israel-movement-stunts-the-palestinian-economy/#23156c981648)

2. https://m.jpost.com/Israel-News/Palestinian-employees-hurt-by-BDS-speak-up-about-its-negative-effects-560511

3. https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/background-and-overview-of-the-arab-boycott-of-israel

4.  That ruling was an advisory opinion that Israel was under no obligation to accept (https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/bds-movement). The Palestinians had been sending suicide bombers into Israel from the Palestinian Territories since 2001. To fully understand the meaning and value of the ruling, I recommend Reply, by Eli Hertz.

5. https://www.bis.doc.gov/index.php/enforcement/oac#boycottlaws

6. https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/background-and-overview-of-the-arab-boycott-of-israel#2

7.  In 2013, the American Studies Association voted to boycott Israeli academic institutions.

8. https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/bds-in-their-own-words

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