The ‘Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions’ (BDS) campaign poses threats to Israel’s legitimacy as a state and a member of the family of nations, and to diaspora Jews. The BDS campaign is intrinsically deceptive in its aims and tactics. BDS campaigners talk about boycotting Israel, divesting from Israel, and sanctions against Israel. They rarely discuss, at least publicly, whether they support a one or two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, or even accept Israel’s right to exist.
According to the “Palestinian Civil Society Call for BDS“, the BDS campaign seeks:
(1) an end to Israel’s “occupation and colonization of all Arab lands” [not defined], as well as dismantling of the security barrier;
(2) recognition of the “fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality”; and
(3) realisation of the so-called “right of return” of “Palestinian refugees”.
Implicit in these aims is the elimination of Israel as a State (see Inside BDS*). This unstated goal is openly admitted to by the BDS campaign founder, Omar Barghouti, who in 2013 said publicly that “we oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine.”
Given the decades-long official Palestinian Authority and Hamas genocidal incitement against Jews, promoted in the media, mosques, schools, and the public square, if Israel ceased to exist, then any form of coexistence between Jews and Arabs within an Arab dominated state would be impossible. These are issues that BDS campaigners and supporters avoid addressing.
Although the BDS campaign has had relatively little economic impact on Israel, it could do so in the future. And whilst BDS is ostensibly focused on economic measures, its true even if its unstated strategy is to delegitimise Israel – the nation State of the Jewish people – and to make Israel a pariah state, just as Jews were once a pariah people. Terms like ‘racist’, ‘ethnic cleansing’, ‘apartheid’, ‘war crimes’ and ‘genocide’ are regularly deployed in the BDS campaign so as to falsely attribute those traits to Israel. BDS is part of a long war against Israel – a war of narratives and propaganda, more than a war of economics.
The BDS campaign is, both in intent and effect, antisemitic – because amongst other things it seeks to deprive Jews alone of a homeland. Antisemitism from within the BDS campaign, both in its rhetoric and activities, is becoming increasingly open. There have been threats to kill Jews at an Israeli trade expo in South Africa, a planned protest outside a synagogue on the Jewish Sabbath in Australia, throwing of kosher food on the floor in European supermarkets, and intimidation of Jewish students on campuses in American universities. The level of anti-Jewish hatred in the rhetoric emanating from within the BDS campaign, and the number of antisemitic incidents to which it gives rise, continue to escalate.
The BDS campaign opposes any cooperative endeavours between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs within Israel or the Palestinian territories. This is part of the “anti-normalisation” program of BDS. It aims to ensure that Jews and Arabs are kept apart and remain enemies. It is not about healing the wounds of the conflict but, on the contrary, keeping the wounds festering. BDS campaigners even oppose Jewish and Arab children playing sport together, going on summer camps together, and any other joint activity.
Despite its veneer, the BDS campaign is not actually pro-Palestinian. It only speaks out for Palestinians for the purpose of placing blame on Jews. Palestinians suffering at the hands of fellow Arabs or Muslims or others are of no interest to the BDS campaign. The Palestinians are used merely as a tool with which to attack Israel.
The BDS campaign is characterised by three forms of behaviour – bullying, discrimination, and slander. Bullying aims to stop interactions and relationships with Israelis. Discrimination serves to exclude and marginalise Israelis (and Jews). Slander is aimed at demonising and dehumanising Israelis (and Jews).
Bullying is a favoured tactic and includes demonstrating in or invading public places and causing disruption wherever Israeli people are performing or lecturing, or demonstrating and invading malls and shops where Israeli goods are being sold. People planning to visit Israel to perform, lecture, attend conferences, or participate in other events, are subjected to bullying through various means including mass emailing and social media campaigns, often including intimidation and threats, to deter them from attending events in Israel. Some examples of bullying include:
- In 2011, during performances by the Jerusalem String Quartet and Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in London, BDS activists entered the hall and interrupted the performances.
- In 2014, in Birmingham in the UK, a hundred protesters entered a Tesco store, throwing Israeli produce around and shouting, intimidating both staff and shoppers.
- In 2014, BDS activists occupied a Max Brenner store in Sydney, Australia, chanting loudly, intimidating staff and customers.
Discrimination takes many forms. It includes refusing positions to Israelis, especially in academia and at conferences, refusing to accept Israeli academic papers, refusing to sit with Israelis in forums, refusing to translate books into Hebrew, and not accepting bookings by Jewish or Israeli cultural groups. Some examples of discrimination include:
- In 2012, Alice Walker, American author of “The Colour Purple”, refused to permit her book to be translated into Hebrew, thus depriving Israelis of reading it.
- In 2013, the ‘Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies’ (CPACS) at Sydney University in Australia, refused to sponsor an Israeli academic at the Hebrew University, Dan Avnon, solely because he is a Jewish-Israeli academic working at the Hebrew University. CPACS attributed personal responsibility to Avnon for the alleged policies of the Hebrew University.
- In 2014, George Galloway, then a British MP for Bradford, declared Bradford to be an “Israel-free zone” which banned all Israeli goods, services, academics, and tourists.
Slander, defamation and libel is committed by falsely accusing Israelis or Israel of wrongful conduct. For example, BDS advocates falsely accuse Israelis collectively or Israel of: flooding Gaza by opening non-existent dams; targeting Palestinian children; and controlling the media, banking and politicians in the USA. Some examples include false accusations that Israel:
- is an apartheid state, having different laws for Jews and Arabs. (Palestinian Arabs under Israeli control in the West Bank must by international law come under Israeli military law and not Israeli civil law, as the latter would imply annexation);
- is committing genocide against Palestinian Arabs – ignoring the fact that the Palestinian Arab population in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza has increased more than fourfold since 1948. The conflict between Jews and Arabs as organised national movements dates from 1920 when Arab leaders in the Holy Land first organised riots against the Jewish population. It has been one of the least deadly of the world’s international conflicts claiming about 116,000 lives over almost 100 years. In comparison, there have been more than 250,000 deaths in Syria since 2011, and more than 500,000 deaths in Iraq since 2003;
- engages in organ stealing, for example, after the Haiti earthquake and from Palestinian prisoners.
The most insidious aspect of the BDS campaign is its anti-Semitism, which creates a poisonous atmosphere for Jews in the diaspora. Long-standing anti-Jewish canards, tropes, stereotypes, and imagery are now being used against Israel, and against all Jews who support Israel’s right to exist. 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. Some examples of antisemitism by BDS supporters include:
- In March 2013, ‘Australians For Palestine’ published an image of a box of oranges labeled with Nazi-era yellow Star of David and the Dutch word for ‘Jew’. They felt this was an acceptable form of expressing support for their call for the Dutch government’s labeling of Israeli products.
- In August 2013, at a BDS protest against an Israeli saxophonist performing at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, protesters chanted “dubula e juda” (“shoot the Jew”) as concert attendees were entering the concert hall.
- In September 2014, ‘Students for a Free Palestine’ at Oberlin College in Ohio, USA, placed more than 2000 black flags on the lawn outside the building where Jewish students were to attend the Jewish High Holy Day religious services. The flags were a symbol to “honor the 2,133 Palestinians murdered by Israeli Defense Force over the 51 days of Operation Protective Edge.”
- In March 2015, the Red Rattler Theatre company, in Sydney, Australia, refused a booking by the Jewish group, Hillel, claiming the theatre does “not host groups that support the colonisation and occupation of Palestine” that is, support the existence of Israel.
- In August 2015, the BDS campaign in Spain, pressured the organisers of a music festival to cancel the performance by Matisyahu, an American Jewish reggae singer, unless he publicly stated support for the Palestinians. Matisyahu refused, and his performance was cancelled. Matisyahu was the only Jewish performer scheduled to play and was the only performer targeted by the BDS campaign. No other performer was required to make a political statement. Matisyahu is not Israeli.
The BDS campaign is based and built on bigotry. It bullies, discriminates and demonises, and slanders. It is basically a war by propaganda and incitement, a war of words and hostile actions, targeting Israel academically, culturally, economically, and in other ways. Proponents of BDS use words in an attempt to legitimise their openly hateful and repellent rhetoric and actions against Israel and Jews. They knowingly level false allegations against Israel, scandalously accusing it of every conceivable evil and crime, including stealing body organs, poisoning crops, targeting children, blood lust, racism, ethnic cleansing, apartheid, genocide, and more.
Peace and justice between Israel and the Palestinians can only be built on the foundation of a negotiated two-state solution, something which both Israel and the PLO have agreed to. This alone would ensure that both Jews and Arabs can have their political independence and dignity and realise their own national aspirations. To work towards these ends, the BDS campaign must be exposed, countered and defeated.
* A more comprehensive document – “Inside BDS” – on the origins and development of BDS, its tactics, strategy and aims, written by the author of this article, is available on the website of the International Council of Jewish Women (ICJW).
Julie Nathan is the Research Officer for the Executive Council of Australian Jewry.