Those of us watching the Eurovision Song Contest last week would have felt a sense of pride and familiarity as Israel’s landmarks were paraded. From the liveliness of Tel Aviv beach to the sanctity of Jerusalem, to the beauty of the Baha’i gardens, we were reminded of the diversity of Israel both in landscape and in population. Where else in the Middle East can we see pride flags, Orthodox Jews and veiled women living alongside each other?
I watched with a mixture of bemusement and anger as Iceland’s Eurovision act waved Palestinian flags during the live broadcast. If this was meant to signal support for the BDS Movement, what were they doing in Israel, staying in Israeli hotels, spending money in Israel? But that is the crux of the Movement – misguided, hypocritical and dishonest.
Their stunt was even rejected by Palestinian Campaign For The Academic And Cultural Boycott Of Israel (PACBI), which had previously demanded that all acts pull out of the event. They called their stunt a fig-leaf gesture. One wonders where else in the Middle East they could perform on stage in bondage. For some people, Israel – the world’s only Jewish state – is unique among the nations and seen as a pariah worthy of being boycotted.
To be sure, the motivation of the BDS Movement is not peace, but opposition to Israel’s existence. Its formal goals include a full Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and the “right of return” for Palestinian refugees and their descendants to pre 1967 Israel.
Its founders reject a negotiated two-state solution and Israel’s right to exist as the nation state of the Jewish people. In other words, for the Movement, justice is Israel ceasing to exist as a Jewish state, not the widely accepted two state solution which offers two states for two peoples.
As a recent paper written by Bicom concludes: “The goals of the BDS Movement have been largely rejected as a constructive paradigm for resolving the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.”. Indeed, anyone who engages with the movement as a means to end the conflict is naïve or wilfully misguided. The duplicity of the movement aside, far too often the BDS Movement has strayed into overtly antisemitic activity.
As David Hirsh details in a report on this, “old antisemitic tropes, including blood libel and conspiracy, have a tendency to emerge, recycled, out of the boycott movement”.
I recall when in 2014, amid fear of protest, Sainsbury’s removed all kosher food off its shelves. A staff member defended the decision to remove the items, which had been made in the UK and Poland, saying “we support free Gaza.” In the same year, the Tricycle Theatre refused to host the UK Jewish Film Festival because of a small grant from the Israeli embassy. There are sadly many more examples of where BDS activity becomes overtly antisemitic.
All this makes the motion passed in Germany’s parliament last week denouncing BDS even timelier. The motion was submitted by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Conservatives, their Social Democrat coalition partners, the Greens and Free Democrats and reads that “the argumentation patterns and methods used by the BDS movement are antisemitic”.
The motion pledges to reject all financial support for BDS, stating that it is reminiscent of the Nazi campaign against Jews under Hitler. This is a brave and honourable move and it is why the President of the Board of Deputies and I have written to Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt to ask that the UK follow suit.