Confronting BDS — the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement — as a large group of activists, including both Jews and non-Jews, did two weeks ago, is a very good thing to do.
BDS seems to be just one thread in a tangled ball of ancient hatreds, new misunderstandings, and perilous miscalculations that makes up the newly resurgent anti-Semitism, a resurgence that we would be foolish either to ignore or to overstate.
It is entwined with anti-Zionism, a philosophy that we dislike but certainly acknowledge as legitimate. We know that does not have to be based on anti-Semitism but can grow out of a completely different understanding of how the world should be ordered. (I have a very good friend who is an observant Jew and an anti-Zionist. He was brought up that way, he said, and it’s deeply ingrained in him. I respect him. Of course, we do not talk about it. Once was enough.)
But often anti-Zionism does shade over into anti-Semitism, and rhetoric gets heated, insults fly, and decency goes into eclipse.
We know that BDS sometimes is a move to stop doing business with companies that are in the West Bank. That is a stance about which reasonable people can disagree without any motives being questioned. But BDS usually goes beyond boycotting, divesting from, and sanctioning those businesses, and others in the Golan; according to BDS’s own website, it is aimed as well at “Palestinian lands,” which means all of Israel.
Much of what we hear about college campuses is frightening. And you don’t have to go to a college campus. Just look at the comments section of many reputable websites, on stories that mention Israel. Of course, anonymous internet commenters are notoriously vile on just about every subject — just try being a woman expressing a strong unconventional opinion on just about anything online — but the vitriol reserved for Israel often is cranked up even above the bile thrown at women who are, say, writing while visibly overweight.
We don’t pretend to know why ancient hatreds are resurfacing. Probably they were never too far from the surface. But we are glad that Israel supporters are trying to come up with reasonable ways to counter BDS, and the hatred that fuels it.
As participants in last week’s anti-BDS conference, held, with inescapable irony, in the United Nation’s great hall, heard, the best way to be heard is to talk reasonably, tell the truth, and remember that even if you stand no chance of convincing the person screaming in your face to listen to you, you might win over the people standing nearby, watching, listening, and thinking.
We also were heartened at the number of high school and particularly college students who turned up. It’s one thing to be comfortably pro-Israel when you live at home and are part of a like-minded Jewish community. It’s another entirely to be pro-Israel when you’re in a hostile environment. It takes courage.
We admire their courage, and wish them every success.