Stop talking about the boycott. I will too, once I finish writing this piece.
The BDS (Boycott Divestment Sanctions) movement has overtaken the public discourse in Israel and Jewish communities abroad. It’s everywhere: in our media, our speeches, our tweets. Open any Jewish or Israeli newspaper or website, and you face a tsunami of BDS.
It isn’t worth the fuss.
In fact, we Israelis and our supporters are doing the BDS crew a service by bringing their cause to the top of the public agenda in Israel, North America and elsewhere. In doing so, we are making the movement bigger than it is. What’s worse, we are sabotaging the good of Israel. That’s because this bad obsession takes our resources away from the more important mission: effecting much-needed change here.
Here’s a case in point: I recently sat in on a round table of experts on anti-Semitism from around the world. The director of a German think tank that monitors hate crimes said he is cautious when reporting incidents related to BDS because the movement is peripheral there. If his organization were to publicize such incidents, the perpetrators would receive more attention than if he hadn’t. In other words, some Germans would hear about BDS for the first time if his organization were to report the boycotters’ acts. Why should he give them publicity — and free publicity at that? His colleagues from other countries nodded, affirming that they were familiar with this phenomenon.
In fact, the BDS fixation is bordering on a witch hunt. Anyone who mentions it without a fierce condemnation is considered persona non grata in Israel and the Zionist Diaspora. Last week, our Interior and Public Security ministers ordered the formation of a task force to deport or bar entry to foreign BDS activists. My guess is that this country faces far greater security threats than a handful of foreigners who shout slogans.
Instead of harping on, denouncing and analyzing the boycott, we should channel our efforts into changing the policies which are destroying our country from within.
Let’s face it: BDS didn’t come out of nowhere. Regardless of whether the boycott is justified or not, Israel has major existential problems. Occupation has become a way of life; our leaders’ failure to achieve a just coexistence with the Palestinians means that a Jewish, democratic state will not exist in a few years. Combine that with massive brain drain, an impossibly high cost of living, and rampant racism, and the future looks bleak.
People who care about this country have no choice but to work to change its course. It’s our duty to leverage what’s left of our shaky democracy to improve this predicament. BDS is like a big concrete barrier weighing on our collective conscience and obscuring the ultimate goal ahead.
We need to find effective, constructive courses of action. Take for example this year’s Israel Prize Laureate Prof. David Shulman. Instead boycotting the state or the award itself, he gave his prize money to the Israeli-Palestinian coexistence group, Taayush. Shulman’s act of protest was encouraging because it made a statement and it was productive.
Several weeks later, a similar event occurred, though it was unintentional. UK Historian Catherine Hall was named a winner of the prestigious (and lucrative) Dan David Prize. Days before the award ceremony, which took place in Tel Aviv, she decided not to accept it as an act of solidarity with the boycott movement. Subsequently, Ariel David, the prize founder’s son, announced that he would donate the rebuffed funds to students and researchers at Tel Aviv University. The media was awash with reports on Hall’s move, but ultimately it achieved the opposite of what she had intended. The money will be invested in local, Israeli talent; I’m sure the scholars at TAU will put it to good use. The lesson: we should be happy about an influx of funds into our universities and not waste energy on condemning Hall’s decision.
Catherine Hall and every other individual can choose whether or not to buy Israeli products, visit here, and engage with us. The truth is that most of the world’s citizens don’t care about Israel—and they shouldn’t.
For those of us who do, there are productive ways to fight the occupation and to attempt to improve the many ills that handicap our society. We can support progressive organizations that work within Israel to strengthen our civil society and democracy. We can protest discrimination, racism, and harmful legislation. It’s an uphill battle, I know, but it’s a more efficient use of resources than boosting a movement with questionable intentions and so far, more bark than bite.
If you really care about Israel, get over the boycott. Instead, join us in the movement to fix this place.