Giving Props to BDS

Sometimes I wonder if the most vocal proponents of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement are the same folks who, while shopping at their local supermarket, congratulate themselves for not buying the small container of made-in-Israel yogurt that they weren’t going to purchase for dinner that evening, anyway.

If millions of people around the world committed themselves to such an act at once, in unison, surely there would be some kind of powerful economic effect in the Jewish state. You’d have a fiscal catastrophe, all-around chaos on an immense scale—maybe even “dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria,” as Ghostbusters‘ Peter Venkman warned.

But I don’t think that’s going to happen.

What should happen, if you’re a BDS supporter and are seeking real impact: the removal of all Israel-geared investments from financial instruments worldwide. That means those mutual funds with Google, Procter & Gamble, Apple and other companies among their holdings. That may mean one’s 401(k) plan. Or a college-savings fund. Perhaps, with sufficient research, the money freed up can be placed into stocks of companies that don’t do business in Israel. Maybe the returns won’t be so good, but still …

It ain’t easy, is it? That, however, is one of the most effective paths to walk if you’re an individual looking to venture into BDS land. Of course, entering this world on an institutional basis could be more potent economically, but you won’t find a lot of groups willing to take such a gamble owing to the myriad benefits of working with (and in) Israel—while the ones that do may find themselves in a limbo of political fecklessness, á la the American Anthropological Association (AAA), which reportedly took steps to boycott team-ups with Israeli institutions … though it suggested that individual academics from the Jewish state would still be able to contribute to the organization in the traditional ways.

Just one more reason to praise rather than bury BDS. Yes, I wrote “praise.” Because the practices of many who employ the tenets of the movement point to the inherent anti-Semitism of the cause itself—a cause that deliberately targets the state of Israel while ignoring the activities of other, much more oppressive regimes … including Russia, whose military push in Ukraine has led to unimaginable violence and destruction, and China, which continues to keep a tyrannical foot on Tibet’s neck.

You wouldn’t want to boycott China’s or Russia’s products, would you?

The point is, BDS is good for both sides: Israel and those who oppose it. The holes in the arguments of the movement’s supporters are drawing more and more skepticism from public personalities and government officials, calling attention to the fact that the cause unfairly singles out the Jewish state, while BDS backers can find meaning in every little Israeli product they don’t buy at the supermarket—a behavior that instills in the individual a sensation of righteousness without requiring a significant financial sacrifice. You don’t have to do a lot of work to feel good about taking a stand here. You don’t have to, say, write your congressman, participate in a bothersome protest.

Or actually divest yourself of those pesky funds you’ve placed your money in—the ones with holdings in companies that do business with and in Israel.

All the more power to those who believe so strongly in the BDS ideology that they’re willing to take such risks. I may not agree with your tactics, but I admit you have the courage of your convictions. The next step, of course, would be to refuse to pay your taxes to the government of the country in which you reside … because unless you’re a citizen of a state that’s Israel’s enemy, chances are your leaders are major trade partners with the only true democracy in the Middle East—and you’re supporting their efforts.

Don’t want to withhold all your taxes, huh? Afraid of the consequences? I don’t blame you. Maybe you should continue to walk past that container of Israeli yogurt after all if you want to believe you’re making a difference. Meanwhile, other, more practically minded heads will urge the regional parties to get back to the negotiating table, which would do a heckuva lot more to foster stability and peace in the area.

As causes go, BDS is certainly a boon for everyone—and it’s got cosmetic value. But like all cosmetics, it’s all about the appearance. A more lasting allure is in the implementation of a viable deal between Israelis and Palestinians that leaves both sides with functioning states and mutual prosperity. I’d rather have that than any product at my local supermarket. Wouldn’t you as well?

I know—we’re all seeking the same thing … or at least a similar result. With that in mind, we can’t afford to walk by what we desire. It’s not a yogurt at the store we’re avoiding here; it’s the future. And the future’s a great deal more important.

I don’t think Peter Venkman could’ve said it better himself.

About the Author
Simon Hardy Butler is a writer and editor living in New York City. He has written for publications ranging from Zagat to Adweek and has interviewed innumerable people—including two Auschwitz survivors whose story may be heard at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s website. His views and opinions are his own.
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