Gregg Roman

Pennsylvania Fights the Hypocritical Opprobrium of BDS

It has often been said that “a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes,” and so it is with the so-called Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement that targets and demonizes Israel, and only Israel, among all the nations of the world, for harsh criticism and censure.  Many erroneously believe that the BDS Movement and those who created and obsessively promote it press for an equitable peace and a two states for two peoples solution, as President Obama and much of the international community supports.

However, this is the exact opposite of what they seek.

Unfortunately, a recent Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Editorial titled ‘Stifling a boycott: For Israel, it means finding a two-state solution’ is based on this same false premise and is indicative of certain American media outlets’ ignorance with regards to Israel. The Post-Gazette accepts the BDS movement’s myth that the current state of affairs and the limited progress towards a reasonable resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are entirely Israel’s fault and responsibility, and that the Palestinians either have no political agency or are entirely blameless and not required to take any positive actions.

Firstly, it should be clearly understood that the BDS Movement is a continuation of the almost century-old boycott of any Jewish presence in its ancestral homeland. In 1922, decades before the State of Israel was established, the Arab community in British Mandatory Palestine started to boycott any and all Jewish-owned businesses.

The violent incitement that accompanied the Arab boycott was blamed for the frequent murderous pogroms against Jews over the subsequent years, including the butchery and dismemberment of over 100 Jews in Hebron, Jerusalem and Jaffa during 1929 by Arabs.

One of the first agenda points addressed by the newly-formed Arab League Council, a supranational body encompassing all Arab nations declared a formal boycott of Jewish goods in 1945, still two years before the United Nations recommended a partition of the land into a Jewish and Arab State.

This boycott, while not officially against Jews in Arab countries, contributed to the atmosphere which led to the ethnic cleansing of almost a million Jews in the Twentieth Century who had lived for millennia in the Middle East and North Africa, in what became known as the ‘Arab world’.

When the State of Israel was proclaimed in 1948 the Arab League Boycott, officially supported by many more Muslim nations, alongside its attempt to militarily wipe Israel from the map, also tried to financially suffocate the nascent Jewish State, which was still absorbing survivors from the Holocaust and the ethnic cleansing of Jews in the Arab world. Many multi-national companies, like Pepsi, MacDonald’s and most car manufacturers, refused to sell its products to Israel as a result of the Arab countries’ blackmail that if they conduct business with Israel they will be blacklisted.

This all happened long before the Six Day War in 1967 and a single Israeli had stepped foot in the West Bank, then illegally occupied by Jordan.

Consequently, large parts of the BDS Movement would be unlikely to give up their quest for Israel’s dissolution even if Israel were to agree to a two-state solution tomorrow.

Not surprisingly, leading proponents of the BDS Movement have declared unequivocally that their goal is the end of the State of Israel. Omar Barghouti, a founding member of the BDS Movement, has often stated his rejection of the “two-state solution” and his aims at eliminating Israel.

At the University of Ottawa in 2009, Barghouti said categorically, “I do not buy into the two-state solution.” He states that if the goals of the BDS Movement were achieved, “you will have a Palestinian state next to a Palestinian state,” rather than a Palestinian state next to the State of Israel.

In other words, Israel will cease to exist.

Now let’s be clear: advocating for a Palestinian state is not anti-Semitic.  It is anti-Semitic, however, to advocate for a Palestinian state that will replace the world’s only Jewish homeland, and this is the goal for which the BDS Movement aims.

The best evidence that the BDS Movement desires the end of the State of Israel comes from the current Palestinian Authority, whose leaders largely reject the BDS movement because they see the value in working with Israel as a partner to end the occupation rather than as an enemy to be destroyed.

Prominent BDS activists have been put on trial before Palestinian courts for “provoking riots and breach of public tranquility.” During the funeral of former South African President Nelson Mandela, when asked about BDS, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said, “No, we do not support the boycott of Israel.”

Majdi Khaldi, one of Abbas’s senior advisers, was even more explicit: “We are neighbors with Israel, we have agreements with Israel, we recognize Israel, we are not asking anyone to boycott products of Israel.”

Leadership of the Palestinian Authority has a reason to believe in a two-state solution: it sees the potential economic and resulting social benefits of treating Israel as a partner for peace. A recent RAND Corporation study found that an independent Palestinian state stands to gain US$50 billion and that Israel stands to gain US$123 billion in economic peace dividends over the next ten years under a two-state solution.

That same logic—the desire to build economic cooperation rather than economic annihilation that BDS engenders—has led to legislation in Pennsylvania’s General Assembly from both sides of the aisle to fight BDS and promote economic cooperation. Today the General Assembly unanimously adopted 197-0 a resolution that condemns BDS. The resolution — House Resolution 370, introduced by state Reps. Matthew Baker (R-Bradford) and Mark Cohen (D-Philadelphia) — denounced the BDS movement as “one of the main vehicles for spreading anti-Semitism and advocating the elimination of the Jewish state.”

The resolution recognized BDS activities as a means of undermining the Jewish people’s right to self-determination in the State of Israel. The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s Community Relations Council (CRC) applauded and sincerely thanked the General Assembly for passing this historic commitment to Israel’s security and for the resolution’s recognition of the anti-Semitic origins of the BDS movement against the Jewish state.  The rare bipartisan unity on this measure shows Pennsylvania’s widespread commitment to reaching peace and justice in Israel through dialogue and understanding by rejecting BDS

With the passage of this resolution, Pennsylvania joins a growing nationwide effort by state legislators to oppose the BDS movement. New York, Tennessee, Indiana and Illinois have recently passed resolutions and bills that are similar to H.R. 370.

In adopting H.R. 370, the General Assembly reflected a history of close friendship between Pennsylvania and Israel. In 1998, Gov. Tom Ridge signed the Pennsylvania–Israel Research and Development Agreement, which resulted in increased business, governmental, educational, and cultural activities involving the Keystone State and the Jewish homeland.

Other legislative  measures in Pennsylvania to fight BDS include Democratic State Rep. Steve Santarsiero’s introduction of House Bill 1018 to bar state funding to campuses that boycott or divest from Israel and Republican State Senator Stewart Greenleaf plans to introduce a resolution that condemns boycotts of Israel and incidents of anti-Semitism—as they are increasingly connected.

Politics may make for strange bedfellows, but political unity against the BDS Movement becomes easier to understand once we uncover its true intentions, rather than its propaganda. Politicians of all stripes, along with the overwhelming majority of Americans, support Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign nation, as well as the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. There are BDS supporters who seek only a change to Israel’s policy towards the Palestinians and not the destruction of the State of Israel, but supporting these tactics lends support to the larger factions of the BDS Movement that will continue to oppose Israel’s right to exist regardless of that nation’s policies.

For this reason, Pennsylvanians and Americans of all backgrounds have come together to reject the BDS Movement and its despicable true aims.  President Obama, our elected leadership on both sides of the aisle, leading academic and cultural figures, as well as student governments, leaders of industry and religious communities recognize that peace in the Middle East requires cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians.

Through its denial of Israel’s right to exist, the BDS Movement erodes the chance for a peaceful solution in which Israelis and Palestinians have normal relations, security and self-determination.  If Americans wish to play a role in bringing the parties toward true peace, we need to work toward economic cooperation, mutual understanding and collaborative programming to create an atmosphere of reconciliation.  The BDS Movement, unfortunately, directly opposes this cooperation.

Even one of the most vocal critics of Israel, Norman Finkelstein has described the BDS Movement as “a cult”.

So it is thus abundantly clear that no one who supports the creation of a Palestinian State alongside the State of Israel should also support the BDS Movement, however slick its propaganda is or its appropriation of the language of the civil rights movement.

In fact, as Martin Luther King Jr. aptly put it to those who wished to boycott Israel and Zionism, the national liberation movement of the Jewish People, in his day, “When people criticize Zionists they mean Jews, you are talking anti-Semitism.”

Now that the lie about the intentions of the BDS Movement is laid bare, one question has to be asked of its supporters.

Is it a coincidence that the only state in the world that they seek to boycott just happens to also be the only national homeland of the Jewish people?

Clearly not.

This piece, originally a letter to the editor to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette and a shorter opinion piece in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review is published at length in The Times of Israel reflecting on this week’s passage of Pennsylvania’s General Assembly House Resolution 370.

About the Author
Gregg Roman is Director of the Middle East Forum, a research center headquartered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.