The Deception of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions

Many well-meaning people in the West have been fooled by BDS lies and misrepresentations.

Liberals who oppose Israel live in a self-created fantasy world. They invent “facts” and give a free pass to true human rights abusers while they condemn the only country in the Middle East — Israel — that respects human rights.

I present as evidence, one Marilyn Katz, Huff Post contributor and self-described activist. It should come as no surprise that the perennially anti-Israel Huff Post published Ms. Katz’ article, “Read the Small Print: How Nearly 200 Congressmen Could’ve Signed On a Bill Criminalizing Free Speech and Legitimizing Israel’s Occupation of Palestine.”1

Ms. Katz objects to the Israel Anti-Boycott Act. This proposed federal legislation is a minor update to a long-standing law that prohibits Americans from joining international boycotts organized by foreign countries. The law was adopted specifically to counteract Arab states’ boycott of Israel, by making it illegal for Americans to join the Arab boycott. First adopted in 1979, this law has been upheld by the courts in First Amendment challenges.

To Boycott or Not

Ms. Katz is a supporter of an anti-Israel movement called Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS). BDS calls for all countries, businesses, organizations and private persons to boycott Israeli businesses, as well as Israeli academic and cultural institutions.

Ms. Katz is appalled that a great many members of Congress — 280 in a recent count — support this Israel Anti-Boycott Act.  She tells the reader, menacingly, that “AIPAC is behind [this] proposed legislation” and even describes it as “AIPAC legislation.” (AIPAC is the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a Washington-based pro-Israel lobby.) Contrary to Ms. Katz’ implication that this legislation is supported only by a narrow and powerful Jewish lobby, it is in reality supported by many. This distortion promotes the anti-Semitic canard that Jews exert undue control over Congress.

In reality, Israel enjoys overwhelming support among the American public, and that support is reflected in the votes of Congress. Recently, all 50 US governors and the mayor of Washington, DC signed an initiative opposing all anti-Israel boycotts.2 Almost half the states have passed legislation that prohibits boycotts against Israel.3

In France, it is illegal to support anti-Israel boycotts. Several German political parties oppose BDS. The ruling German Christian Democratic Party points out that this boycott effort is a modern version of the anti-Jewish boycotts instituted by the Nazi Party from 1933 to 1945.4

Ms. Katz claims that the Israel Anti-Boycott Act legitimizes Israel’s “occupation” of the West Bank. This is untrue. The act states specifically that it shall not be construed to change established US policy, which is that final status issues such as borders are only to be resolved through direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

What Do All These People Know That Ms. Katz Doesn’t Know?

They know that these bills in no way limit anyone’s free speech. If the federal legislation cited by Ms. Katz passes, every person and every group will be free to criticize Israel and Israel’s policies to no end without penalty. Under current federal law, US companies are prohibited from economic boycotts against Israel that are led by foreign governments. The new Israel Anti-Boycott Act condemned by Ms. Katz merely extends that prohibition to anti-Israel boycotts sponsored by international governmental organizations such as the United Nations and the European Union.5 The act prohibits commercial activity, not speech.

While Ms. Katz demeaned US legislators for not having “read the fine print” it appears that Ms. Katz herself did not read any of the print.

Why has there been longstanding and strong support among Americans and their lawmakers against economic attacks against Israel? The short answer is that Israel is the only country in the Middle East that supports the human rights ideals that are central to America’s values. Another answer has to do with the nature of the BDS movement itself.

If progressives like Ms. Katz would only step outside their fantasy world they would see that the BDS movement promotes just the sort of intolerance and injustice they claim to oppose.

What is the BDS Movement?

It began in 2005 when leader Omar Barghouti and a number of Palestinian organizations issued a call for the boycott of everything Israeli.6 BDS is in effect an extension of the boycott against Israel issued by the Arab League in 1945 after Israel successfully repelled attacks by five of its Arab neighbors. Over the years, BDS leaders have issued mixed messages about the ultimate purpose of BDS. They portray BDS as a movement of social justice to counter Israeli “oppression” of Palestinian Arabs. Some misinformed commentators, like the clueless Ms. Katz, claim that the purpose of BDS is to end “the occupation of Palestinian lands.” But the real purpose of BDS is to end the state of Israel. That is clear from the BDS platform that calls for the “right of return” of Arab refugees who were displaced when Israel won wars against Arab invasions. If implemented, this initiative would end the existence of Israel.

BDS leaders have routinely rejected all peace proposals. They oppose the two state solution whereby a Jewish Israel would exist side-by-side with an Arab Palestinian state. They claim they want a “binational” state for Arabs and Jews. This is a cynical ploy. BDS leaders know that a binational state entails the immigration of millions of Arabs into Israel, so that the Arab population would overwhelm the Jewish population. They know full well that a binational state would be an Arab state. They know too that virtually all Jews have been evicted or forced to flee every existing Arab state (with small remnant Jewish populations remaining only in Tunisia and Morocco). Professor Norman Finkelstein, a frequent critic of Israel, has also criticized the leaders of the BDS movement. In 2012 Finkelstein urged BDS leaders to stop dissimulating and admit that their true purpose is to destroy Israel.7

Apparently, Ms. Katz didn’t get the memo on this.

The BDS movement has an ugly face. In the name of BDS, Israeli professors may not participate in international academic conferences, nor can they collaborate with colleagues from other countries on research projects or scholarly publications. Israeli banks and other companies cannot do business in foreign countries. Artists may not display their artwork. Israeli entertainers are not permitted to perform abroad and non-Israelis may not perform in Israel. As one example, non-Israeli musicians who plan concerts in Israel are routinely harassed and subjected to threats and name-calling by BDS supporters. Pro-Israeli musicians, such as Matisyahu, find their performances outside of Israel marred by disruptive pro-BDS crowds.8 An Israeli theater group was prohibited from putting on their play in Great Britain.

Why BDS Will Not Bring Peace

Ultimately the BDS movement is inimical to a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That is because BDS unjustly singles out only one party — Israel — for punishment. This encourages Arabs to dig in their heels and oppose concessions. It discourages Israelis from compromising on disputed issues.

Ms. Katz propagates the idea that Israel is a human rights abuser. In reality, Israel has a good human rights record. Freedom House is a non-partisan organization that rates countries worldwide on the degree to which they allow political rights and civil liberties. In 2017 Freedom House rated Israel 80 out of 100 (with 100 indicating the highest level of freedom). By comparison, Israel’s Arab neighbors received scores ranging from -1 to 44.9

The Palestinian Authority (PA) was established as an autonomous Palestinian Arab government under the Oslo Accords in 1994. Today the PA rules the great majority of Arabs who live in the territories that Israel calls by their ancient names, Judea and Samaria. Most people in the west know this area as the West Bank, a name invented by Jordan after its illegal occupation in 1948. This area was subsequently taken by Israel in a defensive war in 1967. Rightful ownership to the land is a core issue in the dispute between Israel and the PA.

The greatest victims of BDS are the millions of people in Arab countries surrounding Israel that are subjected to human rights abuses that would never be tolerated in Israel. They are victimized because the BDS obsession with Israel distracts attention from the real human rights abuses in Arab countries, including the areas governed by the PA and Hamas.

What is Life Like Under PA Rule?

Its president, Mahmoud Abbas, was elected to a four-year term in 2005 and is now in the thirteenth year of his term. The PA has not permitted any national election since that time. The same elderly politicians continue their undemocratic rule. A small cadre of these politicians has grown wealthy by illegally diverting international donor funds to their own pockets. In public opinion polls, citizens of the PA cite their main gripe as the corruption of their leaders. (The “occupation” is a lesser concern.) But Palestinians have little hope of ending the corruption or of bringing democracy to the PA. That is because the PA government clamps down severely on anyone who criticizes its rule.

Newspapers critical of the ruling elite are shut down. Journalists who criticize the PA or its leaders are jailed. Recently, repression of journalists has grown worse. The PA has passed a new law under which news websites critical of the PA, Abbas, or the ruling Fatah party, may be arrested. Several journalists have already been arrested under the new law.10 Opposition leaders are forced to flee to other countries. Broadcast media are firmly under government control.

The situation for Palestinians from minority groups is grave. Palestinians who are revealed to be gay are routinely murdered by family members. The government won’t protect them. Many gays are imprisoned. Honor killings of women take place every year. There are few consequences for a husband or father who murders to “restore family honor.” With few exceptions, there are no Jews currently living in PA controlled areas. According to PA law, it is illegal for a Jew to be a citizen or resident of the PA (or of any future Palestinian state). If an Arab sells land to a Jew he is subject to capital punishment, and many such individuals have been imprisoned. These anti-Semitic laws are all the more egregious because Jews have lived in these areas continuously for over 3500 years, until their expulsion by Jordanian occupation forces in 1948.

Christians living under PA rule are in a more precarious situation because, unlike Jews, they lack a state where their safety and rights are assured. Christians living in PA controlled areas have been harassed and threatened. Since the city of Bethlehem was transferred from Israeli to PA control, the Christian population has declined significantly.11 The only place in the Middle East where the Arab Christian community has grown is Israel.12 (One exception is the Gulf Arab states that have over a million mostly Asian Christian laborers who work as temporary residents without citizenship rights.)

In Israel, gays, women and minorities are protected, as they are in the West.

The Bottom Line on BDS

Many well-meaning people in the west have been fooled by BDS lies and misrepresentations. That is why US governors, the US Congress and a multitude of businesses, religious institutions and other groups oppose BDS.

It is time for liberals like Ms. Katz to realize that in supporting BDS they have aligned themselves with groups that are undemocratic, racist, anti-women, anti-gay…in fact anti-everything liberals say they stand for. They should realize that BDS is based on lies and distortions and that it is not a force for peace and justice. It is just another in a long series of efforts to eradicate Jews from the Middle East.

If liberals like Ms. Katz want to be true to liberal values of freedom and justice, they will oppose BDS.

Footnotes

  1. Katz, M. Read the Small print: How Nearly 200 Congressmen Could’ve Signed On a Bill Criminalizing Free Speech and Legitimizing Israel’s Occupation of Palestine. Huff Post. July 26, 2017. Retrieved August 15, 2017 from:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/read-the-small-print-how-nearly-200-congressmen-couldve_us_5978c62fe4b0940189700e5d

  1. 50 U.S. Governors Join AJC Initiative to Support Israel, Fight BDS. AJC Global Jewish Advocacy. Retrieved August 14, 2917 from:

http://www.ajc.org/site/apps/nlnet/content3.aspx?c=7oJILSPwFfJSG&b=9302337&ct=14995963

  1. Anti-Semitism: State Anti-BDS Legislation. Jewish Virtual Library. Retrieved August 14, 2017 from: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/anti-bds-legislation
  2. Weinthal, B. Will Another US State Pass Anti-BDS Legislation? Jerusalem Post. June 6, 2017. Retrieved August 14, 2017 from:

http://www.jpost.com/BDS-THREAT/Another-US-state-votes-against-the-BDS-movement-494959

  1. Sheffey, S. Clarity on Israel Anti-Boycott Act. Huff Post. August 19, 2017. Retrieved August 14, 2017 from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/clarity-on-israel-anti-boycott-act_us_598d0d5de4b0ed1f464c09c1
  2. Bard, M. Anti-Semitism: History of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) Movement. Jewish Virtual Library. Retrieved August 15, 2017 from:

http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/bds-movement

  1. Borschel-Dan, A. 10 Years Later, How BDS Became the Politically Correct Way to Delegitimize Israel. The Times of Israel. July 9, 2015. Retrieved August 15, 2017 from:

https://www.timesofisrael.com/10-years-later-how-bds-became-the-politically-correct-way-to-delegitmize-israel/

  1. Keinon, H. Matisyahu: Anti-Semitism at Spanish Festival Was Something I Never Experienced before. Jerusalem Post, August 30, 2015. Retrieved August 15, 2017 from:

http://www.jpost.com/Diaspora/Matisyahu-Anti-Semitism-at-Spanish-reggae-festival-was-something-I-never-experienced-before-413733

  1. Freedom in the World: 2017. Table of Country Scores. Freedom House. Retrieved August 15, 2017 from: https://freedomhouse.org/report/fiw-2017-table-country-scores

Israel’s neighbors received the following scores for political rights and civil liberties, with 100 representing complete freedom:  Syria -1; Saudi Arabia 10; Gaza Strip 12; Egypt 26; Iraq 27; Jordan 37; and Lebanon 44.

  1. Levy, E. Palestinians Protest Against PA’s Arrest of Journalists. YNET News. August 14, 2017. Retrieved August 15, 2017 from:

http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-5002406,00.html

  1. Shragai, N. Why Are Christians Leaving Bethlehem? Israel Hayom. December 26, 2012. Retrieved August 15, 2017 from: http://www.israelhayom.com/site/newsletter_article.php?id=6865

There is some dispute as to the reasons for the decline in Bethlehem’s Christian population. Arab apologists cite the difficulties of the Israeli “occupation.” But there is also little doubt that the city’s Christians feel under siege in an increasingly Islamized city, and that there have been extensive harassment and threats by Muslims toward the city’s Christians.

  1. Adelman, J. The Christians of Israel: A Remarkable Group. HuffPost. No date. Retrieved August 15, 2017 from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jonathan-adelman/the-christians-of-israel_b_8055770.html
About the Author
The author is a life-long Zionist and advocate for Israel. He believes that a strong Jewish state is invaluable, not only to Jews, but to the world-wide cause of democracy and human rights. Dr. Berger earned a PhD in Social Welfare from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has twenty-seven years of teaching experience. He has authored and co-authored three books as well as over 45 professional journal articles and book chapters. His parents were Holocaust survivors. Dr. Berger also blogs at: https://realbulletpoints.wordpress.com/
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