The Who, What, When, Where, and How of BDS
Some readers may not have previously heard of BDS or, if they have, may not be sure what it means. However, if you have heard about “Israeli apartheid” or that Israel is committing genocide, you have received its messaging. If you believe Israeli settlements are the barrier to peace and the Palestinians are an ancient people, you have accepted some of its principles.
During my speaking engagements, I am often asked fundamental questions about the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. Who is behind it? How is it funded? How does it operate? What exactly is BDS?
Mission. BDS is an international campaign calling for the economic, academic, and cultural boycott of the Jewish homeland. It seeks financial divestment from Israeli companies and companies that do business with Israel, plus international sanctions against Israel.
BDS is not about peace, freedom, or helping the Palestinians and has not succeeded at such. Its goal starts and ends with getting rid of the Jewish state.
Tactics and Strategy. It publicly attacks individuals (including entertainers) and corporate entities doing business with Israelis. It claims that they are supporting human rights violations like genocide and racism which it falsely accuses Israel of committing.
Its strategy is two-fold: first, to employ the threat of cancel culture to modify behavior, and second, to use the newsworthiness of these attacks to draw attention to its lies and prejudice hundreds of millions of people across the globe.
Origins. BDS proponents claim that Palestinian civil society, led by Omar Barghouti, the co-founder and public face of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), started the movement in 2004/2005 in Ramallah.
Others credibly argue that this 2005 conference was merely a façade for a predominantly Western campaign beginning at the infamous 2001 UN World Conference on Racism in Durban, South Africa, a gathering which devolved into a cesspool of antisemitism and antizionism loudly denounced by the US. There 1500 international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) attendees adopted the framework now used by BDS to delegitimatize Israel.
Organization. The campaign does not have a corporation-like infrastructure with an internal hierarchy. Instead, there are hundreds of local groups around the world operating independently but echoing the same message.
The Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC) operates the BDSmovement.net website and provides coordination, guidance, and social media content to these groups. Although most of its activity is centered in Western Europe, like-minded groups can be found in dozens of countries, including Canada, the United States, South Africa, New Zealand, Hungary, and Australia.
Demands. BDS demands include withdrawal from the disputed territories defined as the West Bank, the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem, and Gaza (even though Gaza has been Judenfrei since 2005). It wants Israel to remove the security barrier in the West Bank that protects Israelis from terrorists and equal rights for Palestinians (even though Arab Israeli citizens already have equal rights). It also insists on a “right of return” for Palestinian refugees and the descendants of refugees from the 1948 and 1967 conflicts that BDS numbers at 7.2 million people.
It is the last demand that is the real bugaboo.
The result of even a modest implementation of the “right of return” would be to eviscerate the Jewish character of the state. As Omar Barghouti has explained, it would result in a Palestinian state adjacent to another Palestinian state – the first step in a two-step dance ultimately resulting in one majority Arab nation.
Funding. Its funding comes primarily from secular and church-based non-governmental organizations (NGOs). It also gets financial support from European governments (both directly and via NGOs), charities, and private philanthropies.
Anti-Israel NGOs including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and Oxfam have a combined annual budget exceeding a staggering 100 million dollars. Arab countries indirectly support BDS by funding anti-Israel departments and curriculums in Western universities.
NGOs provide organizational, media support and legitimacy to BDS. Many people believe that NGOs represent universal values and a balance to powerful government interests. Despite its name, NGOs frequently have a prominent position on the world political stage. Their anti-Israel reports are taken at face value by journalists and academics and repeated to the public and students as gospel. Journalists, academics, and NGOs have become a circle of Jew-hatred where each group cites the others to validate their antisemitic views.
Impact. Persecution and violence against Jews always begin with lies about Jews, and the BDS movement has set the table for ill-will across the political spectrum.
We don’t have to look far for its manifestation – violent attacks on the visibly Jewish, swastikas carved into elementary school desks, loathsome flyers tacked on fences and walls around our cities. By demonizing Israeli Jews, half of the worldwide Jewish population, with antisemitic lies about our people, BDS is normalizing and validating primeval calls for our destruction.
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