June 20, 2018
Barghouti has also repeatedly compared the State of Israel to the Third Reich, calling Gaza a “concentration camp” and speaking of “Israel’s final solution” against the Palestinians.
BDS leader Lara Kiswani has amplified Barghouti’s rhetoric, stating, “I think the end-all of BDS is to weaken Israel, to isolate Israel, and give the global community a role in the liberation of Palestine and support the resistance on the ground in Palestine…We’re resisting colonialism in Palestine, and colonialism entails all of occupied Palestine, from Haifa, to Jerusalem, to Ramallah.”
Or, as Anna Baltzer, a BDS activist, succinctly put it, “We need to wipe out Israel.”
What do we make of a movement aimed at liquidating the Jewish state? Just as we must be clear about the movement’s intentions, we must be equally clear that the aims and practices of BDS are anti-Semitic.
According to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition, tenets of anti-Semitism include, “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination [such as] by claiming the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor” and “Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis,” as BDS regularly does. The IHRA definition is based on Natan Sharansky’s “3D test” for differentiating legitimate criticism of Israel from anti-Semitism: demonization, delegitimization, and double standards, all of which BDS engages in.
Clearly, the BDS movement is rife with anti-Semitism. And yet they depict their agenda as one merely geared toward Palestinian independence and quality of life. The case they present to the world, and particularly university students who are often captivated by the BDS message, is one of peace and justice for a persecuted Palestinian people who have been brutally repressed by a colonial occupier.
In truth, though, BDS is far from pro-peace. The BDS movement actually rejects the peace process, having dismissed nearly every peace effort and having eschewed any degree of Palestinian responsibility or accountability for the conflict. Rather than promote peace, BDS works toward the dismantling of the Jewish state. And rather than encourage compromise, BDS fosters Israel’s isolation. While progressives tend to reject isolation where Cuba or Iran is concerned, their application of a profound double standard against Israel absolves them of any worries about the efficacy or morality of isolation as a strategy.
The IHRA working definition is one of the strongest tools available to us in exposing BDS for what it is. This document, which is tremendously helpful in explaining and educating about anti-Semitism and anti-Israel hatred, has been formally adopted by a organization whose 31 member-states include the United States, Canada, Israel, Argentina, and the vast majority of European Union countries.
B’nai B’rith strongly advocated for a European Parliament resolution on anti-Semitism that promotes the use of the IHRA definition. The measure passed the Parliament with a large majority last year. It is crucial that the IHRA and similar documents, such as the EU Fundamental Rights Agency’s working definition and the U.S. State Department fact sheet on anti-Semitism, should be circulated as widely as possible so that educators and students alike, as well as politicians and journalists, can better understand the problem of anti-Semitism and see how BDS anti-Israel polemics far exceed the boundaries of legitimate policy criticism.
In February some members of the European Parliament invited Omar Barghouti to appear at the Parliament for a conference, promoting his pro-BDS agenda. Jewish organizations wrote a letter to the President of the Parliament protesting the Barghouti visit and condemning his rhetoric as anti-Semitic hate speech. In cooperation with the Parliament’s Working Group on Anti-Semitism, Jewish groups organized a counter-conference during the Barghouti visit and more recently worked together to strike down an attempt by the far-left GUE party to include an endorsement of BDS in a resolution on Gaza.
In the United States, the primary battleground is university campuses, where BDS is the cause du jour. Members of the Student Association at George Washington University, for example, recently passed a resolution during a secret meeting that called for the campus to divest from all-things-Israel, and accused the Jewish nation of being an apartheid state. The resolution also charged the university with violating international law by profiting from investments in Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, and Caterpillar, companies that do business with Israel. Similarly, Barnard College students voted two months ago in favor of a referendum asking the Student Government Association to write a letter to the administration asking them to divest from eight companies that “profit from or engage in the State of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.”
Jewish groups are promoting legislation that would encourage campus officials to use accepted working definitions of anti-Semitism in determining whether anti-Semitism has occurred, but are facing resistance from free speech advocates who feel that such a use of a working definition would curtail debate about the Middle East. Widening the dissemination of the IHRA working definition and other definitions remains a priority, because there is so little awareness of the fact that the demonization and delegitimization of Israel is a manifestation of anti-Semitism.
BDS in the United States is of course not limited to campuses; it has exhibited itself among national churches such as the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. and the United Church of Christ, both of whom have passed resolutions to boycott and divest from companies deemed “complicit” in Israel’s policies regarding the Palestinians. It is noteworthy that hearings on these resolutions routinely feature classic anti-Semitic tropes, such as slanderous accusations at the PCUSA hearing that Israel is subjecting Palestinians to “biblical scale enslavement” and poisoning Palestinian livestock. While these BDS resolutions are clearly informed by leftist politics, it is crucial to highlight the role that anti-Semitic propaganda plays in the arguments that bolster these policy measures. We must make clear, to clergy and parishioners alike, the crucial principle affirmed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe: that no political position, cause, or grievance can ever justify anti-Semitism. Moreover, as some of the debates over BDS resolutions have clearly demonstrated, the demonization and delegitimization of the Jewish state is often none other than a pretext for the hatred of Jews themselves.
B’nai B’rith has supported legislation in the U.S. Congress, the Combating BDS Act of 2017, that would allow a state or local government to prohibit investment of its assets in, or restrict contracting with, entities that engage in BDS. In states around the U.S., legislatures are passing laws that take a stand against companies that participate in discriminatory boycotts against Israel. The more that governments, industries, and international organizations that adopt accepted working definitions of anti-Semitism and reject, through doctrine, legislation, or practice, discriminatory tactics aimed at weakening and ultimately eliminating Israel, the more momentum the anti-BDS effort will gain. We are also backing the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, which directs the U.S. Department of Education to use the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism when determining if incidents of harassment or discrimination that are potentially in violation of U.S. anti-discrimination law were motivated by anti-Semitism. And we continue to press for the appointment of a State Department special envoy on anti-Semitism who could focus the spotlight more brightly on the global problem.
We can also direct greater scrutiny to the connections between BDS and known terrorist organizations. As reported in Tablet magazine this month, the Virginia-based U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, which serves as the American umbrella group of the BDS movement, facilitates tax-exempt donations to a coalition that includes groups designated by the U.S. State Department as terrorist organizations, such as Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The U.S. Campaign sponsors a group called the Palestinian BDS National Committee, or BNC, which serves as the Palestinian arm of BDS and which encompasses these terrorist organizations. How many political leaders or university educators know about these terrorist links? We need a concerted effort to raise awareness among key officials.
In Europe, BDS on campus varies from country to country. It is very much a problem in the United Kingdom, for example, while in other EU countries students don’t face the same challenges. On the political level, however, more and more leaders on the center-left and radical left have openly supported boycotts of the Jewish state. They often instrumentalize human rights and international law to condemn Israel, in doing so merging the government, the state, and the Jewish people. Their criticisms frequently employ anti-Semitic stereotypes of power, manipulation, and dual loyalty to justify the array of slanders they direct at the Jewish state, such as apartheid, war crimes, genocide, Nazi tactics, etc.
Compounding the problem is the fact that the United Nations itself has compiled a blacklist of 206 companies currently operating in the West Bank. These businesses, thanks to the imprimatur of the UN Human Rights Council and a report it commissioned in 2016, are now ripe for targeting by BDS, as the movement aims to increase pressure over settlements. But as is the case with EU regulations directing member-states to label products imported from the West Bank or eastern Jerusalem, the focus on settlements itself is a gateway to larger boycotts of Israeli goods. Once Israel becomes identified in the public consciousness as a problem country, then all of its products become suspect. Governments and businesses can easily become more reluctant to engage economically with Israel for fear of censure or stigma. Thus both the UN and the EU, whether wittingly or not, whether motivated by nefarious intentions or not, are fueling the momentum of the BDS movement and its larger goals.
Earlier this month a significant breakthrough occurred in the German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, where the state intelligence agency declared BDS a “new variation of anti-Semitism” in its May report. This was the first case of a German domestic intelligence agency labeling BDS as anti-Semitic and a security threat. Their findings severely undercut the arguments of those who would have the public believe that BDS innocently represents the pursuit of peace and justice.
To be clear, we must resist the urge to paint all BDS supporters with the broad brushstroke of anti-Semitism. A college student intent on fighting for peace in the Middle East, however informed he may or may not be, is not by his mere association with BDS, necessarily an anti-Semite. But it is nonetheless true that the core mission of the BDS movement, as articulated by its founders and leaders – the eradication of the Jewish state – is an anti-Semitic one. BDS supporters who cast their lot with the movement need to understand its nefarious objectives and tactics and decide whether they will be party to them.
The BDS strategy poses a great challenge to international NGOs, who find ourselves thrust into an emotionally heated debate that is detached from facts and in which disinformation is the ultimate means-justifier. Facts are routinely countered with falsehoods; reasoning is met with bogus claims of propaganda-mongering or allegations of intimidation aimed at silencing the pro-Palestinian side’s right to free speech. But when the facts are on your side, there is no substitute for bringing those truths to light – for educating an incompletely informed public about Israel’s record as the only democratic country in the Middle East, one in which the rights of women, minorities, and LGBT persons are respected and the right of all religions to worship at their holy sites is protected.
One way in which B’nai B’rith and other organizations have spread the pro-Israel narrative is by bringing groups of influence-shapers to the Jewish state to give the visitors a first-hand view of the realities of Israel’s extraordinary security predicament as well as the refreshingly ordinary rhythm of daily life in the Jewish state. During a B’nai B’rith-led visit to Israel by a delegation of members of the European Parliament, we took the legislators to a plastics factory in the West Bank. The manager of the factory stared the visitors in the eye and made the case against BDS as movingly and persuasively as almost anyone can. He told them:
“I employ about 60 workers here – 20 Israelis and 40 Palestinians. We pay everyone the same salary, as required by Israeli law. We eat lunch together; we celebrate Muslim and Jewish holidays together with our families. Don’t boycott me. If you boycott me, you are boycotting the hope.”
The loss of Palestinian jobs, the loss of peace and cooperation, the loss of hope – these are some of the casualties of BDS. Our job is to make the case that there is a better path than economic destruction, anti-Semitism, and anti-Israel hatred. We are faced with many obstacles in our effort, but with tools at our disposal, the facts at our side, and allies behind us, we have and will continue to make progress toward our goal of exposing and ultimately overcoming BDS.