The government cannot fight the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement alone; it needs a network, Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan said at a packed Knesset Caucus to Battle Delegitimization conference on Wednesday.
“Delegitimization is a challenge with strategic potential,” Erdan said. “BDS is part of a broader campaign that covers many areas, including education and culture, which is meant to present Israel as the source of all evil and opposed to the values of the democratic world, in order to restrict the IDF’s actions and discriminate in international institutions.
“The campaign’s goal is to destroy the existence of the State of Israel as the home of the Jewish people,” he said.
Erdan’s ministry is responsible for coordinating the government’s efforts against delegitimization, and to that end has a NIS 100 million budget for 2016. He called this the first time one government office was appointed to integrate all efforts on the matter.
The minister commended the work of the many pro-Israel NGOs attending the conference, saying that they and the government must work together to fight delegitimization.
“We need a network to face a network. We need a real network built of [nongovernmental] organizations and other bodies, like the Knesset. We have to work together on an issue that unites the Jewish people and Israel’s many supporters in the world,” he added.
Erdan said they must put BDS on the defensive, while at the same time using public diplomacy to improve Israel’s image in the world.
The Caucus to Battle Delegitimization is led by opposition and coalition MKs – Anat Berko (Likud), Nachman Shai (Zionist Union), Michael Oren (Kulanu), Robert Ilatov (Yisrael Beytenu) and Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid) – and they invited representatives of NGOs and high-profile experts to join the effort.
Berko called BDS “jihad dressed up in a suit.”
Oren called the battle against delegitimization “a war like any other, and in war, we must take off the gloves and reach new battlefields on campuses around the world.
“No tank will move and no plane will take off if we don’t have the right to defend ourselves,” Oren said.
The Kulanu MK and former ambassador to the US described a bill he proposed, meant to train outstanding IDF vets to be stationed on overseas college campuses to advocate for Israel.
“I’m sure if all the relevant factors cooperate, we will successfully deal with international boycott attempts,” he stated.
Shai pointed out that the coalition and opposition stand together in fighting BDS.
“The boycott movement is an ugly one that wants to harm Israel,” Shai said. “Every citizen of Israel can be a partner in this world. We need to encourage people to buy more locally produced goods to contribute.”
Ilatov said boycotts of Israel remind him of the Nuremberg Laws in Nazi Germany, which, among other things, included the boycott of Jewish businesses.
“Then, too, the Jews were blamed for all of the world’s problems, and today, Israel, the state of the Jewish people, is the scapegoat,” he said. “Our enemies slightly changed the rhetoric, but the meaning is mostly just hatred of the Jewish people.”
Former Canadian justice minister Irwin Cotler described the boycott movement as “a new, global, sophisticated, virulent and even lethal form of anti-Semitism.
“Israel is the targeted Jew among the nations,” he said.
One of its tactics, Cotler explained, is to “mask anti-Semitism with universal values, in an attempt to make Israel the enemy of all that is good and the repository of all that is evil.”
Cotler pointed to the “annual ritual” of the UN portraying Israel as the enemy in all areas – labor, health, culture, women’s rights – and thus the enemy of humankind in general.
Cotler, an expert on international and human rights law, said that the new anti-Semitism uses the language of those areas against Israel.
“One of the worst things you can say about people today is that they’re racist,” he said, explaining a delegitimization tactic. “People call Israel an apartheid state, because apartheid is defined as a crime against humanity, so if Israel is apartheid, it has no right to be.
Not only that, they call Israel a Nazi state, so the international community has a responsibility to say Israel has no right to be.”
Former MK Einat Wilf, a senior fellow at the Jewish Peoplehood Policy Institute in Givat Ram, Jerusalem, also pointed to the strategy of identifying Zionism, and thus Israel and the Jewish people, as the source of all evil.
“All violence starts with preparing people’s consciousness so they think the violence [against Israel] is a good thing,” she said. “The minute the world supports the Palestinians as the total victims of evil and think this is a struggle between good and evil and not between two nations with history, the chances of an agreement [with the Palestinians] will be postponed for another 200 years. People don’t negotiate of compromise with evil.”
Wilf said that, as someone who is left-wing and believes in a two-state solution, she thinks fighting the boycott and changing the way people see Israel is important.
The former MK emphasized the importance of relaying the message that Zionism is not meant to displace anyone or to cancel anyone else’s rights.
“We have to enlist in this war of awareness. We need the ‘IIDF,’ Israel Intellectual Defense Forces,” she quipped.
Some of the MKs referred to Israeli NGOs that they said support the effort to delegitimize Israel.
“The battle is at home, too,” Berko said. “It’s against groups and organizations that may have good intentions but are being used as to deceive people.
Ilatov spoke out in support of the Justice Ministry’s NGO transparency bill, which would require representatives of organizations mostly funded by foreign governments to wear tags when visiting the Knesset, and for the NGOs to disclose the funding in all publications.
“The bill says that the minute you get funding from a foreign government and promote its agenda, which harms Israel, the public should know,” he said.
IBA journalist Yaakov Ahimeir, however, pointed out that a recent Washington Post editorial criticized the NGO bill, and said it was bad for Israel’s image.
“Are all the laws being passed in the Knesset really necessary?” he asked.
Ahimeir also called on lawmakers to be better behaved, saying that an unruly Knesset looks bad in the eyes of the world. Two MKs interrupted him while he spoke.