Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s recent speech at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference was historic.
For years, the centerpiece of any speech that Netanyahu gave on foreign policy was Iran. Sometimes, he would also mention the peace process. This year, in his AIPAC conference speech, the centerpiece was the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and the new anti-Semitism it embodies.
Finally, after years of letting the BDS grow into the monster it has now become, the Israeli government is taking things seriously: “Throughout history, people believed the most outrageously absurd things about the Jews, that we were using the blood of children to bake matzot, that we were spreading the plague throughout Europe, that we were plotting to take over the world. Yeah, but you can say how can educated people, how could educated people today believe the nonsense spewed by BDS about Israel? Well, that shouldn’t surprise you either. Some of history’s most influential thinkers and writers – Voltaire, Dostoyevsky, T.S. Eliot, many, many others – spread the most preposterous lies about the Jewish people.
“Today the singling out of the Jewish people has turned into the singling out of the Jewish state. So you see, attempts to boycott, divest and sanction Israel, the most threatened democracy on Earth, are simply the latest chapter in the long and dark history of anti-Semitism.”
The equating of the BDS movement with classical anti-Semitism is not only accurate. It is also a strategic shift for Netanyahu. Until today, he had reserved this strategic tool only for Iran that he accused constantly of denying the Holocaust while planning another one. Today, the BDS movement receives the same treatment.
Netanyahu went on with a clear mission from the leader of the Jewish state to all supporters of Israel: “Those who wear the BDS label should be treated exactly as we treat any anti-Semite or bigot. They should be exposed and condemned. The boycotters should be boycotted.”
Enough with the passivity; supporters of Israel worldwide need to start fighting back against the BDS movement.
Our weapons in fighting the BDS Israel has several weapons available when trying to actively fight against BDS.
First of all, there are the “softer” weapons. The ingenuity of the Israeli people and economic promise this brings to anyone who cooperates with them makes it hard to break ties with the Jewish state. In order to amplify the effect of this weapon, Israel needs to make it clear. Anyone who cooperates with the BDS movement will be blacklisted from cooperation with Israel.
No legitimacy can be given to the BDS movement. When the Europeans passed their “Guidelines” that were inspired by the BDS movement, the right response should have been to find an area where the Europeans are the ones who want the cooperation with Israel and to cut the ties in that area. Israel cannot remain a punching bag where Europe gets what it wants out of Israel while cutting ties everywhere it is not in their advantage. True diplomacy is not about making people happy, it is about making people work towards your interests even if it is through “tougher” means.
The stronger weapons available are the millions of supporters all around the world that are ready to enlist in order to help Israel. Israeli supporters around the world are incredibly diverse. They are of different origins, of different ages, of different religions and of different political orientations. What is important, though, is that together they are an incredibly powerful purchasing power. Some are well placed in the most influential roles of the international economy. Other are simple middle-class people who buy groceries at the supermarket. However, if, together, all of the supporters around the world gave a very clear message and said, as Netanyahu asked, “We will boycott the boycotters,” no corporation would dare rise against Israel.
A case study can be seen in a recent campaign by a new organization I am involved with called Global Action for Israel. This organization, based mostly on Facebook, aims to unite and coordinate supporters worldwide in order to respond to attacks against Israel. If Israel is boycotted by a company, all members will boycott that company. If a country boycotts Israel, any corporation in that country will be a valid target.
On February 17, the largest bank in Germany, Deutsche Bank, was reported to have boycotted Bank Hapoalim for “immoral conduct” because of its involvement with building in Judea and Samaria. On that day, a campaign was started on Global Action for Israel.
Thousands of emails were sent to Deutsche Bank explaining clearly that if the decision would not be reversed, all members of Global Action for Israel would contact their local bank and demand that they cut their ties with Deutsche Bank since it is cooperating with the anti-Semitic BDS movement.
After all, part of our power is that we are customers of our local banks. One day later, Deutsche Bank came out with a clear statement rejecting any boycott of Israel: “We wish to make it explicitly clear that Deutsche Bank is not boycotting any Israeli company.” The bank claimed that it never intended to boycott Israel, but rather that a private customer requested his investments not to include Bank Hapoalim for the said reasons.
Whether the explanation of Deutsche Bank was accurate or not, the speed at which it worked in order to clarify its position and their now incredibly clear and explicit stance against boycotting Israel shows the power that Israel supporters worldwide have if they work together in order to counter any attack against Israel. Corporations, after all, think in terms of profit and losses. If they are convinced by the BDS movement that investing in Israel is a bad investment since people are boycotting Israel, this is dangerous.
However, if they are convinced by Israel supporters that any boycott of Israel will cause them great economic loss, no corporation would dare to boycott the Jewish state.
Realism and public diplomacy There are several outstanding public diplomacy organizations out there explaining why Israel is right. There is no doubt that this is needed. These organizations need to keep doing the great work they are doing. After all, the basis of our own support of Israel is our conviction in the righteousness of this cause, and not any cost-benefit analysis! However, at a time like today when the BDS movement is using intimidation, disinformation and threats to get companies to boycott Israel, we cannot just think of the righteousness of our cause but we need to add a layer of realistic economic incentives based on thinking of how to defeat those boycotts.
In the long term, the change in discourse and the paradigm shift that traditional public diplomacy organizations work towards is what Israel needs.
However, in the short term, we Israel supporters need to enlist and act as solders in a large army defending Israel wherever it is being attacked.
Only with this short-term strategy will we even get to the long-term results we are hoping for.
Netanyahu’s speech at AIPAC was an indication that the Israeli government has also understood the urgency of this matter. ■ The writer is an attorney who graduated from McGill University Law School and Hebrew University’s honors graduate program in public policy.