Supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement are on the
defensive. A surprisingly candid interview on video with anti-Israel guru Norman
Finkelstein at the beginning of last month has sparked a flurry of
soul-searching on far-left websites such as +972 and Mondoweiss and among
left-wing ideologues such as M.J. Rosenberg, senior foreign policy fellow at
Media Matters Action Network, and Haaretz columnist Bradley Burston.
the video, which went viral first on YouTube and later, after being removed to
contain damage to BDS, on Vimeo, Finkelstein declared BDS to be a
Though BDS activists tout the movement’s many successes, in
reality “it’s a cult where the guru says ‘We have all these victories’ and
everyone nods their head,” he said.
Finkelstein went on to explain why
BDS has failed so miserably. The movement’s duplicity and disingenuousness in
hiding the fact that a large part of its membership “wants to eliminate Israel”
made it impossible for BDS to reach a broad public.
comments have resulted in a reevaluation of the entire BDS movement on the Left.
And it comes at a particularly opportune time as BDS activists on campuses
around the world mark Israel Apartheid Week.
For instance, an article
titled “Boycotting Israel means denying its right to exist” that first appeared
last Wednesday on the +972 blog has generated a lively debate. In their zeal to
attack author Noam Weiner, an Israeli doctoral candidate at the University of
Michigan Law School, critics have in the process proved Weiner – and Finkelstein
– right. In trying to support BDS, many ended up expressing their support for
Israel’s demise as a Jewish state by championing the “right of return” for
millions of Palestinians and their offspring, who were forced or chose to leave
Israel after the War of Independence.
Meanwhile, “moderates” such as
Rosenberg have tried to differentiate between BDS against Israel as a whole and
a BDS campaign that focuses solely on the West Bank. Meretz, a self-proclaimed
Zionist political party, makes such as distinction. And for many Jewish
organizations in the US one can support a targeted boycott of Israeli
settlements in Judea and Samaria and still remain within the “big tent” of
But even this more “moderate” form of BDS is
Modern economies are highly complex. How directly does a
company have to be involved in the development of Judea and Samaria to justify a
boycott against it? Would paying taxes constitute support for the “occupation?”
How about firms run by people who serve reserve duty? Any attempts to direct a
boycott at Judea and Samaria inevitably result in a boycott against
More substantively, a boycott, even one supposedly directed only
at the settlements, ignores the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
It ignores Palestinian incitement to violence, which goes on to this day. It
ignores the broad support among Palestinians for Hamas and other terrorist
groups that aspire to destroy Israel, even with pre-1967 lines. A BDS campaign,
even one that only targets “occupation,” strengthens the most radical elements
within Palestinian society by refraining from placing at least some of the blame
for the conflict on Palestinian shoulders.
And as blogger Jon Haber,
creator of the Divest This! website, has pointed out, BDS activity tends to
undermine the basic values of organizations that use it. When, for instance, the
British National Union of Journalists is asked to join BDS, it members are
expected to suspend their journalistic objectivity to single out Israel for
University professors are asked to disregard the notion of
academic freedom to use their positions to silence Israeli colleagues.
Businesses and co-ops are asked to forgo their right to pursue the best products
at the lowest prices to punish the Jewish state. And mainline Protestant
churchgoers are asked to compromise their religious faith, as if God Himself
were aligned with the BDS movement.
Finkelstein’s candid interview has
sparked an important reassessment of the entire BDS movement. Let us hope that
the soul-searching raging on the Left leads to more honesty and less of the
duplicity and disingenuousness that has characterized the BDS movement to date.