Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Israel is in a war against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement that includes using preemptive measures to curb the potential impact on the Jewish state, Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan told The Jerusalem Post in a wide-ranging interview on Wednesday.
Erdan rejected criticism of his ministry’s actions saying, when at war, a plan is needed to put the other side on the defensive.
His strategy seems to be working and has rattled BDS activists and their sympathizers.
“We are trying to gather information and intelligence on BDS activists around the world because of the need to predict what they will do,” said Erdan, who will be addressing the annual Jerusalem Post Conference in New York City on May 7.
His main modus operandi: Move rapidly from a defensive posture to an assertive, offensive approach.
Recent examples of that strategy include blocking entry to Israel of the hardcore British BDS activist Hugh Lanning, who reportedly has links to the terrorist organization Hamas. Another example is the use of publicly available information to identify a tiny group of Israelis conducting economic warfare against the state.
One tool used to stymie BDS unleashed criticism in an article and editorial in Haaretz.
“We know BDS activists have connections to terrorist organizations and want to enter Israel to harm us,” Erdan said. He dismissed the Haaretz headline and article, the gist of which claimed Erdan aims to create a “database” of Israeli citizens who support BDS, something he said was flatly inaccurate.
“There is no such thing,” Erdan said. “We work with open sources on the Internet” to develop a strategic portfolio. The number of Israelis who actively support BDS and cooperate with the movement is “only a few dozen. We are not seeing what they have in their computers. That is totally forbidden.”
Erdan said the BDS campaign “has the potential to become a big strategic threat to Israel” and make it “harder for the IDF and police to defend their citizens.”
The linchpin of Erdan’s strategy is to show that BDS’s stated aim to secure massive concessions for the Palestinians is not grounded in reality, whereas in truth it seeks to negate Israel’s existence. In short, it is a modern expression of ago-old, lethal antisemitism. “The ideology behind BDS is, Jews are not entitled to a state,” he said.
Erdan sees the recently approved Knesset law barring BDS foreign nationals from entering Israel as akin to laws in countries such as the US, UK and Germany that block entry to noncitizens who are security threats.
The outrage in some quarters over travel restrictions on foreign BDS activists stems from “double standards” that try to portray Israel in a different way, said Erdan. The anti-BDS travel law lit up Twitter earlier in the month.
“BDS activists don’t care about human rights in any other country. They never fight for refugees in Syria. Why don’t they care?” he asked and quickly answered, “They are antisemites,” adding that “Israel is the safest place for a Muslim to live.”
Erdan wants leaders of the Hispanic and African-American communities and trade unions in the US to visit Israel so they may be exposed to “Israeli values.” He does not want “to lose the younger generation in the West because they don’t understand the conflict.”
His goal is to increase cooperation with students and young progressive Jews in the US. “It is important to keep bipartisan support for Israel – Democrats and Republicans,” said Erdan, adding that new technologies “make it easier to create a network of lies and incitement against Israel.”
The threat of BDS is potentially potent, but it is “not winning and has not scored big achievements,” the minister said. That statement was backed up by a recent Bloomberg business report that showed the movement has not damaged Israel’s economy. Erdan stressed that efforts to combat the movement are “not about people who disagree with the policies of the Israeli government. There is a redline between disagreement and boycotts of Israel. Criticism of Israel’s government is entirely legitimate.”
Asked about the recent arrest of Omar Barghouti, a Qatari-born Palestinian and BDS co-founder who has permanent residence status in Israel, having married an Israeli, for suspected tax evasion, Erdan said, “a court will decide” and that the case was not connected to boycott efforts.
Draining the BDS financial swamp is “one of the most important tools” to stop funds to terrorist groups, he said, and cited the growing number of anti-BDS laws in France, the UK and the US. Erdan’s warnings to financial institutions in Germany – including the Federal Republic’s second largest bank Commerzbank – and in Austria played a role in the closure of several BDS bank accounts in Central Europe.
“Facilitating the bank accounts of BDS organizations constitutes support for BDS. Banks maintaining such accounts should carefully consider the danger of running afoul of strict anti-BDS legislation in the US and other countries. Countries have already shut BDS accounts for legal reasons and we urge others to do the same,” Erdan told the Post in early March.
His target was South Africa’s First National Bank and its account with the “mothership” of the global anti-Israel movement – BDS South Africa. That group held fund-raisers with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine terrorist Leila Khaled in 2015.
Austria’s BAWAG Bank shut a BDS account in June 2016, after the organization hosted Khaled.