Analysis: BDS initiatives and their counter-efforts play out across Europe

Making sense of the efficacy of new anti-BDS initiatives is a challenge, though, because the boycott movement adapts, as does a virus.

August 30, 2016 10:30
3 minute read.

A demonstrator displays a sign reading "Boycott Israel, racist state". (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Europe’s Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement has long percolated down through many layers of society. However, this month saw a range of countervailing forces designed to blunt the movement.

Making sense of the efficacy of new anti-BDS initiatives is a challenge, though, because BDS adapts, as does a virus.

While BDS is depicted as a home-grown Palestinian societal movement, its academic component was the 2002 brainchild of European academics, British sociologist David Hirsh wrote on the website, Engage, on Sunday. Hirsh dissected a new video showing Palestinian academic and activist, Ruba Salih, with the Israeli-born professor and BDS advocate, Ilan Pappé.

In response to Salih saying, “Well the Palestinians launched BDS in 2005,” Pappé responds, “Not really, but yes, OK, for historical records, yes.”

Hirsh writes“Ilan Pappé knows that it is a lie that the boycott campaign was launched by a ‘call’ from ‘Palestinian civil society.’ He knows it is a lie, but he’s content nevertheless for it to be solidified into what he calls ‘historical records.’” BDS says it seeks to impose pressure on Israel to secure concessions for Palestinians, but it has rapidly metastasized into a full-blown call for an economic boycott of Israel with highly dangerous parallels to German fascism.

As my colleague Clifford May, president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, wrote in his Washington Times column, “At a meeting of National Socialist leaders a few days later, Hermann Goering declared that ‘the Jewish question’ needed to be solved once and for all.

‘Since the problem is mainly an economic one, it is from the economic angle it shall have to be tackled,’ he said, adding, ‘I implore competent agencies to take all measures for the elimination of the Jew from the German economy.’” All of this helps to explain a potent Leipzig University student council anti-BDS resolution from August which states,“The Nazi slogan ‘don’t buy from Jews’ here again finds its realization. Hence, the BDS movement often campaigns against individual Jews by placing in the foreground their function, for example as head of a firm. In so doing, it expresses the anti-Semitic motif of the wealthy and powerful Jew who must be fought.”

Prof. Jeffrey Herf, a prominent historian at the University of Maryland, wrote on his blog that the resolution is important because “support for the resolution came first of all from a department of the Humanities, which is significant as BDS has generally had more support in the humanities and social sciences than in the natural sciences, engineering or law faculties...

In view of a long history of leftist antagonism to Israel dating back to the 1960s in West Germany and to 1949 in East Germany, both the content and the origins of the Leipzig resolutions are evidence of a very different stance towards Israel evident among at least these liberal and left-liberal students.”

It is still too early to assess whether the resolution gains traction in the US, the UK and Canada, the hotspots of academic BDS.

Herf, whose book Undeclared Wars with Israel: East Germany and the West German Far Left, 1967-1989 appeared this year, translated the lengthy student resolution on his blog.

Outside of the academy, a new group – Aktionsforum Israel (Action Forum Israel) – launched a protest against hardcore BDS activists in front of a Berlin department store on Thursday who sought to discourage consumers from purchasing the Israeli carbonated drink mixer, SodaStream.

In an interview published in the Rheinische Post on Friday, Israel’s ambassador to Germany, Yakov Hadas-Handelsman, said the BDS campaign’s goal to return millions of Palestinian refugees to the locations of their ancestors is in reality the aim to “wipe out the Jewish democratic character of Israel. This intention is a form of anti-Semitism.”

August is nearly over and September will be another test of countervailing BDS forces.

The writer is a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

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