A report by the Washington-based Foundation for Defense Democracies has shown that the BDS movement against Israel has so far failed to achieve its goal.
The report, written by FDD research analyst David May, explained that “the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, or BDS, is the most recent iteration of a century-old effort to attack the legitimacy and economic viability of the Jewish state and its precursors.”
May told The Jerusalem Post in an interview on Tuesday that what prompted him to write the report was the “limited critical assessment of BDS’s origins and methods.”
“BDS’s mythical history claims it derived from the anti-apartheid movement of the 1980s,” he said. “While BDS employs some of the same tactics, its goal is more similar to the Arab League boycott: to destroy the Jewish state of Israel.”
In the report, May explained the history, tactics and different forms this boycott has taken since its initial formation in the early 20th century.
“Opponents of Israel have waged economic warfare in every phase of their conflict with the Jewish state,” he wrote. “What began as a series of local protests and campaigns in the early 20th century became a global effort by the Arab League.”
He pointed out that their goal “was Israel’s annihilation,” but Israel “prospered and the boycott faded.”
However, NGOs that hoped to reignite this cause resurged in the early 2000s, as the collapse of the Oslo peace process was taking place.
May wrote that they were seeking to present themselves “as heirs to the anti-apartheid movement,” and that these NGOs “adopted the language of social justice and human rights to justify a campaign whose goals remain identical to those of the Arab League boycott” – namely, strangling Israel “economically and convincing international audiences that Israel is an extraordinary, if not unique, violator of human rights that should be despised and treated as a pariah.”
But, again, in this respect, “the campaign has proven ineffective so far,” with the Jewish state continuing to thrive and becoming known as the Start-Up Nation.
Asked why it is so important for policy-makers and broader society to understand this history and the different tactics used by the boycott movement, May said that “BDS portrays itself as a social justice campaign and uses human rights language to attract followers.
“An understanding of BDS’s history and trajectory reveals that BDS seeks Israel’s destruction through a campaign of boycotts and propaganda,” he explained. “It must be understood as a veiled attempt to wage economic warfare against Israel.”
He stressed that the country’s “international connections have only grown deeper and more numerous” despite BDS’s attempts.
May examined BDS’s global campaign, as well as academic boycott, African-American support for BDS, campuses, Christian-led boycotts and cultural boycotts against Israel.
In his report, May wrote that “Western activists and NGOs helped develop the campaign’s infrastructure, including the July 2005 ‘Call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel.’”
This, he said, is where the campaign takes its name.
“BDS has borrowed heavily from the anti-apartheid campaign that brought down the South African regime in the 1990s,” he said. “The attempt to conflate Israel and apartheid South Africa is libelous and disingenuous, as Israel grants equal rights to all its citizens, Arab and Jewish alike.”
In spite of this, May wrote that BDS has attracted followers on college campuses “and among certain NGOs and church groups.”
May said he was surprised by the extent and sophistication of BDS’s organization in the United States.
“BDS claims to be a grassroots movement, but a network of NGOs and other companies coordinate to fund, research and organize in support of anti-Israel boycotts,” he said.
Addressing what should be done by Western countries like the US to fight BDS, he explained that the campaign is waging a two-front war against Israel to harm both Israel’s economy and reputation.
“Attempts to stifle BDS should be forceful, but should not provide ammunition to activists seeking to portray Israel negatively,” he warned. “Additionally, in order to get ordinary citizens to take up the cause... BDS must convince others that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is black and white.
“At a bare minimum, opponents of BDS need to show that the conflict is nuanced, with no easy solutions, and that the BDS campaign unjustifiably portrays the conflict in a very lopsided manner,” he stressed.
May highlighted that Freedom House, a leading monitor of international democracy, rates Israel as “Free,” assigning it the highest score of any Middle Eastern country.
“Yet the BDS campaign continues to generate negative publicity for Israel as part of its broader agenda of delegitimizing the Jewish state,” he wrote, stressing that the “ultimate outcome of this campaign is far from certain.”
In the final remarks of the report, May said that “if efforts to defame the sole Jewish nation-state prove successful over the long term, both economic and political consequences will inevitably follow... [but] so long as the US-Israel alliance remains strong, such an outcome is unlikely.”
Adding to this, he said that despite BDS’s attempt to create distance between the sides, there are growing signs of regional integration.
“Arab countries host Israeli athletes and have even played Israel’s national anthem and hoisted its flag for victorious Israelis,” he said. In late 2019, Arab intellectuals convened to express their opposition to boycotts.
“The future for a more prosperous Middle East is in building bridges, not burning them,” he concluded.