I wish there wasn’t a worldwide effort to isolate Israel. To undermine Israel.
To destroy Israel. But there is, and it is called the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
I was in Buenos Aires two weeks ago for a plenary meeting of the World Jewish Congress, the organization I have the privilege of leading. There, in Argentina, 457 Jewish people representing 67 countries gathered in one room. Think about that. Some 457 Jewish people from countries as diverse as South Africa and Australia, Germany and Colombia, Israel and Russia. And when the topic turned to BDS all of us, from around the world, spoke in one voice. All of us, from the most secular to the most Orthodox, from the political Left to the political Right, agreed on one thing: We must unite to stop BDS.
It was a remarkable demonstration of unity and strength. That’s because we were all there for the same reason. We were all there because we care deeply about one another. Because we care deeply about the Jewish state of Israel. And we are all committed to defeating BDS.
BDS was started a decade ago by an anti-Israel activist named Omar Barghouti.
What was his goal? To destroy the Jewish homeland. To rob the Jewish people of our right to self-determination.
Our enemies have failed to destroy Israel militarily. They have failed to destroy Israel economically. So now, having failed to destroy Israel militarily and economically, they are trying to destroy Israel politically.
BDS tries to present itself as some sort of democratic movement concerned with human rights. That’s a lie. On the contrary, BDS is an international campaign to incite hostility toward Israel and the Jewish people.
Let me be clear: the BDS movement is not motivated by disagreement with specific Israeli policies. BDS has no interest in peace. And no interest in improving the daily lives of Palestinians. Its real aim is the destruction of Israel.
The world needs to see through the lies.
BDS is really two different movements. The first is boycotts of Israeli goods, Israeli scholars, Israeli doctors and the many ideas and accomplishments this wonderful country exports. And the second is the anti-Israel campaigns at colleges and universities.
In the first case of boycotts, the World Jewish Congress, through its legal arm, is advancing legislation to make economic boycotts illegal. Two years ago in London, we brought together 40 Jewish lawyers.
Luckily, they waived their hourly rates.
And we looked at a worldwide effort to ban boycotts. And we’re making great progress.
Many countries have already made boycotts illegal. There is new legislation in the US Congress to also ban boycotts. So, on the legal front, we are winning.
The next front in this fight is at colleges and universities. I have long believed that our greatest asset is our children and their education. And yet, from the moment our children arrive at school, they face a barrage of anti-Semitic lies. This is particularly dangerous because, for many young people, college is their first exposure to the history and politics of the Middle East. These young people are especially vulnerable to being influenced by the harsh propaganda of anti-Israel activists.
At many schools, there are some excellent pro-Israel groups. But it is difficult for them to compete with the well-financed anti-Israel groups, like Students for Justice in Palestine and the Muslim Students’ Association. These anti-Israel groups are staffed by highly skilled activists who seek to turn our children against Israel. Most Jewish students are ill-equipped to defend themselves.
But that is about to change. The World Jewish Congress and I have a bold new plan to create a network of Jewish political organizations at every key college and university.
Not just in the US, but across the globe. We will help Jewish students stand up to anti-Israel radicals and their lies.
In the past, the Israeli government has tried to discredit the lies told by BDS. But these official governmental responses can be counterproductive, because they give BDS the legitimacy that it should not have and does not deserve. Instead, we should fight these lies locally: at colleges and universities.
The new student organizations funded by the World Jewish Congress will be staffed by our own skilled young professionals, who will train Jewish students to be proud of their heritage and to be proud of Israel.
And we are exposing the hypocrisy of the academic boycotts. These academic boycotts are no different than the Nuremberg laws that kept Jewish professors out of German universities. Think about it.
Academic boycotts run counter to the very mission of colleges and universities. Colleges and universities should encourage the free flow of ideas. But too often, we have seen Israel’s viewpoint shouted down or shut out. I myself have been booed for defending Israel when I visited college campuses.
No university would allow a professor to come into a classroom wearing a swastika.
Why, then, should universities give cover to professors who follow the jihadists’ talking points? Schools that condone hate speech should be exposed. Alumni and donors who care about Israel need to make their voices heard. They should pressure university boards of trustees to punish hate speech against Israel. And we should not hesitate to bring legal actions. In fact, just last month, a Jewish professor at a public college in New York filed a lawsuit exposing disgusting anti-Semitism by the leaders of that college. Lawsuits like this are critical.
We also need to counter the calls for boycotts with a coordinated campaign to encourage people to buy Israeli goods.
Much like the successful “Buy American” campaign, we need people to proudly say: “Buy Israeli.” You can begin today by using the hashtag #BuyIsraeli on social media whenever you buy one of the many Israeli consumer goods we know and love. We will let the world know that we are proud to support Israel’s economy.
For far too many years, too many people have been silent in the face of anti-Israeli, anti-Semitic lies. We will never be silent again. We will stand up for what is right, and we will expose BDS for the fraud that it is.
What is BDS? BDS is nothing more than a dangerous new strain of an age-old disease.
And that disease is anti-Semitism.
And, in this fight, we must never forget that the ultimate goal is peace.
Like you, I desperately want peace. I yearn for the day when the children of Israel know war no more. And I know that we are not alone. We are joined in this effort by all the lovers of peace, be they Israeli, Palestinian, Arab, European, or American. I have faith that even in the darkest corners of the globe, where anti-Semitism flourishes, there are millions of people ready to stand with Israel.
Israel will continue to be a light onto the nations. Israel will succeed. Israel will succeed because we are united. Israel will succeed because we are proud. Israel will succeed because we are strong. We will take on the anti-Semites. And we will win.
This op-ed is based on a speech made at Monday’s Yediot Aharonot anti-BDS conference in Jerusalem. The writer is president of the World Jewish Congress.