Beating BDS

In the past the feeling was that the BDS movement was a largely ineffectual fringe group.

June 8, 2015 21:36
3 minute read.

A demonstrator wears a shirt reading 'Boycott Israel' [File]. (photo credit: AFP/ MOHD RASFAN)


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A failed campaign led by Palestinian Football Association President Jibril Rajoub to get Israel removed from FIFA seems to mark the resurgence of a new wave of BDS activities.

The FIFA debacle was followed by the National Union of Students in the UK, which voted to support boycotting Israel. Then French-based Orange SA CEO Stephane Richard expressed his desire to cut off ties with Israel-based Partner during a visit to Cairo – and then backtracked.

When it rains it pours.

• The deputy dean of Federal University of Santa Maria in Brazil recently urged faculty members to provide lists of Israelis working or studying on campus in a flyer that carried the text “Freedom for Palestine, Boycott Israel.”

• BDS demonstrators disrupted UK security firm G4S plc’s stockholders’ meeting in protest over the company’s dealings with Israeli prisons.

• Breaking the Silence opened an exhibit funded by state institutions in Switzerland, such as the Swiss Foreign Ministry and Zurich Finance Department.

• In negotiations to bring Chinese construction workers to Israel to help jump-start building activity, China has requested that its citizens not be employed beyond the Green Line.

• The EU appears to be on the verge of marking goods imported to Europe and sold in retail stores to show that they were produced by companies located beyond the Green Line.

More subtle forms of BDS exist as well. For instance, Israeli academics complain that peers abroad refrain from reviewing their articles for academic journals; refrain from making recommendations; and do not invite Israelis to conferences.

In the past the feeling was that the BDS movement was a largely ineffectual fringe group that had been around for a long time and that had failed at its goal of utterly delegitimizing Israel, and therefore, was best combated by being ignored.

But the tide is changing. The BDS campaign can no longer be ignored.

US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro said last week that while the United States opposes all efforts to impose boycotts on Israel or delegitimize the Jewish state, the job of fighting such efforts is made much more difficult by the current stagnation in the peace process. Many on the Israeli Left, such as Meretz head Zehava Galon, agree.

However, this sort of thinking essentially justifies BDS as a rational response to Israel’s purported intransigence, while neglecting to recognize Palestinians’ responsibility for the failure of negotiations over the past decades.

Though ostensibly about encouraging Israel to “do the right thing,” in reality the BDS movement is a disingenuous campaign seeking to coerce Israel – by isolating it politically, undermining it economically, and stigmatizing and delegitimizing it – to take steps that endanger the lives of Israelis by compromising Israel’s security.

Therefore, BDS must be countered aggressively for what it is.

On one level that means making sure the facts about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are known. But it also means going on the offensive. Governments that provide funding for activities and NGOs that actively seek to delegitimize Israel should be publicly criticized. Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely did precisely that when she demanded that the Swiss government stop using its country’s taxpayers’ money to fund organizations like Breaking the Silence.

A number of Swiss lawmakers have since called the funding of Breaking the Silence a “scandal” and a “misuse of tax money.” A similar appeal should be made to Britain, which also provides taxpayers’ money to NGOs with political agendas to bash Israel.

Meanwhile, the US Congress is currently debating a bipartisan Trade Promotion Authority law, that would make US free-trade agreements with the EU conditional upon stopping politically motivated BDS activities against Israel.

This sort of legislation should be supported. The same principles were successfully negotiated into US free-trade agreements with Bahrain and Oman in the mid-2000’s, prompting both countries to end their boycott of Israel.

BDS activists are seeking to delegitimize a state that would have long ago made peace if its overtures had been reciprocated.

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