A demonstrator wears a shirt reading 'Boycott Israel' [File].
(photo credit: AFP/ MOHD RASFAN)
Two recent international conferences indicate that Israel is finally being moved to do something officially about the BDS Movement, but, much like talk about the weather, such efforts accept the inevitability of boycott without being able to do anything effective to change it.
In March the first Israeli anti-BDS conference was held to much fanfare in Jerusalem, while this month an even grander production was mounted at the UN General Assembly.
Speakers at both events agreed that BDS is a modern instantiation of anti-Semitism that poses a danger to Israel, while asserting that this is not an existential threat. There was a consensus that, although BDS is succeeding, it cannot be termed a success; while it is not an existential threat, it must nevertheless be taken as a serious threat; and while Israel’s economy is strong enough to withstand it, Israel must devote increasing amounts of its budget to fighting it.
There are similar contradictions regarding the effects of BDS on American college youth. On the one hand, a recent Gallup poll found that 54 percent of all young respondents reported sympathizing more with Israel than with the Palestinians, while 23% sympathized more with the Palestinians.
In 2005, 51% reported sympathizing more with Israel. Nevertheless, this spring “Israeli Apartheid Week” was observed on some 250 campuses across the US.
The Jerusalem conference, co-sponsored by Yediot Aharonot and StandWithUs, probably gave BDS (short for boycott, divestment and sanctions) more attention than the loose amalgamation of leftist anti-Semites deserved. Some 1,000 participants in the spectacle included such luminaries as President Reuven Rivlin, senior ministers, members of the opposition, World Jewish Congress head Ron Lauder and even comedian Roseanne Barr.
It is noteworthy that Public Security and Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan, the government czar in charge of fighting BDS, cautioned that people should not “overemphasize” BDS. On the other hand, Barr, the keynote speaker, characterized the BDS Movement as “fascist.”
Despite efforts to downplay its threat, the very fact of an anti-BDS conference in Jerusalem shows that Israelis across the political spectrum felt compelled to counteract its damage to Israel’s international image, if not its economy.
Some 2,000 attended Israel’s first anti-BDS conference at the UN at the beginning of the month. Students, professionals and Jewish organizations participated in the “Building Bridges, Not Boycotts” daylong event, organized by Israel’s Mission to the UN and organizations including the World Jewish Congress, the Anti-Defamation League, the Zionist Organization of America, StandWithUs, B’nai B’rith International, Hillel and CAMERA. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the gathering via video.
But while Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon labeled the BDS phenomenon “modern-day anti-Semitism” and urged those who would defeat it to “unite to reveal its true face and put an end to its ideology of hatred and lies,” he was sounding the call to battle against a foe that cannot be fought. If BDS is modern anti-Semitism, it stands as much a chance of being defeated as has historic anti-Semitism.
It is worth noting that the UN event shortly followed a scolding State Comptroller’s Report berating the Foreign Ministry for lacking a cohesive strategy against the BDS Movement. The comptroller urged the ministry to allocate more money for “public diplomacy.” Last year the Foreign Ministry spent NIS 132 million ($33m.) on diplomacy, development aid and public diplomacy, compared with NIS 1.65 billion ($423m.) on security for missions abroad.
Nevertheless, a new initiative by the government could hold out some hope for change, at least on college campuses.
In what may be hoped to be a creative about face, the Netanyahu cabinet has extended a hand to J Street, the leftist, self-proclaimed pro-Israel lobby it has until now treated with hostility for supporting congressmen who oppose policy that the Israeli government would prefer.
Israeli diplomats, for example, have demonstrably refused to attend J Street conventions, unlike the events of other major American Jewish organizations.
As Erdan told the annual Herzliya Conference shortly after meeting in Jerusalem with the director of J Street’s Israel office, Yael Patir – the first between an Israeli cabinet minister and the organization: “In this fight I see no difference between Right and Left. There can be organizations with legitimate criticisms of the government of Israel. I need them no less and maybe even more.”