As I See It: Two cheers for Britain’s BDS ban

New government guidance will prevent any public body from imposing a boycott on a member of the World Trade Organization to which Israel belongs.

A demonstrator wears a shirt reading 'Boycott Israel' [File] (photo credit: AFP/ MOHD RASFAN)
A demonstrator wears a shirt reading 'Boycott Israel' [File]
(photo credit: AFP/ MOHD RASFAN)
The British government has done something in support of Israel, and the progressive intelligentsia is in shock. Prime Minister David Cameron is taking action against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
New government guidance will prevent any public body from imposing a boycott on a member of the World Trade Organization to which Israel belongs.
Local boycotts breach the WTO Government Procurement Agreement, which demands that all suppliers are treated equally.
The guidance aims at preventing publicly funded bodies such as municipal councils or National Health Service trusts from boycotting goods produced by what they believe to be “unethical companies,” such as firms involved in arms trading, fossil fuels or tobacco products as well as companies based in Israel.
Matthew Hancock, the British government’s Cabinet Office minister, revealed the development on a visit to Israel this week. Such boycotts, he said, were divisive, potentially damaging to the UK’s relationship with Israel and risked fueling anti-Semitism.
The enemies of Israel are beside themselves in fury.
The British Labor Party has called the guidance an “attack on democracy.” NGOs in the forefront of anti-Israel activism, such as Amnesty, War on Want and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, have called it a “gross attack” on democratic freedoms and the ability of councils or other public bodies to make “ethical investments.”
The British government’s initiative has understandably delighted Israel and its supporters. They should nevertheless temper their jubilation.
In its own limited terms, the guidance is certainly justified. It merely restates existing law and requires public bodies to comply. The boycott of Israel by public bodies is a gross abuse of taxpayers’ money. The protests at the government initiative are specious.
Democracy does not require a local council or hospital trust to busy itself in foreign policy matters. It does not require public bodies to behave in a discriminatory manner by singling out Israel for treatment afforded to no other country. And “ethical investment” hardly entails supporting Palestinian dictatorships and the proposed ethnic cleansing of the Jews from their own ancient homeland.
The term “boycott” doesn’t do this justice. BDS is a campaign of mass bullying and intimidation, sending threatening mobs into supermarkets, lecture theaters and concert halls intent on harassment and censorship under the guise of human rights – directed at further punishing the victims of a century of exterminatory terrorism and war in the Middle East.
Many British Jews feel intimidated and threatened by BDS because they understand it to be nothing less than the Western front in the war of extermination directed at Israel.
No other country is subjected to such a campaign built on grotesque lies about its behavior designed to turn the Israelis into devils in the Western public mind.
No country, indeed, is subjected to a boycott campaign based on the truth about its behavior. There is no boycott campaign directed against Saudi Arabia, Iran, China or any of the myriad states which oppress and subjugate their hapless populations.
There is no boycott campaign against either Hamas or the Palestinian Authority which persecute and tyrannize their populations, jail dissidents and throw homosexuals off the roofs of tall buildings. On the contrary, these regimes are supported against Israel by the BDS brigade, who are mute on the Palestinians’ abuse of each other let alone their hysterical incitement against and mass murder of Israeli Jews.
Apartheid in South Africa was a real and demonstrable evil. When Jews hear that BDS against Israel is modeled on the anti-apartheid campaign, the comparison turns their blood to ice.
That’s because accusing Israel of apartheid is a wicked and manipulative lie deployed as a weapon of war by Israel’s enemies to portray it as a rogue state which needs to be eliminated. BDS thus makes its Western proponents complicit in the attempt to destroy the only state in the Middle East which actually upholds human rights, and whose only crime is to exist at all as the homeland of the Jewish people.
Far from promoting human rights, BDS seeks to deny them to the Jews alone. As its co-founder Omar Barghouti openly declared, “We oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine.” As such, BDS is directed not just at Israel but at the entire Jewish people.
But the Israel boycott is by no means the whole problem.
BDS is to anti-Israel lunacy what ISIS is to Islamic extremism: merely the noisiest and most eye-watering manifestation of a deeply rooted and widespread lethal contamination.
The poison is incubated in the universities. This week, the co-chairman of the Oxford University Labor Club, Alex Chalmers, announced he was resigning over its rampant anti-Semitism and endorsement of Israel Apartheid Week on campus.
“Whether it be,” he wrote, “members of the executive throwing around the term ‘Zio’ (a term for Jews usually confined to websites run by the Ku Klux Klan) with casual abandon, senior members of the club expressing their ‘solidarity’ with Hamas and explicitly defending their tactics of indiscriminately murdering civilians, or a former co-chair claiming that ‘most accusations of anti-Semitism are just the Zionists crying wolf,’ a large proportion of both OULC and the student Left in Oxford more generally have some kind of problem with Jews.”
A further statement from the Oxford University Jewish Society said senior members of the Labor Club liked to regale listeners with a song called “Rockets over Tel Aviv” and endorsed Hamas attacks on Israeli civilians, stated all Jews should be required to denounce Zionism and the State of Israel, and said those who refused to do so should be shunned. And they had arranged for a group of students to harass a Jewish student and shout “Filthy Zionist” at her.
Preventing BDS will not stamp out this deranged animosity against Israel and Zionism that has now gripped most of the Labor Party and Britain’s “progressive” intelligentsia.
Indeed, the new guidance may provide a fig leaf for the derangement to continue. The British government can pose as a champion of Israel against delegitimization.
But that very same British government continues to propound one of the key lies fueling Israel delegitimization: that its “occupation” and settlement of the disputed territories is illegal.
If David Cameron really wants to tackle anti-Israel incitement, he should be telling the British public some inconvenient truths – such as that the occupation and the settlements are legal several times over; that in the entire Middle East it is only Israel that upholds human rights for Arabs along with all its other citizens; that no decent person should support the Palestinian agenda of anti-Israel incitement, Jewish ethnic cleansing and the destruction of Israel; and that NGOs such as Amnesty and War on Want are a disgrace for doing so.
Alas, he will not do this. Although he has moved sharply in the right direction over Israel, he hasn’t yet joined up the dots. Or maybe he has, but isn’t brave enough to show his country the completed picture.
Unless he does so, however, his guidance will do little to restore reason and decency to British public debate.
Melanie Phillips is a columnist for The Times (UK).