Keeping America safe from BDS

Americans must be vigilant to expose its advocates and uncloak their prejudice using the legislative tools at their disposal.

Israel boycott 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel boycott 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Boycott, Divestment, Sanction movement, or BDS for short, has systematically tried to use its propaganda to isolate Israel, damage it economically, and indeed delegitimize it. These attacks are bigoted, in that they attack a democracy that gives full and equal rights to all of its citizens, while giving a free pass to the endless list of oppressive regimes in the region. Furthermore, BDS is prejudiced, in that it is directed toward only one side of the conflict, Israel, which has already, on numerous occasions, offered major concessions, including Camp David in 2000 and Annapolis in 2008.
Conversely, it might help the peace process if there were pressure put on the Palestinians to stop inciting murder and hatred in their classrooms. If you want to know what Israelis and Palestinians really think, just look at what they are taught in school, and then decide which side needs to be pressured toward peaceful reconciliation.
Israelis have proven themselves more than capable of self-criticism and furthering the equality of their society.
The American Studies Association (ASA) boycotted Israeli universities, but this seems downright senseless when you consider that Israeli universities have affirmative action programs in place designed to benefit Israeli Arabs.
This year’s valedictorian at Israel’s prestigious Technion University was a Palestinian woman. The ASA’s boycott will hurt her just as much as anyone else; the hypocrisy is laughable.
The boycott of SodaStream is similarly ludicrous. SodaStream, which maintains factories in China, Australia, the US, Sweden and Germany, along with the West Bank, provides its Israeli and Palestinian workers with extremely favorable working conditions and high wages. Oxfam seemed to care less about the facts and much more about attacking Israel when they advocated boycotting Sodastream, despite the outcry from the factory’s Palestinian employees.
If those who are so eager to delegitimize and boycott Israel continue on their path while Palestinian leaders continue refusing to compromise, there will be no incentive for either the Israelis or Palestinians to move toward a path of mutual concessions in achieving a peace.
As of right now, the BDS movement is still on the fringes in America, gaining notoriety only through the esoteric American Studies Association boycott and Oxfam’s dispute with Scarlett Johansson. But this is also how the boycott movement began in Europe 20 years ago. In its initial stages, BDS in Europe was confined to only a few small organizations and campus protests.
Eventually it spread to the mainstream, and threatens to do the same in the US today. It is imperative to stop the BDS movement from growing and gaining a foothold in North America.
First and foremost, Americans need to do everything in their power to ensure that their tax dollars are not going toward anti-Israel abuse. State legislature has already been put in place in some states that would disallow state-funded academic institutions from supporting the blacklisting and boycotting of Israeli academia.
This is a first step.
But if the US wants to keep BDS at bay, it must also take action at the economic level and close the loopholes of decades-old anti-boycott legislation.
Laws against boycotting Israel already exists under the anti-boycott amendments to the Export Administration Regulations (EAR). These provisions prohibit citizens or companies from complying with any boycott fostered by a foreign country against a country that is friendly with the United States.
But BDS is a movement, not a country, although it did originate through the Palestinian Authority.
The EAR amendment was written during an age when power was predominantly concentrated at the state level. But in our current era of powerful non-state actors, the loophole must be closed. Accordingly, the current administration should push new legislation that would increase the scope of the EAR anti boycott provisions to include boycotts created even by non-state actors, such as the BDS movement.
BDS is biased and unfair, but if measures are not taken to stymie its growth it will spread its message of bigotry to the United States. To counter this, Americans must be vigilant to expose its advocates and uncloak their prejudice using the legislative tools at their disposal.
The author is the Rennert Family Visiting Professor at Yeshiva University. He was Israel’s ambassador to the United States for the years 2002 to 2006.