The BDS movement is in trouble
Dr. Mordechai Kedar
For the last decade Israel has had to deal with the BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanction) Movement, whose sanctions included the pulling out of investments from the Jewish state. The movement calls for academic, cultural and economic bodies to cut off relations with Israel.
The supposed goal of the BDS Movement is to force Israel to leave the “Palestinian territories” and to establish a Palestinian state, but the basic real motivation behind the movement’s activities is hatred of Israel and of Jews, and the openly expressed desire to rid the Middle East of Israel.
For years the movement seemed relegated to the sidelines and had little influence . However during the last two years, mainly after Operation Protective Edge in Gaza and the negative publicity it engendered, the movement increased its activities, its donations grew significantly and so did the number of its volunteers. The organization’s success on North American, Canadian and European academic campuses was especially pronounced, due to the large number of Muslims and Arabs enrolled on campus and the current fashion of putting everything in the context of human rights (as long as we are not talking about Jews, that is), in addition to traditional anti-Semitism and the presenting of Israel as an illegitimate state, scofflaw and a danger to world peace.
The state of Israel, Jews and pro-Israel people the world over realized what the real goal of BDS is and decided to fight it. Israel’s government even established official frameworks and allocated funds for this struggle. The anti-BDS activities are on different levels and in various arenas, and Israel has garnered significant successes fighting them. For example: Fifteen states in the USA have passed laws against firms that boycott Israel, in Canada similar laws were passed and in Europe there have been not a few successes in this regard. The question is who will make sure these laws are kept and how will it be done?
Despite the growing activity of the BDS Movement and its various successes, many artists refused to cancel their appearances in Israel because they felt it was wrong to connect art and politics or art and nationalist issues. Most of the economic forces who feel investing in Israel is good for their balance sheet from a purely business point of view, do not end their relationship with Israel, because what counts to them is making a profit and they ignore issues that have nothing to do with their economic activities.
The movement is still strong on campus, but has a good many problems there as well, arising – among other factors – from differences of opinion between activists and the PA about how to work and define goals. One example is what happened in Boston last November at the annual conference of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), an international academic organization with thousands of members who do research on the Middle East. As time passed, this organization adopted an anti-American political agenda as well as an anti-Zionist one – with some anti-Semitic overtones. As a result, a good many researchers left the organization a few years ago and founded the much less political and much more balanced Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa (ASMEA),
The leading Palestinian website, Donia Al Watan, posted an article stating that in Boston, last November, the suggestion to boycott Israel was put on the agenda of the annual conference, despite the fact that MESA has many Israeli members for whom this was a slap in the face. Those opposing the boycott claimed that there are Arab countries – not just Egypt and Jordan – who have relations with Israel, so where was the logic in an international academic organization’s boycott? The Americans and Europeans also argued that Israel is a legitimate state so that a boycott is irrational and if anything, the communities, factories and companies in Judea and Samaria should be boycotted. The difference stems from the definition of the word “occupation.” The Americans and Europeans use that word for the result of the 1967 Six Day War, while Arabs and Muslims tend to use it for the result of Israel’s 1948 War of Independence.
In general, the anti-Israel activities at the conference were not centrally organized and everyone worked on his own without coordinating with other activists, nor, significantly, with the Palestinian Authority. This was obvious at a demonstration set up by the pro-BDS forces opposite the HP offices, aimed at getting the firm to stop working with Israel and most important, to stop its selling products to Israel’s defense establishment.
The problem with going out against HP is that it provides employment to approximately 350,000 men and women across the globe, a good many of them in the USA. A boycott might lead to economic difficulties and to laying off or firing workers, something no American will agree to, to say nothing of the ensuing fury on the part of the American nation and its newly-elected President who talks constantly of the need to add to the number of jobs in the USA. Getting on the wrong side of Trump is the last thing the PA government wants during this sensitive period, but the BDS activists neither see nor understand the complex considerations that affect the PA.
Another headache that BDS has to face is the standard accusation that what motivates its activists is anti-Zionism and hatred of Jews because they are Jews, even if those Jews take no part in Israel’s actions. It is hard for the BDS activists to deny this, and it seems especially true when Muslims or Arab members of the movement are accused of these prejudices, an off-putting accusation because being labeled anti-Semitic in the sense of being anti-Jew is still looked at negatively in Europe and North America.
The author of the article in Donia Al Watan reaches the conclusion that that the BDS activist should concentrate on limited, local issues, such as illegal building in the Jewish communities of Judea and Samaria, the way the right wing Israeli government does things, and similar causes. BDS, he says, should abandon the international stage where it brings more harm than benefits to the Palestinians.
Are we witnessing the slow decline of BDS? Possibly, but it is too soon to rest on our laurels. A Gaza operation, a war with Hezbollah or a larger conflagration in Judea and Samaria (what many think is only a matter of time) can easily put new blood into the aging arteries of the movement. Israel must not stop its anti-BDS activities for a minute and reach every location where it has made inroads.
It is possible that the struggle against BDS will be easier during the Trump administration because he is more receptive to Israel’s expectations, but let us not forget that after four or eight years in the White House, the Democratic party could make a comeback, and their way of relating to Israel is quite different from Trump’s.
Israel must expand, widen and deepen its public diplomacy efforts against BDS so that the sense of the justice of its cause among Jews and non-Jews is strengthened.
Israel must establish an official internet news channel in English and other foreign languages, not a great expense in comparison to satellite channels, and begin broadcasting news and commentary on what is happening non-stop, this in order to bring the world to realize that Israel is not responsible for the miseries in the region, the interethnic tribal violence that is tearing the Middle East to shreds and turning citizens into victims and refugees.
Israel has neglected the public diplomacy front for years (what used to be called hasbara) by putting it into the hands of people whose political, social and cultural agenda reflect those who signed the delusionary and evil Oslo Accords: liberalism, secularism, and an attempt to sign treaties with our enemies even if they don’t bring a real peace based on the Arabs and Muslims accepting our rights to live in a state of our own whose historic and eternal capital is Jerusalem.
The vacuum created by Israeli governments since the 1993 signing of the Oslo Accords has been filled by organizations who work in Israel and outside it, who continue to expend sincere efforts in public diplomacy for the Jewish people and its rights to the land. Without in any way taking anything from their importance, I wish to state that a country cannot leave an issue of such consequence in the hands of private people, even if they are most efficient and effective. Now that the non-delusional majority, those who don’t have pipe dreams about a “New Middle East” are in office, it is crucial to put the topic of public diplomacy in the hands of people who believe in the justice of the Jewish people’s cause in its historical homeland and eternal capital. Only a sure and believing approach can influence those who do not share our fate, future and way of life, but who can influence ours.
When the spies sent by Moses returned from their mission, they told the Israelites that the people of the land saw them as small insects and they felt the same way about themselves. Interpretations posit that because we thought of ourselves as insects, they thought so too. The problem begins with us, within us, so the solution also begins with us. The anti-BDS struggle is no different.
Dr. Mordechai Kedar is a senior lecturer in the Department of Arabic at Bar-Ilan University. He served in IDF Military Intelligence for 25 years, specializing in Arab political discourse, Arab mass media, Islamic groups and the Syrian domestic arena.