WHO IS BDS?
BDS stands for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions, a movement and non-profit organization that promotes boycotts, divestments, and economic sanctions against Israel. While BDS claims that its objective is to “get Israel to comply with international law,” which they define as, (1) withdrawal from the occupied territories, (2) removal of the West Bank separation barrier, (3) the right of return for Palestinian refugees, and (4) full equality for Arab Palestinian citizens of Israel, in reality, BDS has repeatedly openly called for the destruction of the one Jewish state in the world. Notably, BDS completely opposes all diplomatic efforts between Israelis and Palestinians.
Do I believe that boycotting a Jewish or Israeli-owned company is inherently antisemitic or xenophobic? Well, that depends. First, you are entitled to not support any company — anywhere in the world — that does not align with your values. I do it all the time. However, boycotting a company based SOLELY on the owner’s ethnicity or religion (in this case, Jews) or nationality (in this case, Israelis — especially if it’s in the diaspora) absolutely is a bigoted position to take.
As far as boycotting Israel itself, I generally completely oppose academic and cultural boycotts, as I believe they are a form of collective punishment. Academics are often the harshest critics of the Israeli government. Harassing artists for playing music in Israel — out of all the countries in the world, many with the most egregious human rights violations — for example, seems like a huge double standard to me.
Do I think BDS — particularly the organization itself — is antisemitic? Without a shadow of a doubt.
Most trace the beginnings of BDS to the 2001 World Conference Against Racism in South Africa. There, Palestinian activists met with anti-apartheid veterans, who recommended boycott campaigns like those that had been used to protest apartheid South Africa. To learn more about the origins of the Israel apartheid charge, I recommend reading my post HOW THE USSR MANIPULATED I/P DISCOURSE.
The 2001 World Conference Against Racism, despite its noble intentions, escalated into a display of unabashed antisemitism. Copies of the virulently antisemitic text, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, were sold outside the conference. Anti-Israel pamphlets depicting Hitler with the quote “what if I had won?” were spread. Jewish participants at the conference expressed concerns for their safety. Human rights organizations that are generally extremely critical of Israel expressed concern for the blatant antisemitic rhetoric at the conference. These are just a few examples.
Officially, BDS was founded in 2005 by Omar Barghouti, a Tel Aviv University-educated Palestinian resident of Israel, and Ramy Shaat, an Egyptian-Palestinian activist who was imprisoned for over 3 years in Egypt on the charge that he aided terrorist groups. Egypt released Shaat from prison in 2019 after he agreed to renounce his Egyptian nationality.
Many historians argue that BDS is nothing but a rebranding of the 1945 Arab League boycott of the Jewish community in Mandatory Palestine, a boycott that predates the establishment of the State of Israel by three years. Prior to the Arab League boycott, the Arab Higher Committee of Palestine had called for a general strike of Jewish products and businesses in 1936, a strike that escalated into violence and pogroms against the Jewish community, including ancient Jewish communities.
SOUTH AFRICA BOYCOTT VS BDS
There are many glaring differences between apartheid South Africa and Israel, but I will not delve into those in this post. There are also many key differences between the boycott of apartheid South Africa and BDS. Some notable ones below:
(1) the boycott of South Africa never intended to destroy South Africa as a nation, whereas BDS delegitimizes the very existence of Israel as a sovereign country. At best, this is a glaring double standard. At worst, it puts the lives of half of the world’s Jews in danger.
(2) there is a long, long history of anti-Jewish boycotts, and each time, said boycotts have escalated into antisemitic violence. This is something to keep in mind, because historical context is important. Notably, of course, there is the Nazi Germany anti-Jewish boycott and the Palestinian Arab anti-Jewish boycott of the 1930s. White South Africans, on the other hand, have not experienced this same history.
(3) while BDS calls itself a non-violent movement, there is substantial evidence that the movement has deep ties to antisemitic terrorist organizations.
(4) BDS almost exclusively targets Jews. It’s quite different to target a minority that’s been marginalized for 2000+ years — the minority most disproportionately targeted in hate crimes, no less — than to boycott the South African regime, especially when the biggest pro-Israel conservative lobbyists are not Jews, but rather, Evangelical Christians. For example, vandalizing Kosher food at a supermarket is starkly different than imposing economic sanctions on apartheid-era South Africa.
Denying any group its history — especially a marginalized group that’s been persecuted and disenfranchised for millennia — is bigoted, period. Jewish history is extremely well-recorded and corroborated by both Jewish and non-Jewish historical accounts, archeology, genetic science, cultural practices, and more.
BDS consistently misrepresents and denies Jewish history. BDS founder Omar Barghouti, for example, has made the following false statements: “[Jews] did not suffer in Arab countries. There were no pogroms in Arab countries” and “[Jews] aren’t Indigenous just because you say you are.” For more on why this is false, I recommend my posts JEWS & INDIGENEITY: A CONVERSATION WITH NATIVE JEWS, THE JEWISH PEOPLE ARE A TRIBE, WHEN JEWS BECAME JEWS, NAZISM IN THE 1947-1949 ARAB-ISRAELI WAR, WHAT WAS BEING A JEWISH DHIMMI LIKE?, and THE ETHNIC CLEANSING OF JEWS GROM SOUTHWEST ASIA, CENTRAL ASIA, & NORTH AFRICA.
The BDS website repeatedly calls Israel — all of Israel, even within its internationally-recognized borders — a settler colony. Such a claim is not only demonstrably false but also ignores a mountain of evidence and historical context, such as Jewish Indigeneity, three major wars (1948, 1967, and 1973, which Israel did not start) and two intifadas, Arab oppression of Jews in Palestine pre-1948, international agreements, and more. Also of note: colonies require a mother country, or someone that the settlers are colonizing on behalf of. Israelis are not working on behalf of any foreign entity, unless you believe millennia-old antisemitic conspiracy theories that have been used to massacre Jews for thousands of years.
BDS vehemently opposes all diplomatic efforts between Israelis and Palestinians. Non-profit organizations and charities that bring Jews, Israelis, and Palestinians together consistently report BDS harassment.
Omar Barghouti himself states: “[Palestinians have a right to] resistance by any means*” and “I am completely and categorically against binationalism because it assumes that there are two nations with equal moral claims to the land.” He has also denounced the “peace industry.”
Ahmed Moor, a pro-BDS author, has stated the following: “Ending the occupation doesn’t mean anything if it doesn’t mean upending the Jewish state itself…BDS does mean the end of the Jewish state.”
The BDS website itself explicitly states BDS opposes “dialogue and negotiations.”
Here’s the thing: Israelis aren’t going anywhere and neither are Palestinians. We either talk, or we fight to the death. I know I prefer the former.
*for more on this, I recommend my post WHAT THE UN SAYS ABOUT TARGETING ISRAELI CIVILIANS.
Universities with higher BDS activity consistently have higher antisemitic incidents than universities with low BDS activity. BDS activists, for example, have told Jews that they should be “gassed,” posted up fake eviction notices on the dorm doors of Jewish students, campaigned for “Zionists” (read: virtually only Jews) to be removed from campus, and more. A 2021 study by the non-partisan group AMCHA Initiative found that universities with more pro-BDS professors resulted in significantly more hostile campus and class environments for Jewish students.
Just recently, BDS Boston published a map of Jewish synagogues, institutions, community centers, stores, summer camps, and more in the New England area. Publishing a map of where to find Jews is eerily reminiscent of genocidal antisemitic regimes of the past, particularly Nazi Germany. It’s especially egregious considering Jews, who make up just 2% of the American population, are the victims of 60% of all religiously-motivated hate crimes and about 10% of ALL hate crimes. Among the locations mapped was a center for Jews with disabilities, a progressive Jewish preschool, and Jewish teen organizations.
BDS also frequently targets Jewish businesses that are not Israeli. For instance, in 2015, BDS activists vandalized Kosher products, sticking labels on them such as “boycott this product” and listing the ingredients as “collective punishments, massacres of innocent civilians, and mass arrests.”
In 2019, 136 Jewish organizations from across the globe, from all Jewish religious movements and spanning the political spectrum, signed a letter condemning BDS for “[creating] an atmosphere of intolerance and hatred.”
Xenophobia can be defined as dislike, prejudice, or hostility against people from other countries.
In addition to their cultural and academic boycott of Israel and Israelis living in Israel, BDS activists consistently target Israelis living abroad for no reason other than their nationality. This targeting is not limited to boycotts but instead often manifests as harassment, violence, and vandalism. For example, in 2016, BDS activists vandalized Jewish and Israeli-owned businesses in Miami, including a hair salon, with graffiti that read “BDS.” In other words, they were marking Jewish and Israeli-owned businesses, much like the Nazis once did.
BDS activists at the City University of New York, for instance, have called for the termination of Israeli exchange students.
Since 2006, BDS activists at various college campuses have held what they call “Israeli Apartheid Week,” during which, among other things, they spread propaganda linking Israel to virtually every world evil, such as police brutality in the United States. This is not only xenophobic but rooted in antisemitic conspiracies that date back thousands of years. Using antisemitic conspiracies to “criticize Israel” is antisemitic.
BDS activist Lara Kiswani states: “Bringing down Israel will really benefit everyone in the world and everyone in society,” an absurd statement considering Israel is about the size of New Jersey and comprises just 0.1% of the world population.
While conducting an investigation into an August 2019 terror attack, the Israeli Shin Bet [similar to the FBI] discovered ties between BDS and groups such as Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which have long engaged in violence and terrorism against Jews. 30 terrorists — 20 of them convicted for war crimes — held leadership positions in 13 different BDS organizations. According to the Shin Bet, over 100 ties between BDS organizations and designated terror groups were uncovered.
In 2018, a journalistic investigation discovered that BDS helps facilitate tax-exempt donations to a Palestinian coalition that includes Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and other designated terror groups.
BDS groups, such as Dream Defenders, send members to Southwest Asia (the Middle East) to meet directly with terror groups such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Additionally, many BDS financial backers also financially back terror groups, including Hamas.
BDS groups have also been found disseminating propaganda from internationally-recognized terrorist groups.
For more on said groups, I recommend my posts THE HORRORS OF THE SECOND INTIFADA and HAMAS & ANTISEMITISM.
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