September 23, 2019 — Brussels, Belgium
This piece originally appeared in New Europe.
Is the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel antisemitic? The rhetorical question about the Pope and his faith comes to mind. The German Bundestag, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and former British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt are among a growing number of political players to recognize the BDS movement’s bigoted nature.
And yet, not everybody seems to understand that when the world’s only Jewish state is singled out for de-legitimisation and worse, we are dealing with the latest mutation of the world’s perhaps oldest hatred.
Some of the difficulties of recognising BDS for what it really is stem from the fact that the movement has been skilful in obscuring its motivations and intentions behind the misuse of human rights language and the distortion of such lofty concepts as “justice” and “peace.”
But their ultimate goal is far from a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through a two-state solution. Occasionally, they drop their mask and admit that their real objective is the end of Israel as we know it: “We oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine,” BDS co-founder and leader Omar Barghouti freely admits.
BDS claims that it advocates for only non-violent steps, most importantly the “return” of millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees into Israel proper. But let’s not be confused. First, the end result of such a policy would be the same–the dissolution of the world’s only Jewish state. And second, anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of the Middle East knows that if the BDS movement’s dream ever came true, it would quickly turn into a nightmare for the Jewish population. In a majority Palestinian state–which given current societal trends would most likely be under an Islamist leadership such as Hamas–the fate of the Jews would be anything but peaceful. This is a region where minorities are either massacred, oppressed or driven out. Those who therefore claim that Jews could live in security and dignity in a majority Palestinian state are just hiding their cynical intentions behind fanciful language of so-called justice.
The question whether BDS or anti-Zionism is antisemitic is doubly absurd. How could the call for the dismantling of the world’s only Jewish state not be antisemitic? And second, even if one could create some artificial distinction between denying Jewish individual rights (antisemitic) and rejecting their collective rights (supposedly kosher), we are still talking about policide. BDS ultimately seeks the de-facto dismemberment of a UN Member State. Irrespective of whether that state in question is Jewish or say, Irish, to call for its end cannot possibly be considered a “legitimate political position.”
And yet, by ignoring or denying the movement’s true intentions, one can still support BDS in polite company. Others may reject their message but still find it more important to emphasise in this context people’s right to advocate for BDS as a principle of free speech. True, not all hate speech is illegal. But particularly in today’s increasingly polarised political climate, political and diplomatic leaders ought to be more concerned with opposing extremist groups instead of delineating their legal rights.
Given the Old Continent’s lamentable history and current rise of anti-Jewish attacks, European policy makers ought to pay special attention to the movement’s antisemitic nature.
A report by the Israeli Strategic Affairs Ministry to be presented September 24 in Brussels helps to shed some light on the matter. Using the working definition of antisemitism of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), which was endorsed by the European Parliament, the European Council and formally by 18 individual countries, the report presents some 100 examples of deeply antisemtic BDS imagery and language. They fall into the three main categories identified by the IHRA definition: a) classical antisemitism, such as BDS cartoons of Israel represented as a hook-nosed religious Jew or as a pig with the Star of David. Also popular among BDS activists is the revival of medieval blood libels, such as accusing Israel of poisoning Palestinian water or drinking the blood of Palestinian children. b) Likening Israel to Nazis, such as when BDS activists accuse the Jewish state of carrying out genocide or adorn the Israeli flag with a swastika and c) denial of the Jewish people’s rights to self-determination—the movement’s very raison d’être. The report is heavily footnoted, and the examples accessible on the internet.
What should particularly concern policy makers in light of the rising attacks against their own Jewish communities is that the primary victims of the BDS movement is not Israel but Jews in the diaspora. BDS has made no dent in the Israeli economy which is going from strength to strength. Given Israel’s global leadership in some of the key technologies that will determine the future of our economy and environment–from cyber to nanotechnology, from AI to water treatment and preservations—the chances of convincing any major economic player to forego Israeli know-how are rather nil. But where BDS was successful is in fueling the flames of antisemitism worldwide by stigmatising Jews in Europe and beyond.
A recent bipartisan US House of Representatives resolution noted BDS “leads to the intimidation and harassment of Jewish students and others who support Israel.” Trudeau noted how Jewish students feel “unsafe on campus” and the European Fundamental Rights Agency’s recent survey among European Jews found similar trends.
As the Israeli government report correctly noted: Partly because of BDS, “the West has become desensitized to antisemitic discourse when it appears in an anti-Israel context.” Just take a recent German court decision where the judges ruled that the firebombing of a synagogue in Wuppertal was not antisemitic but merely a political protest against Israel.
For any Western policy maker interested in strengthening their bilateral relations with Israel and fighting antisemitism at home, there can be no ambivalence towards BDS. In practice, this means among other measures exposing their antisemitism and ensuring that no public funds could possibly benefit this movement.
Daniel Schwammenthal is Director of AJC Transatlantic Institute.