July 8, 2022
It’s been a rough year so far for the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Nearly two decades after its founding, the campaign has suffered a string of stinging defeats in its attempt to rally world support to single out the world’s only Jewish state.
Organized by the Palestinian-led BDS National Committee (BNC), the movement along with its affiliates and global supporters regularly target corporations, governments, NGOs, and even celebrities such as artists and musicians to cut ties with Israel over its policies toward the Palestinians.
BDS markets itself as a non-violent movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel to get it to withdraw to its pre-1967 borders. However, while some may sincerely want peace and support human rights BDS leadership in fact seeks nothing less than the elimination of Israel as a Jewish state.
Despite its stated aims, American Jewish Committee (AJC) has found that large majorities of both American Jews and the general public said that the BDS movement has at least some antisemitic elements, with 82% of American Jews saying it either is mostly antisemitic or has antisemitic supporters and 66% of the general public saying the same.
Recently, BDS has found itself on the defensive, suffering several major setbacks as the true nature of the movement is being exposed.
Here are five recent examples of #BDSFail
- Unilever reverses course, resumes sale of Ben & Jerry’s in Israel and West Bank
In July 2021, the renowned Vermont-based ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s made headlines when it announced that it would no longer sell its sugary treats in “Occupied Palestinian Territories,” claiming that doing so would be “inconsistent” with their values.
The company, which was founded in 1978 by two Jewish-Americans, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, was sold to the multinational firm Unilever in 2000. But the company, known for its progressive social and political views, maintained an independent board to pursue its social mission.
The decision by Ben & Jerry’s garnered tremendous backlash from Israel and its supporters, including AJC, and triggered several states including Florida, Texas, New Jersey, and Colorado to start divesting their shares of Unilever.
Owing to this pressure, Unilever reversed course, announcing that it has sold its Ben & Jerry’s business in Israel to a local licensee, clearing the way for the brand to once again be sold throughout the West Bank and Israel.
AJC welcomed this outcome, saying that the decision by Ben & Jerry’s to halt sales “was a profoundly bad idea” and also praised the company for its statement that “it unequivocally rejects any form of discrimination or intolerance and its recognition that antisemitism has no place in society, especially in Israel.”
“Now, Ben & Jerry’s can go back to doing what it does best, without adding a scoop of misplaced social justice that left a sour taste. We hope other corporations will learn from this episode and take it to heart.”
Ben & Jerry’s has since sued Unilever in U.S. Federal Court, arguing that the decision was a violation of their original purchase agreement with the ice cream company.
- U.S. federal court upholds Arkansas anti-BDS law
In recent years, some 30 U.S. states have passed so-called “anti-BDS” laws or executive orders making it illegal for state contractors from engaging in Israel boycotts.
However, detractors argue that the laws violate the right to free speech and have challenged them in courts.
In a ruling handed down on June 22, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that an Arkansas law, which was challenged by a newspaper that received advertising from a state college, fell within the state’s power to regulate commercial activity and did not infringe upon constitutional free speech protections.
It was the first time a federal appeals court ruled in favor of the anti-BDS laws.
“This was the first appellate test of laws that combat the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, whose primary aim is to eliminate the State of Israel. The Eighth Circuit unequivocally affirmed that such laws do not infringe on the First Amendment. As the court noted, Arkansas has broad power to regulate economic activity, and taking a position on a boycott does not inhibit free speech,” said Marc Stern, AJC’s chief legal officer.
- BDS Mapping Project backlash
A website published in June of 2022 that claims to show the ties between various Massachusetts institutions and “support for the colonization of Palestine” has raised alarms over its targeting of the Jewish community.
The map, published by anonymous supporters of the BDS movement, claims to illustrate organizations and institutions in Massachusetts that they say are responsible for harm against Palestinians.
Using a series of dots and lines in different colors, it not only connects pro-Israel groups but other Jewish institutions, including a high school, a center for people with disabilities, student groups, synagogues, newspapers, Jewish-run charities, and even a center for Jewish arts.
However, the project has been denounced by elected officials and community leaders from across the political and denominational spectrum as antisemitic. The FBI has also announced that it is looking into the website, while a bipartisan group of some three dozen U.S. lawmakers urged a federal inquiry.
The map also even generated a schism within the BDS movement. Two-and-a-half weeks after the map was released and subjected to sweeping criticism the BDS National Committee demanded that affiliates distance themselves from the Mapping Project, but not for its antisemitism.
AJC has been taking action against the Mapping Project’s antisemitism.
“The Jewish community and its allies need to be engaged and an active voice,” said Robert Leikind, Director of AJC New England. “When the Mapping Project was released, we sent a letter to many of our elected leaders urging them to condemn it. Many have done so. They should be thanked. Others have not yet stepped up. We hope they will.”
- Google stockholders overwhelmingly reject BDS proposal
Stockholders of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, overwhelmingly voted to reject a proposal against Google’s work on Israel’s Nimbus Project, at an annual stockholder meeting on June 1.
The proposal, which was rejected with 544,653,039 votes against and 55,301,799 in favor, called on Alphabet’s board to issue a report reassessing its role in the $1.2 billion project to provide cloud services for the Israeli government and military.
Alphabet’s board of directors had encouraged stockholders to reject the measure, saying, “Given our processes and principles governing our work with our customers and partners, including the government, and our transparency around these matters, our board does not believe that implementing this proposal would provide additional benefit to our stockholders.”
- Musicians defying calls to boycott Israel
The BDS movement has long sought to encourage musicians and other artists from performing in Israel. Most notably, Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, who has been accused of antisemitism, has been the leading figure in targeting performers.
Although this effort has seen mixed success over the years, more and more big names in music are heading to the Jewish state. In May the American pop-rock band Maroon 5 performed in Tel Aviv’s Hayarkon Park to an estimated crowd of 50,000. While the performance itself appeared to be a hit, it was Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine who was effusive about his time spent in Israel, thanking the crowd for the “amazing vibe” and that he hopes to come back “1,000 or more times.” Levine, who is Jewish, also visited the Western Wall during his trip.
Several other big acts that have performed, or are expected to perform, in Israel this year, including rapper 50 Cent, Canadian megastar Justin Bieber, the American pop-rock band OneRepublic, alternative rock bands the Pixies and Counting Crows, and comedian Nikki Glaser.