The goal of CRConnect is to bring you information to help understand difficult questions we all face concerning both Israel and antisemitism. This month we address a complex question which distinguishes between an “antisemitic act” and “antisemitism.” As Deborah Lipstadt, the renowned Holocaust historian, author and nominee to be the United States Department of State antisemitism envoy, recently stated, “Young people on campuses who support BDS because they see it as a way of changing Israel’s policies, I don’t label them as antisemitic....” even though she finds the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement to be clearly antisemitic. Thus, according to Lipstadt, one can support a movement viewed as antisemitic, engaging in an antisemitic act, without necessarily being antisemitic.
Most Americans know very little or nothing about the BDS Movement. In a poll conducted by the Brookings Institute in late 2019, only 49% knew anything about the BDS Movement and more than half of those who knew anything, only knew “a little.” To have a better understanding of the issues, it is important to understand more about BDS and what it stands for.
In 2019, the German Parliament passed a resolution declaring the BDS Movement to be antisemitic and illegal. Proposed initially by the parties on the political far right, it was ultimately supported across the political spectrum, including those parties on the far left. The BDS Movement’s call for the boycott of Israeli goods was compared with the Nazis’ call for the boycott of Jewish goods.
A number of other governments, including Switzerland, Austria, Canada, Czech Republic, Spain and the U.S., have passed resolutions condemning the BDS Movement. In passing its resolution, the Canadian legislature stated:
“BDS is about intolerance. It’s a broader movement to demonize and delegitimize Israel.... Whereas antisemites have long targeted Jews throughout the world as the root of all society’s ills, this new form of antisemitism targets Israel as the Jew among the nations, singling out the Jewish state as the root of all ills in the world.” (emphasis added)
In addition, 35 states, including Florida, have passed legislation and resolutions or adopted executive orders decrying the BDS Movement. These have either taken the form of being contract focused (requiring government contractors to certify they do not engage in a boycott of Israel) or investment focused (prohibiting state funds, including retirement funds, from investing in companies that boycott Israel). Florida’s law, adopted with bipartisan support, prohibits both state contracts with, or state investment in, companies that boycott Israel or Israeli products from the West Bank. Recently, Governor Ron DeSantis was quoted as saying, “BDS is nothing more than a cloak for antisemitism.”
The BDS Movement and its supporters claim the opposite is true. BDS claims to be a grassroots and civil society movement. It denies BDS is antisemitic, stating it is a nonviolent human rights movement seeking freedom, justice and equality for Palestinians. Through its efforts, the BDS Movement seeks to pressure Israel into “complying with international law” by ending Israeli occupation of Palestine and permitting the Palestinian people to have self-determination.
Multiple organizations and individuals that support the BDS Movement do not see it as antisemitic. Supporters of the BDS Movement argue that reliance upon the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism makes criticism of Israel antisemitic and thereby unduly restricts free speech. They argue the IHRA definition is the only reason the BDS Movement is claimed by some that it is antisemitic.
The IHRA definition of antisemitism does not include criticism of the government of Israel or its policies as antisemitic unless they meet certain criteria. Illustrative examples in the definition of how criticism of Israel may constitute antisemitism are:
- “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.
- Applying double standards by requiring of it [Israel] a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
- Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.
- Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.”
Natan Sharansky, an Israeli leader and former Soviet “refusenik,” applies a “3-D test” to measure when anti-Israel criticism crosses over into antisemitism. It occurs when Israel is:
- Delegitimized or
- Held to a Double-Standard
Dr. Sara Hirschhorn a renowned professor, author and lecturer, would add a fourth “D” – “Determination.” When Jews are denied the right of self-determination, it crosses into antisemitism.
Regardless of the definition one uses, the BDS Movement checks all the boxes as being antisemitic.
In looking at the BDS campaign, one may draw a distinction between the organization’s goals and those of some supporters. Some supporters of the BDS Movement sincerely believe BDS will encourage Israel to change policies. That is not the goal of the Movement itself.
The BDS National Committee is the controlling body of the BDS Movement. It is far from “a network of local grassroots, non-violent human rights groups advocating...a peaceful Palestinian state next to Israel.” Its founding member organization is the Palestinian Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI). Its membership has groups designated as terror groups including, among others, Islamic Jihad, Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. PACBI historically has actively supported Islamic and Palestinian terrorists. Omar Barghouti, the co-founder of both PACBI and the BDS Movement, has frequently declared that the goal of BDS is the destruction of Israel.
The BDS Movement works to demonize, delegitimize and isolate Israel. It takes a complex issue and presents it as solely the fault of Israel. It rejects the two-state solution, seeking to establish a single Palestinian state “from the river to the sea.” The BDS Movement undermines any effort to negotiate peace. It opposes any efforts to build bridges or allow interactions of Palestinians and Israelis because it would create “normalization,” an unacceptable outcome. BDS seeks to delegitimize and demonize Israel through false accusations of Israel as an “apartheid state” (see the CRConnect article in the January 2021 issue of The Jewish News or go to jfedsrq.org/crconnect-section/is-israel-an-apartheid-state-like-south-africa) and accusations that Israel is engaged in “ethnic cleansing” of Palestinians. By championing the right of nationhood for Palestinians while seeking to destroy Israel, the BDS Movement seeks to eliminate the Jewish people’s right of self-determination.
Palestinians are hurt by the BDS Movement, as well. Nabi Basherat was a factory manager at SodaStream’s West Bank plant, closed under pressure from the BDS Movement. Five hundred Palestinian workers lost their jobs. Israeli companies provide better insurance and benefits while providing economic security to the workers. A professor and peace activist, Mohammed Dajani, talks about how the diversely staffed factories provide an environment for Israelis and Palestinians to build relationships and break down stereotypes. He said, “It helps Palestinians to work with Israelis on an equal level and it gets them to know one another.”
Another fallout from the BDS Movement is harassment and antisemitism felt by Jews in communities and on college campuses. For example, at the University of Toronto, where the student union formally supports the BDS Movement, a request by Hillel to have kosher food offered on campus was rejected because “Hillel is pro-Israel and therefore kosher food should not be allowed.” Similarly, the D.C. Chapter of Sunrise Movement boycotted Jewish groups from participation in a coalition on voting rights because of their ties to Israel.
Support for the BDS Movement means:
- Rejection of a two-state solution
- Rejection of efforts for a negotiated peace
- Rejection of the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state
- Rejection of economic opportunities for Palestinians
- Rejection of bridge-building and relationship-building between Palestinians and Israelis
- Creation of an atmosphere of more hatred, enmity and polarization
- Creation of an atmosphere in communities and on college campuses that leads to acts of clear antisemitism
One can choose to be sympathetic to Palestinian issues without being antisemitic, but support of the BDS Movement, in this author’s opinion, is an antisemitic act. Bassem Eid, an award-winning Palestinian human rights activist who has filed a complaint against Ben & Jerry’s, stated, “The gangsters behind BDS are causing a lot of damage to Palestinians.... If [people] poured all of the money they are spending on boycotts into building factories and creating jobs in the West Bank and Gaza, it would go a long way to truly helping Palestinians.”
There are more positive ways to show support like supporting organizations that engage in bridge-building between Palestinians and Israelis. Whatever action one takes, it is important to understand or learn the facts.