The BDS movement is the latest weapon in the ongoing war against Israel that has been waged since the state’s founding in 1948.
However, the call to boycott Israel is nothing new. The first such effort was launched before the State of Israel came into existence, when the Arab League called for a total boycott of Palestinian goods. Back then, “Palestinian goods” were Jewish goods.
The boycott has continued since then. For instance, in 1967, after the Arab countries again failed to destroy Israel in a war of annihilation, the Arab League called for a boycott of Coca-Cola, since it sold its products in Israel, banning the sale in all Arab countries. Clearly, the boycott movement hurts Arabs more than Israelis—the Arab world suffered through decades of RC Cola and Pepsi while Israelis enjoyed the real thing.
It’s important to understand that the boycott isn’t about the West Bank and Gaza, as it pre-dates the 1967 war. It’s about all Palestinian territories, and for them, this includes all the land between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea.
Like the so-called “refugee problem,” the boycott is a political weapon utilized by the anti-Israel movement to attempt to overturn the results of the 1948 War of Independence and dismantle and destroy the State of Israel.
The latest manifestation of this concerted campaign came in 2001, at the infamous United Nations hosted “World Conference on Racism” in Durban, South Africa, in September of that year. It was supposed to be an anti-racist forum, but it devolved into what observers deemed a forum of hate.
Keep in mind this was on the heels of the Clinton-sponsored Camp David and Taba negotiations, where Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak accepted the Clinton Parameters for a two-state solution, and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat turned down the deal and launched the Second Intifada. President Clinton told Arafat then, “You are leading your people and the region to a catastrophe,” and later remarked, “I still didn’t believe Arafat would make such a colossal mistake.”
To prepare for the Durban Conference, leftist anti-Israel NGOs from Europe and elsewhere got together in Iran earlier in the year to plan their assault. Then, in South Africa, outside the conference halls, thousands marched in anti-Israel demonstrations, holding signs that read “Hitler Should Have Finished the Job.”
At the same time, booths sold copies of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” and the Arab Lawyers Union distributed caricatures of Jews with hooked noses and fangs dripping with blood, clutching money. Jewish human rights activists were physically threatened, with mobs screaming: “You don’t belong to the human race!”
Inside the NGO forum of the conference, the participants, which included groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, released a formal declaration that called for a complete boycott, divestment and sanctions of Israel, deeming the country to be a “racist apartheid state,” guilty of “genocide.” The declaration also called for the reinstitution of U.N. Resolution 3379, deeming Zionism to be racism.
Needing a local Palestinian face for the movement, these anti-Israel NGOs found what they were looking for in Palestinian academic and activist Omar Barghouti, who has become the movement’s figurehead. In 2005, the BDS movement was officially launched under the guise of the Boycott National Committee (BNC), a conglomerate of “civil society” organizations that includes U.S.- and E.U.-designated terrorist groups Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation Palestinian (PFLP), along with several of their front groups.
The boycott movement has now reinvented itself to use the language of critical race theory so salient in Western discourse today. To people in the West, BDS presents itself as a social justice movement, an LGBTQ+ rights movement, an environmental movement and a women’s rights movement. They co-opt any progressive cause, whether blaming Israel for George Floyd’s death or climate change. BDS claims that to stand in “solidarity” with progressive causes is to support the Palestinian cause. Never mind that BDS cleverly obscures their true motives—that their real aim is Israel’s demonization and eventual elimination.
To further these aims, the modus operandi of the BDS movement can best be described as reductive, adaptable and discursive, or by the acronym “RAD.” It is critical for organizations countering the BDS movement to understand how they operate in order to push back against them effectively.
By being reductive, BDS seeks to change how the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is discussed. It’s not a conflict; it’s genocide. Don’t dare talk about peace; it’s apartheid. It’s not a complicated situation; it’s settler-colonialism and ethnic cleansing.
BDS is trying to establish the narrative and control the rules of discourse. They try to shut down speech and silence people, in a move right out of the woke leftist playbook. They are not interested in discussing history, nuance, or facts, but rather in reducing the conflict to a few simple buzzwords meant to demonize Israel. The partition plan of 1947 and the Gaza coup in 2007 require discussion, but genocide and apartheid are easily understood. They are evil—just like Israel.
For instance, vocal anti-Israel BDS activist Mohammed el-Kurd recently stated during a webinar that he is not interested in discussing what the term apartheid really means or if Israel’s conduct meets the definition, he just wants Israel labeled with the “negative connotation it carries in the psyche of the public.”
BDS messaging is also adaptable. The anti-Israel movement effectively weaponizes this language by co-opting the ills of a target audience’s country. Thus in South Africa, Israel is an apartheid state; in America, Israel is a racist state and just another example of white people opressing people of color; in Australia, where Aboriginal rights are so salient, Jews in Israel are simply the colonizers of the indigenous Arab population.
In Europe, members of the BDS movement understand that antisemitic beliefs are still deeply held by many Europeans, even if below the surface. Just as the term “antisemitism” was coined to sanitize anti-Jewish bigotry in the late 1800s, “anti-Zionism” has now become an acceptable form to express this hatred. BDS pushing an anti-Zionist narrative in Europe finds a receptive audience there.
BDS is fungible—whatever the worst thing a country has done in its history, whatever a country’s most loathsome qualities, Israel is doing it now.
Labeling Israel as a “settler colonial state” is central to this new paradigm. The Jewish state is a foreign body, a cancer inserted into the Arab Middle East that must be excised. Unfortunately, the boycott movement and its supporters genuinely believe this to their core, and preach it in their teachings. They have convinced themselves that Jews are not really from the Land of Israel, and that, like the Afrikaans of South Africa, they will eventually give up the country.
Even more troubling for those who genuinely want peace and a resolution to the conflict is that these people think victory is close at hand. Israel will fall if they can just hold on for a few more weeks or months, they believe. This is the Middle East’s big lie: a willful misunderstanding of who Jewish Israelis are and rejection of the Jewish people’s inalienable ties and attachment to the Land of Israel.
According to a recent Palestinian poll, two-thirds say Israel will not celebrate the centenary of its establishment, and the majority believes that the Palestinian people will soon recover Palestine and return its refugees to their homes. Why make peace, why engage in dialogue, when Israel will be eradicated soon?
Finally, BDS is a discursive process that does not require its adherents and supporters to rely on facts, but just to continuously make accusations. So anti-Israel activists simply ramble from one charge to the next.
“The policing in America is Israel’s fault, George Floyd’s death was Israel’s fault, Jews have no connection to the land of Palestine, Jesus was a Palestinian, Middle Eastern Jews are merely a religious group and just Jewish Arabs, Jews from Europe are fake, are really Khazars, Zionists caused the Holocaust to establish Israel, Israel is an apartheid state, Israel is a Nazi state, hundreds of Israeli laws are racist, Israel is responsible for Jeremy Corbyn’s ouster from the U.K. Labour Party, the refugee issue is Israel’s fault, Oslo collapsed due to Israel, Israel keeps rejecting peace, before the Zionists came along, Arabs and Jews lived peacefully together as equals, etc.”
The goal is to keep Israel constantly on trial and on the defensive, whether there is any validity to the claims made or not.
As British General Sir Ian Hamilton stated: “Propaganda is inverted patriotism, it draws nourishment from the sins of the enemy. If there are no sins, invent them! The aim is to make the enemy appear so great a monster that he forfeits the rights of a human being.”
The BDS movement understands this intimately. While it claims to advocate for Palestinian rights, it’s far more concerned with delegitimization and undermining the very existence of the State of Israel. BDS proponents often employ manipulative rhetoric and misleading narratives to sway public opinion, painting a distorted picture of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Its deeply deceptive tactics hinder meaningful dialogue and compromise and perpetuate a cycle of hostility and division, ultimately impeding the prospects for a peaceful resolution to the conflict. BDS is anything but rad.
Ari Ingel is an attorney and the director of Creative Community for Peace. You can follow him on Twitter at @OGAride.
Originally published by the Jewish Journal.