(April 3, 2019 / JNS) Four Jewish students at Cornell University, in a recent op-ed, called for a boycott against Israel. The authors make many false or misleading accusations, among the most despicable of them points they make regarding the Holocaust. The authors are correct that hundreds of thousands of heroic Jews died fighting Nazi Germany. But they also omit the 6 million Jewish men, women and children who were murdered simply for being Jewish. Nor do the authors mention that, while Jews were fighting for the respective countries against Nazi occupation, many local populations, such as those in Ukraine, Poland and Hungary, collaborated with the Nazis in murdering Jews.
The recent dramatic rise in anti-Semitism in Western Europe—namely, in France and the United Kingdom—has led thousands of Jews from those countries to immigrate to Israel. So, yes, Jews need a safe haven—a country we can call our own that will ensure such a wholesale, barbaric slaughter of our people will never happen again. Such a country now exists, and it is the State of Israel.
No country, Israel included, is above criticism or even condemnation. But the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel crosses the line into hateful rhetoric and action in three main ways.
First, the BDS movement delegitimizes Israel and denies the right of Jewish people to self-determination. It can be traced back to the Arab boycott against Jews in Mandatory Palestine decades before Israel was established. According to the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel website, participants of the inaugural BDS conference in 2007 were reminded that “the boycott has been a tool of the Palestinian struggle since the 1920s.” BDS founder Omar Barghouti has unabashedly declared that the goal of BDS is to completely eradicate Israel as a Jewish state. In his own words: “Definitely, most definitely, we oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine.”
Not only does the BDS campaign work towards the sole Jewish state’s destruction, but it singles out Israel, holding it to a moral standard to which no other country in the world is held. If the BDS campaign were truly intended to fight for Palestinian rights, its supporters would also be calling for a boycott movement against the ruling factions of the Palestinian Territories, whose leaders consistently violate Palestinians’ basic civil liberties and freedoms. In the West Bank, the last elections were held in 2005; Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas is in his 14th year of a four-year term. In Gaza, the ruling faction Hamas conducts “summonses, interrogations, arbitrary detentions and other harassment apparently aimed at intimidating civil society activists into silence,” according to Human Rights Watch. Hamas has also been documented in executing prisoners to death without the right to consult with an attorney and based on coerced testimonies. Most recently, Hamas brutally cracked down on protests in Gaza demanding economic reforms by beating and arresting protestors. Calling for BDS against Israel, but not the Palestinian government, is clearly a double standard.
Finally, the BDS campaign is wrong because it demonizes Israel, accusing it of white supremacy, fascism, apartheid and even Nazi-like genocide. Jews are well familiar with these accusations. In the Middle Ages, Jews were defamed with the blood libel, accused of slaughtering Christian children to use their blood in Passover matzah. The Nazis revived the blood libel, using it in their anti-Jewish propaganda that culminated in the slaughter of 6 million Jews in the Holocaust. Today, BDS supporters have refreshed this ancient canard to achieve their goals by accusing the Jewish state with a modernized libel of genocide. Having a conversation about how Israel can and should do better is vital, but employing psychological warfare and demonization tactics is despicable and poisonous anti-Semitism.
In short, there is nothing Jewish about supporting a campaign that engages in hateful and false rhetoric. Nor is there anything Jewish about calling for the destruction of the Jewish state. The prophet Isaiah from the Jewish liturgy sums up the Jewish vision particularly aptly: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, nor shall they learn war anymore.”
We call on all Cornellians to reject the metaphorical swords and spears of BDS, and come together for dialogue. Only together can we change the world for the better.