Boycott Israel Movement Is All Tricks, No Treats
This Halloween, millions of people will wear costumes, don masks, and carry props. They’ll assume a different identity, just for a day.
For most of us, it’s all in good fun -- nobody will really mistake us for Donald Trump or Wonder Woman. But while many of us are busy partying, carving pumpkins, and eating candy, Halloween also serves as a reminder that not all disguises are transparent, and not all masquerades are benign.
The movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel (BDS) is one such example. On the surface, BDS simply stands for freedom, justice, and equality for Palestinians. Invoking the language of human rights and apartheid, BDS has allied the Palestinian struggle with historical civil action movements. In presenting BDS as a form of nonviolent resistance to oppression, advocates have won the sympathy of progressives. And in casting Palestinians as a subjugated minority, they have aligned with an intersectional web that includes feminists, minority groups, and LGBTQ activists.
Indeed, it was the appeal to these principles that just last month pressured Lana Del Rey to withdraw from an Israeli music festival, inspired two University of Michigan professors to deny letters of recommendation for study abroad in Israel, and prompted a group of 140 artists to protest holding next year’s Eurovision competition in Israel.
To be sure, collective action can feel empowering when its goals seem righteous. But does this projection tell the whole story? Is BDS really a genuine, constructive effort to help bring about a resolution to the conflict? Or do these tactics simply mask something more sinister?
Unfortunately, while the intentions of many supporters may be pure, even a cursory look reveals that the movement’s progressive bona fides are nothing more than a calculated and misleading branding effort.
If BDS were truly a progressive movement, it would pursue political reform while eschewing racial prejudice. Yet, according to the Anti-Defamation League, many of the movement’s leaders, founding goals, strategies, and supporters are actually anti-Semitic. Student BDS leaders in particular regularly post vile and hateful messages such as “Every time I read about Hitler I fall in love all over again” and “Let’s stuff some Jews in the oven.” In fact, a team of professors at Brandeis University conducted an extensive study across 50 campuses and found that increased BDS activity at universities leads to harassment, intimidation, and hostility toward Jews. It’s no wonder that 25 states in the U.S. (and most recently the largest state in Germany) have passed legislation condemning BDS as anti-Semitic.
If BDS were truly a progressive movement, it would join other liberal groups in advocating for “two states for two peoples.” Yet, the official website makes no secret of its founding beliefs, which include denying that Jews are a nation entitled to self-determination and asserting that the idea of a Jewish state is fundamentally racist. The movement’s co-founder has made this clear: “Definitely, most definitely, we oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine. No Palestinian, rational Palestinian, not a sell-out Palestinian, will ever accept a Jewish state in Palestine.”
If BDS were truly a progressive movement, it would welcome free speech, reconciliation, and the exchange of ideas. Yet BDS activists shame Palestinians who seek to build bridges, shut down pro-Israel events with heckling and intimidation, and refuse to debate supporters of Israel. Just this month, BDS chose to target a program called "Israeli and Palestinian Young Leaders at the European Parliament" since it “normalizes relations” and “undermines their struggle." Apparently such dialogue, according to the BDS website, creates “the false impression of symmetry between the colonizer and the colonized.” This impossible standard virtually disqualifies any chance for cultural exchange or trust-building.
If BDS were truly a progressive movement, it would consider the impact of its activism on the innocent. Yet its boycotts are indiscriminate and inconsistent, collectively penalizing both Muslims and Jews, citizens who oppose Israel’s policies, and even institutions that promote peace and compromise. In one prominent example, hundreds of Palestinian workers lost their livelihood when SodaStream was forced to move its factory out of the West Bank.
The list goes on.
The truth is that BDS is not a progressive movement at all, try though it may to disguise itself as one. Rather, it is a regressive movement, just the latest iteration of Jewish boycotts dating back over a century. The goal is neither justice nor peace, but the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state. And despite its attempts to hide behind liberal rhetoric, the movement’s tactics and supporters belie a very different story. It is up to us to recognize the difference.