Herbert London: The New BDS Challenges
A growing global pro-Palestinian movement to boycott Israel took on new proportions when the top executive of Orange, a leading French telecommunications company, said he would withdraw from the Israeli market if he could.
Britain’s National Union of Students voted recently to align itself with the goals of the boycott movement, following a series of similar symbolic moves on American campuses.
Symbols count. For many, what they want to believe is what they consider true. Needless to say, many in the Middle East do not believe in Israel’s existence. To cite yet another example, Harper Collins one of the world’s largest publishing houses, sold English language atlases to schools in the Middle East that omit the state of Israel.
As a Harper Collins official noted the inclusion of Israel in a map of the Middle East was “unacceptable” to customers in the Gulf and was resistant to “local preferences.” Some Customs Officers in an unnamed Gulf country only permitted the import of atlases when Israel had been deleted by hand.
There is little doubt about the motive of this deletion: An effort was made to delegitimize Israel using sales success as tactical ploy. With pressure, Harper Collins apologized for the omission and removed the doctored atlases from sale in the territories.
Yet even though Harper Collins ultimately made the right decision, there will be other attempts to delegitimize Israel. The BDS movement (boycott, divestment, sanctions) has been referred to as the latest form of anti-zionism and, yes, even anti-semitism. But while the strategy may be familiar, i.e. demonize Israel, the tactics are different. The BDS movement is a triple threat embracing politics, culture, and economics.
It has gone after Soda Stream, a company once housed in the West Bank. The BDS movement has attempted to exclude Israeli professors from international conferences. It has attacked Israeli tennis and soccer players at international tournaments. And it attempted to oust Israel from FIFA, soccer’s global governing body. It has excoriated performers over their appearances on an Israeli stage. BDS acolytes have organized petitions and demonstrations at campuses across the globe.
This is in essence a systematic effort to undermine Israel as a nation, to isolate it as a pariah state. The often hostile action of proponents appears as a form of anti-semitism. While this contention is routinely denied, it is important to note that Israel is a sanctuary for Jews threated and persecuted in other venues. It is not merely a home, but a retreat against bigotry. Israel was not founded on the ashes of the holocaust, but the slaughter of six million Jews is a reminder that Israel is the last line of defense against the growing horde of terrorists.
Moreover, the BDS movement is clever and shadowy. It claims to be an extension of human rights efforts. But whose rights are being violated? Those who have challenged BDS adherents like Scarlet Johannsson and Lady Gaga are to be commended. Yet the risk for the opposition is high since the proponents of the movement are relentless and new avenues are explored each day for the expression of hate and recrimination.
Alterations on a map seem innocent enough. And who cares whether a rocker can perform in Tel Aviv. The BDS adherents are merely expressing another point of view, say some supporters. Alas, these matters aren’t trivial because the assumptions that undergird the BDS movement, particularly the arguments surrounding the founding of the Israeli state, are fraught with lies and deception and are designed to mobilize public opinion and action against the only genuinely democratic state in the Middle East.
Lies, however, are not easily challenged when students at American universities are propagandized by a host of professors who assign Edward Said’s Orientalism as if it were The Holy Bible. This widely disseminated text makes the claim Israel is a colonizing state exploiting the Palestinian population. Claims of this kind ignore the complicated historical record to make a point; a point used by activists to demonize the state of Israel.
BDS is now something of a rallying cry on American colleges. Seven of the ten student councils in the University of California system have adopted the BDS agenda. Opposition voices have been shouted down, in many cases with open debate on the issues considered an outmoded notion. For proponents, claims are dispositive; as they see it, it is time to stop talking and act.
The well-organized and financed Muslim Student Association is in the vanguard of the BDS movement. It is instructive that this organization is joined by Jewish groups such as J Street and the New Israel Fund that believe sanctions against Israel will lead to a more accommodative position with the Palestinian authority than the Netanyahu government has displayed thus far.
The favorite tactics of BDS proponents is generally fear. In order to create anxiety, flyers are distributed in student dorms telling undergraduates that as a result of administration decisions, they must leave their rooms by the following morning. Presumably this is an attempt to illustrate the horror associated with those who were obliged to leave their homes at the outbreak of the 1948 War for Independence. On every level this is a reenactment of the theater of the absurd. It is designed to instill emotion instead of reasonable analysis and it misreads the historical record.
But analysis doesn’t count in the hothouse of resentment. BDS is on the march at many universities that largely cave into the well-financed voices of anger.
Herbert London is President of the London Center for Policy Research, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America). You can read all of Herb London’s commentaries at www.londoncenter.org
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