January 21, 2019

Exposing BDS

On March 4, 2009, during a Q&A session at Ottawa University, Omar Barghouti, the founder of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, made a confession that you can watch on YouTube.

“I do not buy into the two-state solution,” Barghouti, a Palestinian who studied at Tel Aviv University, declared. “It is not just pragmatically impossible, it was never a moral solution. The first issue would be the right of return, but if the refugees were to return you cannot have a two-state solution.”

Barghouti estimated that the total number of Palestinian refugees is around eight million, which means that his definition of a “moral” solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to flood Israel with eight million refugees.

No wonder Barghouti has gone on record admitting that the end of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank would not mean the end of the BDS movement. 

The fact that BDS is about ending Zionism, rather than about ending the occupation, is not well-known, but it is key to one of the most urgent questions facing the Jewish world today: How do we fight off a movement that some people believe is a threat to Israel’s very existence?

“The industry of lies spun by the BDS movement is convincing more and more people that Israel is the source of evil in the world,” Ben-Dror Yemini writes in Ynet. “Make no mistake: This is not a campaign against settlements. It’s a war on the legitimacy of the Jewish state.”

In a recent op-ed for JTA, Abe Foxman, outgoing head of the Anti-Defamation League, calls the BDS movement “sinister and malicious…with origins in the highly organized and well-financed activities of anti-Israel activists who oppose the very concept of a Jewish state.”

This is not about defending or promoting Israel. It’s not about hasbarah. … It’s about exposing a poison.

As a result, Foxman writes, the movement is having “a deleterious impact on Jewish students…The last thing many of them expected or desired was to spend their undergraduate days under attack or having to defend the one Jewish state—or even their own Judaism.”

Even prominent critics of Israeli policies who are not against boycotts, like Bradley Burston of Haaretz, are asking uncomfortable questions, such as: “Short of disbanding the country altogether, is there anything that Israel can do that would satisfy the conditions for an end to the boycott campaign?”

Burston is a terrific writer and part of that earnest peace camp that dreams of a Jewish and democratic Israel living in peace and security next to an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. The brilliance of BDS is that it has conflated its anti-Israel movement with those well-intentioned pro-Israel individuals and groups striving for peace and a two-state solution.

The infamous Norman Finkelstein, who believes in the two-state solution and is one of Israel’s harshest critics, figured it out in 2012, when he said: “We have to be honest, and I loathe the disingenuous. They [BDS] don’t want Israel.”

BDS doesn’t want Israel. It can't get more clear and simple than that.

An essay I came across recently titled, “The Psychology of Simple,” quoted Steve Jobs:

“Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

I’ve seen a lot of complex responses to the BDS challenge. One of these came from Foxman in his JTA op-ed, in which he calls for “a comprehensive approach to fighting the BDS challenge by students, community groups, Jewish leaders, state and local government officials and business leaders,” including long-term campus initiatives like “expanding mutually beneficial business, academic and cultural ties with Israel.”

Those initiatives are certainly worthy and should be pursued, but let’s not fool ourselves into thinking they will combat the BDS disease. They’re too broad. It’s like treating cancer with vitamins.

What is missing in general in the Jewish response to BDS is focus and simplicity.

BDS is a sneaky movement that is exploiting one contentious issue (the occupation) to undermine all of Israel. Well-meaning people have been sucked in. The movement has an evil strain that must be exposed.

This is not about defending or promoting Israel. It’s not about Hasbara. It’s not about engaging or arguing. It’s about exposing a poison.

Instead of complex, multi-organizational campaigns, I can’t think of a simpler or clearer approach to fighting BDS than to launch a global campaign telling it exactly like it is: “BDS doesn’t want Israel.”

If Steve Jobs is right, it may even move a mountain or two.

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.