October 22, 2019

Why we are losing to BDS & What to do about it.

The World Jewish Congress is leading the charge against Israel’s enemies, and recently ran a #stopBDS conference at the United Nations. I was invited as a newly-appointed member of the Jewish Diplomatic Corps, and one major takeaway from the day was how the Jews are losing the fight against BDS – the anti-Zionist calls for Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions against Israel.

We are getting it wrong, claimed marketing guru David Sable in a forum charied by the Jewish Journal’s David Suissa. Bestselling author & communications strategist Frank Luntz argued that BDS is an emotional war, rather than an intellectual one, and the other side’s PR far outweighs that of the Israel camp.

This is hard to deny. If we look at Al Jazeera’s “Palestine Remix” page http://interactive.aljazeera.com/aje/PalestineRemix/ we see an immensely creative way for users to construct anti-Israel documentaries at the click of a button, and then share it with the world. Their PR is better than anything being put out by our side. It is modern, sophisticated, heart-driven, emotionally-appealing and riding the wave of the zeitgeist. Meanwhile we are putting out our same old messages: “We are victims! They hate us! First the Holocaust and now this!” or… “Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East!” “We treat Arabs at our hospitals as well as Jews!”, or my favourite: “Look at how we mourn while the Palestinians celebrate” (subtext: we have the high moral ground and they are animals). Enough already!

This is an emotional battlefield and few people care about our intellectual arguments, regardless of their veracity. As Jews we got used to thinking with our heads but sometimes lose touch with our hearts. We need both.


Three words were noticeably absent from the UN conference, despite 1500 Jewish delegates and over 30 presenters. The words: “God” and “Jewish Values”. I will be specific: regardless of whether we see ourselves as religious or spiritual, most of us act as if God does not exist when it comes to BDS. We act as if we are not being protected or guided by a Higher Force who essentially balances out the books.

This does not mean to say that we should be passive, but what is the role of faith in the BDS battle? Can we hold a space to fight the fair fight but also accept that there will be a karmic balance at the end of the day? I know it may not be American to mix Church and State, to combine politics with religion, but I am an Englishman in LA, and a loyal subject of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II (loyal at least until Homeland Security grants me a Green Card b’H). The point is that Her Majesty is head of both church and state, so maybe there is a role for mixing politics and Hashem. Both the Book of Psalms and many Biblical prophets remind us not to place our faith in human beings but to trust in God. Yet in the fight against BDS and the ensuing Jewish fear and anxiety, we often forget about the Creator of the universe.


After this week’s Tel Aviv tragedy, several response videos were published. Many were of a similar nature, showing bloodshed on the streets of Israel while there was celebration in the Palestinian territories. The subtext of each of these videos is “love the Jews, hate the Arabs”. How is this sentiment going to bring peace? Some major pro-Israel organisations were putting out hateful media. On it goes.

The Torah is full of reminders that God knows what is in our hearts – our inner intentions – and that our role is to be a “light unto the nations”. We are told not to hate our brothers, not to harbour resentments. Of course there is a time to fight our enemies, but when we stir up resentment, we also suffer. In our Talmudic-Mishnaic tradition, The Ethics of the Fathers also tells people not to console someone at the time of their anger, and it is understandable why so many Jews are angry after the terror attacks of this week. But with some introspection and cultivation, perhaps we can elevate our response.

Two weeks ago, I felt disenchanted sitting in the General Assembly chamber of the United Nations. For much of the time it felt like hearing similar messages to 20 years ago: “We are Jews! We Will not be defeated! Israel has the moral high ground!”. If this approach worked, then fantastic. But it does not work. We are losing, and losing badly.

What about a Jewish version of that Al Jazeera Palestine Remix? Something with positive Jewish values – showing that Arabs and Jews come from the same place. That our religions share Patriarchs. That we are monotheists. Acknowledging that we both have made mistakes. Remembering that we are all humans. Proclaiming that we both want peace. If you prick us we bleed, if you punch us we bruise but if you smile at us we may send you love and blessing.

Nobody ever said it would be easy becoming a Light Unto The Nations. If that is your chosen mission, then choose it. Be it. Start shining that light. Get your hands dirty, scrub away the filthy thoughts and negative attitudes and clean the windows to get that light out there. Forget these weak reactive tags like #stopBDS and let us take the narrative into new and positive dimensions. #LightUntoTheNations.


Marcus J Freed is an actor, playwright & award-winning author of The Kabbalah Sutras.


[6/10/2016 – This article has not been proofread for spelling errors & typos. Unproofed/unedited version. MJF.]

Photo 1: Polishing my “Dictator” look.