This article was written for WIZO “Our Israel”.
BDS. Three letters that are certain to send the blood pressure rising. What is BDS and why have these three letters become such a contentious issue in the Jewish world?
BDS stands for Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions and is fast becoming the number one weapon in the assault on Israel’s legitimacy. It could be said that the official birthplace of the BDS movement was the South African city of Durban, during the 2001 UN Conference against Racism. It was there that accusations like “Israel is an Apartheid State” really gained trajectory.
Why compare Israel to South Africa? During the Apartheid years, South Africa was deemed a pariah state by the international community and the aim of BDS campaigners is to draw a comparison between these two states. If Israel = Apartheid South Africa then it must be a pariah state and made to feel unwelcome in the family of nations. Israel’s legitimacy as a nation state must be questioned and determined to be racist and therefore needs to be dismantled just like the Apartheid regime in South Africa. The irony is that even during the darkest times in South Africa’s history, her right to exist as State were never questioned.
Why is Israel singled out?
Why BDS? Anti-Israelists aim to hurt Israel’s economy and shame decision makers into changing policy towards the Palestinians. Through this campaign, only Israel is painted as the uncompromising, bullying party and therefore should be subjected to harsh embargoes.
Is this legitimate criticism or a more nefarious campaign? There is a difference between healthy criticism and singling out Israel for opprobrium at every given opportunity. Israel is a democracy and is certainly not always right or above criticism, however when Israel is singled out at the expense of other states that practice gross human rights violations, then something more sinister is involved. The singling out of the JEWISH state for constant approbation, the questioning of the JEWISH state’s right to exist is nothing more than the age old hatred of anti-Semitism, rearing its ugly head while it is politically incorrect to vilify Jews individually. Punish the collective, punish the state.
What does the word Apartheid mean and does it exist in Israel? The definition of Apartheid can be described as the forced removals and laws of discrimination against non-white citizens of South Africa. In essence , a minority governed the majority and imposed racist laws that gave non-white citizens second class status and was a civil and human rights travesty. Is there racism in Israel? Yes, as there is in any other country in the world including the new democratic South Africa. Is it state legislated and can be considered Apartheid? The answer is NO.
How is this campaign being implemented? The BDS campaign has embarked on an attack that has several fronts. Academically, Culturally and economically. University campuses around the world have become hotbeds of tensions as supporters on both sides square up against each other. The global hate-fest known as Israel Apartheid Week is the BDS event du jour.
Academics have propagated cutting ties with Israeli universities, the latest being Stephen Hawking whose only means of verbal communication is through the Israeli invented Intel chip.
Ironically he has chosen to boycott President Peres’s annual Presidents Conference in solidarity with the Palestinians but Palestinian leadership will be attending. Music artists and companies have also opted to cancel bookings and some companies have given in to activist pressure. In a recent study conducted by the Jerusalem Centre of Public Affairs, musicians and bands had remarked that they had been threatened by activists and felt safer cancelling events.
Who loses in a boycott? Those who promote policies of BDS will tell you that it is in the best interest of the Palestinian people that Israel suffer boycotts. But what about the thousands of Palestinians that are employed by Israeli companies like Ahava or Sodastream?
They would lose their jobs and a lack of investment and employment in the territories will irrevocably damage the economy of the West Bank. It is in the best interest of both peoples that the Palestinians have a strong and sustainable economy and by discouraging discourse and trade, the BDS campaign breaks down vital communication between Israelis and Palestinians. Peace will be built from the ground up and not by cutting ties with each other.
As the momentum on the BDS campaign grows, perhaps we should ask their activists just how much they want a peaceful solution to end the conflict. Their actions seem to speak louder than words.