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March 8, 2016

Think Twice Before Jumping on the BDS Bandwagon

By Jonathan Green­blatt
CEO of the Anti-Defamation League

This blog originally appeared on Medium

Israeli_Apartheid_Week-Northwestern University

Political movements often depend on spoken or unspoken hatreds to perpetuate themselves.

Often, however, they can use ambiguity to mask these motives and appeal to a broader audience.

However, sometimes, when haters show their true colors, onlookers and fellow travelers can see through ambiguities to the unsavory aims of the causes which they’ve lent their support.

The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement against the State of Israel is undoubtedly spreading on U.S. campuses, in mainstream Protestant circles and in universities and unions in Europe. One element explaining the growth of BDS is frustration with the stalemate that has taken hold between Israelis and Palestinians.

It is understandable that in the face of diplomatic deadlock, movements that promise easy solutions and simplistic narratives gain steam. Indeed, the belief that Israel, as the occupier and stronger party, needs to act, combined with the appeal of an ostensibly non-violent movement like BDS – one that worked so well to bring an end to the apartheid regime in South Africa – makes for a compelling case for action.

Yet, any serious observer would admit that the apartheid analogy is flawed to its core.  The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is not an issue purely demarcated along racial lines.  It is a national conflict between two peoples, a conflict for which each side bears responsibilities.

The reality is complicated by the fact that Israel has on several occasions presented the Palestinians opportunities to end the occupation and build an independent Palestinian state. One can argue with the terms proposed by both sides, but the stark truth of several rounds of failed negotiations reveals mutual culpability in the current status quo.  And the ongoing incitement of the Palestinian leadership contributes as much if not more to the diminishing public will and widening diplomatic impasse as the actions of the Israeli government.

So, the keys to the two-state solution are kept by both Israel and the Palestinians.

But many who are swept up in its currents do not look closely at the desired end-state of the BDS movement. Many envision a scenario in which Israel, compelled by pressure, would be more forthcoming to the Palestinians and ideally a two-state solution could result. One might not agree with this logic, but we should note that, at least among many young Jews, it is animated by a desire for justice. I believe it has impelled groups such as J Street and a number of other emerging grassroots initiatives in the Jewish community. Even if we disagree, even we should acknowledge the earnestness of their motives.

uc davis protesters

Indeed, the BDS movement has been able to capitalize on attracting to its ranks many who legitimately seek a lasting peace between the Israel and the Palestinians. But it’s crucial to note – this end state is not what BDS seeks.

Nothing illustrates this better than the stance of the originator and main intellectual driver of the BDS movement, Omar Barghouti, and his reaction to the views expressed by two professors in support of boycott.

These professors, Steven Levitsky and Glen Weyl published an article in the Washington Post endorsing boycott as a way to pressure Israel in its policies toward the Palestinians. Self-described “life-long Zionists” seeking a two-state outcome, their endorsement of the boycott represents well a variation of the “pressure school” which seeks through pressure to change Israel’s behavior and approach to negotiations.

Regardless of the validity of their ideas—and I have deep doubts over the ability to achieve their desired outcome through one-sided penalties against Israel—what is telling is Barghouti’s response.

In his article, “You can’t save Israel from itself by appropriating BDS,” Barghouti slams the professors. He calls out this “Zionist” endorsement of BDS an appropriation, since it is calculated, in the final analysis, at achieving a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Yet, BDS orthodoxy, Barghouti openly acknowledges, does not seek this goal. Barghouti argues that it is not the occupation that is the challenge but Israel’s very existence as a Jewish State.

Barghouti is transparent in his views and in his aims, and this should be instructive to any potential supporter of BDS. He speaks of Israel as “criminally built.” He refers to Israel itself – not the territories occupied in 1967 after the Six Day War – as an “apartheid” and “colonial-settler” regime.

And he spells out in no uncertain terms that his ideology – the ideology of BDS – is opposed to the formula achieved at Oslo and long since adopted by the international community—the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by the creation of a Palestinian state to live side-by-side with Israel. Barghouti, tellingly, writes:

“Ending the 1967 occupation, even if it included East Jerusalem, at best addresses most of the rights of only 38% of the Palestinian people – those living in the OPT (occupied Palestinian Territory).  What of the UN-stipulated rights of the remaining 62% of the Palestinian people (12% are citizens of current Israel and 50% are in exile who are entitled to their right of return) and what of the right of return of more than 40% of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza who were ethnically cleansed during the Nakba and denied their right to go home?”

It is fair to expect Israel to live up to a policy that can accommodate the eventual emergence of a Palestinian state—and to expect equally that the Palestinians will act in accordance with a two-state vision.

But Barghouti spells out here that what he imagines as ‘justice’ is not merely the achievement of self-determination for the Palestinian people through the creation of an independent state. No, he longs for the right of any Palestinian living under the Palestinian Authority to “return” to areas that now comprise Israel.

In other words, BDS seeks to eradicate the Jewish state by bringing about an end to the self-determination for the Jewish people through the return of all five million Palestinian refugees.

University_of_Michigan-BDS Protest

Of course, the refugee issue has since their inception been a core component of bilateral negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. And, any conceivable agreement between the parties requires that the plight of Palestinians refugees and their descendants must be addressed. Numerous international efforts have acknowledged that their needs will be predominantly accommodated within a future state of Palestine.

Among those who support BDS, there are undoubtedly some who seek Israel’s demise. But for the multitude of those who jump on the BDS bandwagon because they see it as a non-violent way to fast-track an end to the occupation, they need to know they are being taken for a very dangerous ride. They support the politics of Israel’s destruction, a movement of anti-normalization which Israel which is anathema to negotiation, compromise, and conflict resolution.

That’s something that the vast majority of BDS supporters would reject if only they clearly understood it.

So, even as we recognize the misguided aims of BDS and step up our efforts to defeat its ideology, it is a deeper understanding – not simplistic slogans – that are needed to navigate the aspects of this complex challenge.

That is why ADL has joined with the Reut Institute in a new effort aimed at examining the entire array of factors driving the growth of BDS campaigns, an initiative that will help parse those who are genuinely committed to peace – even if their views are different from our own as to how to get there – from those who mean to inflict grave harm.

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September 25, 2015

University Departments Sponsor Key BDS Advocates

University departments on five different college campuses have sponsored or co-sponsored anti-Israel programs promoting Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns so far during the 2015-16 academic year. The founding goals of the BDS movement and many of the strategies employed in BDS campaigns are anti-Semitic.  Such sponsorship creates the perception that specific university departments sanction these goals and strategies, lending an added degree of legitimacy and credibility to anti-Israel advocacy and campaigns that may alienate Jewish and pro-Israel students.omar-barghouti-berkeley-flyer

Since the 2012-13 academic year, there have been at least 99 anti-Israel events that received university department sponsorship, including 44 events which took place in the 2014-15 academic year.

On September 18, 2015, Omar Barghouti, a founding member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), spoke at the University of California-Berkeley. His presentation, which discussed the role which he believes academia should play in BDS, was sponsored by the campus Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter and co-sponsored by eight different University departments, including the Center for Race and Gender, Asian American Studies, Native American Studies, Ethnic Studies, English, Chicano Studies, Near Eastern Studies, and African American Studies.

Barghouti, a founder of the movement who recently stated that he believes BDS is turning mainstream, has used Holocaust imagery to condemn Israel and its supporters in past presentations and interviews. He also has advocated for a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, along with the right of return for Palestinian refugees, claiming that one state would mean “equality for everyone–irrespective of identity, ethnicity, religion or any other attribute.”

Barghouti’s event is not unique for this year though, as the Center for Diversity and Inclusion at Michigan Technological University sponsored a similar presentation from Israeli anti-Zionist author Miko Peled on September 15, 2015. Over the years, Peled has made several statements about Jews, Israel, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that would not define “inclusion” or “diversity.” These statements include his allegation that Israel turned Gaza into an “enormous concentration camp” or more recently, when he stated that “neither Iran, Hezbollah or Hamas pose a threat to Israel, they pose a threat to the Israeli occupation and oppression of Palestinians.”

Other events which received department sponsorship this year include an upcoming performance by Remi Kanazi, an Organizing Committee member of the US Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel (USACBI), at John Jay College. At John Jay, Kanazi’s performance is being co-sponsored by the Department of Gender Studies.

In addition, a September 16 presentation at Drew University by Bassem Tamimi, a Palestinian anti-Israel activist who has been arrested in Israel several times, was co-sponsored by the Middle East Studies Department; and a presentation from Vijay Prashad, the former Edward Said chair in American Studies at the American University of Beirut, was co-sponsored by the Ethics, Peace, and Global Affairs Program.

While not all advocates of BDS are anti-Semitic and may be driven by perceived legitimate criticism of certain Israeli policies toward Palestinians, many individuals engaged in BDS campaigns are driven by opposition to Israel’s very existence as a Jewish state. Because of this, it’s unfortunate that university departments would lend their sponsorship to events that can create an environment that is hostile to Jewish and pro-Israel students.

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January 21, 2014

Israel on Trial at the MLA Conference: An Insider’s View and a Perspective on the Trends

The Modern Language Association (MLA), a group comprised of nearly 30,000 humanities scholars, held their annual conference in Chicago, January 9th-12th.  ADL and other pro-Israel organizations were concerned by two items on the MLA agenda:  a roundtable discussion entitled “Academic Boycotts: A Conversation about Israel and Palestine” which was comprised solely of those supportive of an academic boycott of Israel (including academic boycott/BDS front-man Omar Barghouti); and a flaw-filled resolution condemning Israel for allegedly denying Palestinian American academics access to the West Bank.

Left to Right: Professors Cary Nelson, Russell Berman and Ilan Troen at a panel discussion on the sidelines of the MLA Conference

ADL condemned the one-sided panel, saying that the MLA had “given its de facto imprimatur of legitimacy to the campaign to boycott Israeli academics and academic institutions.”

In a heated session, the resolution passed by a vote of 60-53, and it now moves on to the MLA executive committee to determine if it goes to the full membership for a vote.   Fortunately, the delegates declined to consider an “emergency resolution” of support for the American Studies Association’s boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

Amy Schwartz, an associate director in ADL’s Chicago office and a member of the MLA, writes in the JTA of her first-person account from the conference, Rampaging Minority Politicized MLA Conference, that the outcomes of the conference compel us to “ continue to educate and inform the MLA membership and initiate outreach to other academic organizations to promote responsibility, academic freedom and integrity.

Writing of those activists behind the roundtable and resolution at the MLA conference, and who pushed forward the vote by the American Studies Association to boycott Israeli academic institutions, Abraham H. Foxman writes in Exposing the Israel Bashers: Opinions Without Facts, Facts Without Context :  “This is group which is devoted 24/7/365 to finding ways to exploit a lack of awareness, naïveté and general disinterest to advance a corrosive, divisive and prejudiced perspective of the highly complex dynamic of achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians.”

The silver lining of these developments remains the forceful reaction by over 200 university presidents from across the United States, who, every day, have come forward to speak out and denounce the academic boycott of Israel.


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