The BBC just ran a story about white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups targeting Jews by signaling each other to their presence on various social media sites through the use of (((this symbol))). Of course, this is all based on the assumption that a “typically” Jewish last name signifies the bearer is also Jewish. Through a Google app (since removed) that could recognize patterns such as ((())), these Jewish people began to receive anti-Semitic comments. There has been a general outcry of disgust among Jews and other minority groups as to the problematic targeting of Jews in this fashion.
The same cannot be said about the BDS movement and people’s willingness to call it out for what it is. This to me is hypocritical! According to its website, the BDS movement, or Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, seeks to end what it understands to be the colonialism, apartheid and oppression of Palestinians in Israel through various financial, commercial and international means. It accuses Israel of human rights violations, genocide, ethnic cleansing and other war crimes as well as illegal occupation (of the Palestinian lands, not just the occupied territories).
While it hopes to pressure Israel to change its behavior, there are other concerns over its true reason for being. First, many believe it seeks to eradicate the state of Israel all together. Others understand it to be a new form of anti-Semitism or, at least, be fueled by such sentiments. Then, there are still others who point out that many expect from Israel a perfect morality for which they do not scrutinize other nations. Finally, one of the basic premises of BDS is the idea that the Jewish people have no connection to the land of Palestine.
Lest we forget, the other difficulty with the BDS movement is the way individual non-Israeli Jews are targeted by the movement. First, there was the student on the UCLA student council who was questioned by members of the campus BDS movement about her Jewish identity and political stance. In August 2015, Matisyahu was uninvited from Spain’s Rototom Sunsplash festival because of the lobbying of the local BDS movement for him to
appear in a video endorsing Palestine. He says the following about the ordeal in an article in Rolling Stone, “Honestly it was appalling and offensive, that as the one publicly Jewish-American artist scheduled for the festival, they were trying to coerce me into political statements… Were any of the other artists scheduled to perform asked to make political statements in order to perform?” Eventually, the festival admitted that it had indeed been anti-Semitic in its caving to the pressure of the local BDS movement.
The organization has had a large impact on academic institutions as well, urging them to boycott Israeli academic institutions considering them to be part of the “regime.” It has been successful at getting colleges to vote on the issue. BDS convinced the National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA) of an academic boycott and the idea has been up for vote and been defeated in the Modern Languages Association (on a technicality) and the American Anthropological Association. How can educational institutions and associations, who often encourage dialogue, discussion and various viewpoints, come out so unilaterally against Israel and not suggest that there are some underlying issues there?
What bothers me the most about the BDS movement are the following points. First, the BDS movement not only ignores the basic reasons why Israel exists in the first place, it uses the rhetoric of regime, Nazism and genocide in its comparison of the modern situation between Israelis and Palestinians. Second, it claims to be anti-Zionist while, in fact, its actions more closely align with anti-Semitism and are fundamentally bolstered by societal anti-Semitism. Third, while it is nitpickingly critical of Israeli actions, it fails to use the same lens towards Palestinians, members of extremist groups within Palestine and even other countries. Fourth, it assumes all Jews have some relationship with Israel and targets the individual Jew as a spokesperson for the state.
While the BDS movement is really good at, one, veiling its anti-Semitism in coded language like anti-Zionism, war crimes, genocidal actions, human rights violations and apartheid and, two, convincing others of the morality of its cause, the movement fails to foster dialogue. To pressure people, institutions and governments to cancel any and all interactions with Israel is not a reasonable solution to the situation. All of this is not to say that I oppose a two-state solution. I have already commented here on what I think it will take to achieve peace in the region. Part of that includes the dismantling of patriarchal ideals surrounding land ownership.
Nonetheless, until that dismantling takes place, ending interactions with Israel is problematic for many reasons too. First, it seems hypocritical to compare Israel to Nazis, yet to ignore that only Israel has given Jews a safe haven, welcoming all Jews with dignity, respect, social and civic rights as well as protection against mass killings and ((())) ideologies. Second, the push to economically weaken Israel discounts Israel’s leadership role in medical innovations as well as desert food production, water conservation and environmental sustainability. The nation also actively participates in international aid. Highlighting Israel as only a destructive force not only brushes off the many pluralistic efforts of Israel’s interfaith movements, it also undermines them and ignores needs of voiceless and vulnerable people across the whole of the Middle East.
Yes, the situation between Israel and the Palestinians could be considerably better. Yet, we need to acknowledge the true nature of anti-Semitism present in BDS and stand against such forms of oppression and discrimination just as we can acknowledge the anti-Semitism behind ((())). The BDS movement compares Israelis to Nazis, accuses them of apartheid, labels the Israeli government a regime and works toward the destruction of the state. This is not only insulting but it is also egregious. Whatever the solution may be, BDS is not it!
Ivy Helman, Ph.D. is feminist scholar and faculty member at Charles University and Anglo-American University in Prague, Czech Republic where she teaches a variety of Jewish Studies and Ecofeminist courses. She is an Associate of Merrimack College‘s Center for the Study of Jewish-Christian-Muslim Relations and spent many years there as an Adjunct Lecturer in the Religious and Theological Studies Department. In addition to teaching and research, Ivy spends considerable amounts of time learning Czech, painting, drawing, creating new kosher delicacies and playing with her dog, Mini, and cat, Gabbi.