A recent story has largely been ignored by the mainstream media concerning a trend in academia and among some liberals. It is the so-called BDS movement- Boycott, Divest and Sanction- a concerted program by certain Arab and Palestinian activists whose aim it is to economically and politically isolate Israel. The reason for these efforts is purportedly to force Israel to cease settlements on the West Bank and return lands captured after 1948 to the Palestinians so that they can establish a homeland. But, in reality it is something more.
While we can debate the legitimacy of settlements on the West Bank and in other occupied territories, there can be no doubt that some inequities certainly exist in this area. For example, the construction of the security wall and fences by Israel (admittedly, for a very legitimate purpose) has caused disruptions in the daily lives of Palestinians. There are cases of discrimination within Israel proper against Palestinians and the Israelis have diverted water resources from Palestinian areas to the newer settlements in the occupied territories. All these actions have caused tensions in the region.
On the other side of the ledger, the Palestinians in their limited areas they already control have proven themselves unable or unworthy of self-government. Corruption is rampant among the Palestinian leadership. They have failed to stem or have sometimes turned a blind eye towards rockets and mortars aimed at Israel from within their areas. In fact, terrorists among the ranks of the so-called everyday Palestinian is still a fact of life. Many Palestinians still believe that Israel is an illegitimate country and should be wiped off the face of the earth and replaced with a Palestinian Arab state. In their vision, even pre-1948 Israeli borders need to go and Jews would be a minority religion in this new state, if they are to remain in the area at all.
The troublesome thing about the BDS movement is that they totally reject any two-state solution to the Palestinian problem. One leading Palestinian advocate, Omar Barghouti, stated in 2011 the ultimate goal of the movement: establish a Palestinian state by reversing the events of 1948, and secondly, the return of all Palestinians displaced after the formation of Israel and their descendants.
What makes this most interesting is that the movement has gained some traction among those on the Left here in the United States, but especially in Europe. Most disturbing about this trend is that it deviates from the normal liberal “protest” against alleged human rights abuses. For example, there may be benefit concerts for the Chinese treatment of Tibetans, protests against Indonesian intervention in West Papua, or the Russians in Chechnya. Closer to home, the Left lined up in opposition to American intervention in both Iraq and Afghanistan. However, in all of these cases, no one is arguing for the dissolution of or the break-up of Indonesia, China, Russia or the United States. Thus, the Left’s alignment with the BDS movement is clearly more militant and more exacting. It is not a demand to end alleged human rights abuses; it is the elimination of a country.
In England, the University and College Union, a collection of college professors, has passed resolutions in support of the BDS movement. Although none of their resolutions have actually been acted upon, what one is finding is that this is not a human rights issue, but an anti-Zionist movement and an anti-Semitic movement. Despite the UCU’s paralysis in implementing a boycott against Israel, the discourse has turned considerably anti-Semitic. They have invited South African trade unionist and unrepentant anti-Semite (he has been condemned by the South African government), Bongani Masuku, to speak at meetings. This is a man who has threatened South African Jews with violence or expulsion if they show support for Israel. Since then, racist and anti-Semitic literature has surfaced which is traced to certain liberal leaders in the UCU equating Jews in general with controlling British academia and banks. Of course, this smacks of the “Elders of Zion” talk of days gone by. Here, this racist, anti-Semite was invited to a UCU function with open arms, but can anyone imagine the uproar if the UCU invited a person inciting hatred and violence against Blacks or Muslims?
The Romanian government recently passed a resolution, fostered by the European BDS movement, which would disallow Romanian workers from going to Israel to work on water projects. When the free market (that is, other countries) lined up to fill in for the loss of these workers, Romania backtracked. Unlike the alleged knee-jerk reaction by Cracker Barrel against Duck Dynasty merchandise here in the US, the resolution in Romania came after considered legislative debate which makes their actions less excusable.
Recently here in the United States, the American Studies Association (ASA) passed a boycott resolution against Israeli academics. That is, they will no longer invite or sponsor Israeli academics to functions here, nor will they participate in functions there. Fortunately, the ASA is one of the smaller of academic associations and the larger ones have thus far rejected calls for a boycott. In the wake of the ASA actions, several colleges and universities here in the US have withdrawn support of the ASA. It would appear that the boycott method is a double-edged sword and those who voted for it who happen to be on the faculty of these more sane institutions are now finding themselves ostracized by cooler heads in American academia.
But, it is not only actions by marginal academic associations that is disconcerting. In June of 2013, students at the U. of California -Santa Cruz proposed a BDS resolution that was defeated. Although non-binding on the administration there, it was the atmosphere that was of utmost concern. This is a very strange movement on American college campuses where a few pro-Palestinian provocateurs are capturing leftist students searching for a cause. Unfortunately, it is leading these naive souls into very strange territory not the least of which is the fact they know precious little about the Middle East in general or the Arab-Israeli conflict vis-a-vis the Palestinian question in particular. It is indeed odd that the Left on American campuses are essentially siding against the only democracy in the Middle East (although that should come as no surprise) and siding with a movement that is homophobic, intolerant of anything non-Islamic, whose schools breed hatred, and whose religion looks down on women when it is not actually enslaving them.
It is ironic that they use the strongest tool a democracy has- free speech- to advance an agenda that supports no free speech. American students need to question why so much time and effort is dedicated to a concerted criticism of the lone true democracy in the region. Where are the critiques of Iranian imprisonment of homosexuals, or the fact a woman cannot drive a car in Saudi Arabia? What about the systematic destruction of Christian houses of worship in places like Egypt and Syria and the countless deaths of non-Muslims in Nigeria? Why is there no railing against the corruption prevalent among Palestinian leaders in Gaza and on the West Bank?
In Europe, the center of the BDS movement seems to be Ireland. There, spokespeople for the movement have likened the cause of the Palestinians to that of their own in Northern Ireland and British occupation. They state a certain kinship with the wants and desires of Palestinians. But, comparing Northern Ireland to the West Bank is like comparing apples to oranges. All one has to do is use the example of recent history when Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005. I ask the Irish supporters of the BDS movement: Did terrorist violence against Israel cease? Instead, it was used as a base to lob rockets and mortars at Israelis, a breeding ground of hate, and a land base by which to import weapons. It should also be noted that in Ireland, the BDS movement was successful in labeling Israeli products with yellow stickers- a reminder of days long gone that we hope never to replicate with respect to any group of people.
Besides the official movement, there is a more subtle one where Israeli businessmen and scholars are finding it increasingly difficult to find willing partners and collaborators. This is not based on the official BDS movement, but upon dormant European anti-Semitism and nothing else. Thus, the BDS movement is not finding allies among lovers of democracy, but with haters of Israel, and of Jews in general.
There is enough blame on both sides of the equation as concerns the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I do, however, find it ironic that most Arab countries are not that readily accepting of Palestinian refugees as is Israel itself. This is a complex area and this is a complex problem in particular that cannot be solved through boycotts, sanctions, or divestment. Israel is not today’s South Africa under white, apartheid rule despite the propaganda of the anti-Semitic BDS movement. Underlying the movement is not a hatred of “occupation,” but a hatred of Israel itself and its democratic success. They want not the end of “occupation” on the West Bank, but the total obliteration of the Jewish state.