KITCHENER, Ontario — (Analysis) From September 2000 to February 2005, more than 3,200 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces during the Second Intifada, or Palestinian uprising. From June to October 2004 alone, Israeli forces launched major assaults in Northern Gaza, killing at least 150 Palestinians, injuring hundreds of others and leaving as many as 800 people homeless.
These assaults were the latest in decades of violence and oppression perpetrated by Israel that ultimately inspired the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
Launched in July 2005 by a broad alliance of more than 170 Palestinian political parties, trade unions, refugee networks, NGOs and grassroots associations, the BDS movement aims to pressure Israel to end its apartheid regime and grant equal rights to Palestinians, with the ultimate goal of the establishment of a Palestinian state with the pre-1967 borders.
Modeled after similar initiatives targeting Apartheid South Africa a generation prior, the movement is having an undeniable impact. Even the government led by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a man guilty of the most heinous crimes, has defined BDS as an “existential threat” to Israel. (Other threats include the recent Iran nuclear deal, and, incredibly, a request by Palestine to FIFA, the world soccer association, to ban Israeli participation.)
The impacts of the BDS movement, once dismissed by Israel as little more than a college fad, are now being taken seriously. The Israeli economy is expected to suffer a $15 billion loss because of the movement.
There is also a huge psychological impact, as academics, including physicist Stephen Hawking, performers, including Roger Waters of Pink Floyd and Elvis Costello, and novelists such as Alice Walker, refuse to participate in any events in Israel. Additionally, Palestine has received the support of rock group Coldplay, and actresses Mia Farrow and Vanessa Redgrave, to name just a few.
Mr. Netanyahu decries all this as an effort to “delegitimize” Israel: “It is not connected to our actions; it is connected to our very existence. It does not matter what we do; it matters what we symbolize and what we are.”
He appears to be in denial, since the movement is, indeed, connected to Israeli actions — actions which are themselves causing Israel to be “delegitimized.”
Can BDS be legislated out of existence?
But when a popular people’s movement is having an impact, what is a cruel, barbaric Israeli leader to do? Well, since Congress is bought and paid for by Israeli lobbies, what better response for Israel than to instruct its congressional employees to outlaw it?
Israel has had some success in this new initiative. The recently-signed Trans-Pacific Partnership includes anti-BDS provisions, “which will discourage European governments from participating in BDS activities by leveraging the incentive of free trade with the United States.”
To say that is was not Israeli-inspired is to demonstrate a remarkable naivete.
Additionally, several states are considering, or have actually passed, anti-BDS legislation. And Israel’s anti-BDS efforts aren’t confined to the United States, its most favorite bottomless pit of money; the United Kingdom, too, has passed such legislation.
So, does this mean that the most effective, nonviolent means that people of conscience around the world have of supporting human rights and justice for the Palestinians will now cease? Will the countless university proposals to divest from Israel, along with the religious bodies which have made the same decision, be rendered null and void? Will the endorsement of BDS by various British unions now cause the union members to get in line with barbaric Zionism?
No such thing as bad publicity?
Let’s step back for just a moment and do what Israel has long refused to even consider: take a reality check. Far from than defeating the movement, this backlash against BDS is likely to propel it forward.
Jay Michaelson, writing about billionaire Sheldon Adelson’s university campus initiative to thwart BDS in The Forward in July, described why, as he put it, opposition to BDS will be a “boon” for the movement. This opposition, Mr. Michaelson argues, puts Jewish students and their non-Jewish peers in a “For Us or Against Us” scenario. Accepting the “For Us” position aligns students with “patriotism, nationalism, ethnocentrism and a refusal to admit ambiguity and nuance.” Further, he states that, from his own observations, the pro-Zionist movement presents a caricature of BDS supporters that no reasonable person could possibly accept.
Further, Mr. Michaelson suggests that this anti-BDS initiative completely misses the point. BDS isn’t growing because of anti-Semitism, he argues, it’s growing “because many people think it’s wrong for any state to deny 4 million people the right to vote, to determine their own future, and to live free of military occupation.”
So the anti-BDS initiative on college campuses doesn’t seem to have much promise for Israel. But what about the greater effort, the attempt to legislate BDS out of existence? Well, the news there isn’t too promising, either.
Laws to prevent BDS serve to publicize it, allowing more people to know of its existence. When President Barack Obama signed the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015, he endorsed the provisions protecting Israel from boycott, but also said he won’t observe the measures requirement to extend those same protections to what is generally called “Israeli-controlled territories” (read: Palestine). So the controversy over BDS, rather than being silenced by this measure, only increased.
And so it is with racist Zionists such as Mr. Adelson and Haim Saban: As they sink millions into efforts to defeat the BDS movement, their attempts merely serve to help to publicize it, along with Israeli crimes. Their goal of “demonizing the demonizer” fails, as people see that Israel, by its racist, apartheid policies, only indicts itself.
Some say there’s no such thing as bad publicity, but this is far from the truth for Israel. As it publicizes BDS in an futile effort to thwart it, it only shines a spotlight on its own crimes and on Palestinian victimization. This inspires more people to shun Israel, support Palestine, and embrace BDS.
Francis Bacon said that “knowledge is power.” This notion appears to be confirmed, as Israel suffers from the BDS movement, a movement that exists and grows because of knowledge.