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Signs that the BDS is biting

On November 6th The Jerusalem Post published an article written by G. Steinberg and J. Edelstein titled, ‘Turning the Tables on BDS’. The article discusses the need for Israel to implement a counterstrategy to deal with the BDS campaign (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions for Palestine). The article also explains how the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) in partnership with the Jewish Council of Public Affairs (JCPA), has organized an effort designed to discredit the main organizers and actors of BDS.

Steinberg and Edelstein stress how specific directors of some of the NGO’s involved in the BDS campaign such as Nigel Parry, Ali Abunimah and Naim Ateek (from Electronic Intifada and Sabeel respectively) are supposedly anti-Semitic and preach for the destruction of Israel. In fact, there is an apparent confusion in the article between anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli commentary in general.


There are few people today who are campaigning in support of Palestinian rights, and who do not differentiate between anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli sentiment. There is a world of difference between the two, but in usual Israeli propaganda fashion, the two are easily confused and become one: anti-Semitism.

So Steinberg and Edelstein fashion their argument against BDS by branding the organizations supporting BDS as anti-Semitic and the leaders of some of the main NGO’s as preachers for the destruction of Israel.  They specifically accuse the director and cofounder of Electronic Intifada, Ali Abunimah, who calls for a One-State solution, as wanting ‘the elimination of Israel’.  They complain that Nigel Parry, another cofounder of EI, uses the terms ‘apartheid’ and ‘ethnic cleansing.’

This is a blatant case of ‘demonizing’ the main actors of BDS; an aim which Steinberg and Edelstein state as being central to discrediting and countering the successes of BDS. By speaking about a One-State solution, Ali Abunimah is talking about the only just and equal solution to the reality of Palestine; for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, for the Palestinians of ’48, as well as for the Palestinians in the Diaspora; he is not talking about the ‘elimination’ of Israel. When the term ‘ethnic cleansing’ is used by NGO’s supporting the BDS campaign, it is because of the reality on the ground. Israel massacred over 300 Palestinian children in Gaza and it barely reached the headlines. It can continue its policy of ethnic cleansing in Palestine and the West will turn a blind eye unless more people stand up, like the BDS campaigners, who demand an end Israel’s immunity.

The tone of the article is aggressive and distinctly offensive. It complains that Israel has been playing ‘catch-up’ too long in the face of BDS, and that it is time for Israel to ‘adopt a proactive strategy to undermine the credibility and influence of these groups’.

BDS is not, as the article suggests, an international NGO whose aim is to destroy Israel; it is an organized campaign that has formed because there are citizens of every country in the world enraged at Israel’s constant violation of human rights and international law.

Israel’s record of human rights abuses, their killing of civilians and targeting of civilian infrastructure means quite simply that they ought to be under international sanctions at the very least.

The world boycotted South Africa’s Apartheid State and the sanctions worked. Ultimately, the White South-African Apartheid regime collapsed under the weight of international pressure.

But this is not happening in Israel. Every day, the Israel army invades Palestinian villages in the West Bank; killing, detaining, or simply terrorizing the local population. Every day, Israel keeps expanding its illegal settlements and in so doing dispossessing Palestinian farmers of their land and livelihood. Every day, Israeli bulldozers; identical to the one that crushed Rachel Corrie to death, are demolishing Palestinian homes. Every day, the Israeli Navy terrorizes Gazan fishermen, destroying their boats, and randomly shooting at the Gaza shore-line.

These ‘little’ episodes are rarely mentioned by the liberal world that has as a duty to uphold human rights for every world citizen.

Israel ought to be isolated from the world. But, instead the West is trading with it. The bulk of Israel’s exports are manufactured intermediate goods and machinery or equipment destined for business users; but Israel also has a booming arms industry. Countries like the US and the UK as well as Australia and other liberal Western democracies are actually happily trading in arms with Israel, while Israel murders in its back-yard.

This grotesque situation has enraged people from every country in the world, and in 2005, they, refusing to wait any longer for governments to act against Israel, launched the BDS campaign.

Since then, the campaign has grown in strength and support around the globe and is doing more than many Palestinian support groups are doing to expose Israel’s brutality as well as their manipulation of world markets. (For example the tagging of settlement produce as ‘West Bank’ produce was exposed by the BDS campaign).

But where the BDS is really growing in strength and possible effect is in the academic and cultural sphere. Musicians and artists are starting to say no to performing in Tel Aviv, and perhaps more importantly, academics are beginning to boycott Israeli institutions. In this way, BDS is having a very important adverse effect on Israel. The effect, in fact, cannot be underestimated, and it seems as evidenced in the article, ‘Turning the Tables on BDS’, that Israel is very aware of the threat and not happy about it.

In predictable Israeli manner, the authors of the article propose two ways to combat BDS. The first is to look for all organizations that are on the periphery of the campaign and win them over, or ‘buy’ them over possibly?

But, BDS has a massive following and precisely in the areas that Steinberg and Edelstein cite as being fringe-supporters of the movement: labor union members, students and university professors. These groups are not going to be easily won over by Israel; not least especially after the positive and effective work undertaken by BDS campaigners to expose Israel to them.

The second area the anti-BDS organization threatens to attack is the funding level. They will probably be more successful here as the Israeli lobby in every country seem to have a monopoly over the financial sectors; but fortunately for us, Palestinian support groups in general usually make do with limited funds for all projects. Supporting Palestine does not usually generate support from the economic world, and there have been plenty of examples where funds have been frozen in Western liberal democracies, because they are destined for Palestine.  The projects, however, do not stop and if anything, the funding difficulties strengthen resolve to keep working.

The BDS should definitely be able to meet every attack against it and articles such as ‘Turning the Tables on the BDS’ only serve to remind us all that the BDS campaign must be doing something right if the Israelis respond to it so aggressively.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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