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Israel's new war against BDS

Since Israel's new hard-right coalition government came to power last month, there have been two major bogey men: Iran and BDS, the movement to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel until it complies with basic Palestinian rights.

But now, as Ali Abunimah has argued, BDS seems set to overtake Iran as the biggest "threat" to Israel. With Israel's fight against Obama's rapprochement with Iran seemingly lost, it seems this will be "the age of BDS," in the words of one liberal Zionist columnist.

Boycott, divement and sanctions as a formally declared Palestinian movement will be exactly one decade old next month. Broadly speaking, in that time, the trajectory of Israel's attitude has reflected Gandhi's old dictum: first they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win. We are currently in the fighting phase, likely to be the most protracted one.

The final ministerial appointment that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made to his new cabinet was Gilad Erdan, the number two on the Likud list. He was given responsibility for public security, strategic affairs and public diplomacy. His position was widely touted in the Israeli press as "minister for BDS", after he made clear in a Facebook posting that combating BDS would a major focus of his, along with Iran.

The fact that Israel now takes BDS seriously enough to appoint a minister specifically to combat it speaks volumes about how far the movement has come. And last week, the Israeli president confirmed this in explicit terms, when he termed the academic boycott a "strategic threat of the first order."

As Israel ramps-up its fight against BDS, the increasingly shrill nature of the warnings coming from Jerusalem raise serious concerns about potentially fatal actions Israel could may begin to take against BDS activists (especially Palestinians). If that sounds alarmist, consider the words of new Likud member of parliament Anat Berko. She is a member of the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, and this week formed a lobby in the Knesset specifically to target BDS. In an interview she said that the "BDS movement against Israel is also a weapon. It is a form of terrorism and it should be fought against just like we fight against terrorism."

Implicit in that ludicrous description of the purely non-violent BDS movement as "terrorism" is a threat to assassinate and kidnap leaders of the BDS movement. After all, that is how Israel treats Palestinian resistance fighters – those it terms "terrorists". This designation of BDS as "terrorism" is another proof that when Israel terms Palestinian resistance as terrorism, it is not a serious description, but an opposition to any form of basic Palestinian human rights or existence.

If you thought that such violent rhetoric was confined to the right, think again. Yitzhak Herzog, the head of the "leftist" Israeli Labour Party, and the leader of the opposition in the Knesset, said Wednesday that "the boycott of Israel is a new kind of terrorism" which "should be fought with all the means and all the power available to countries of the world" – very similar language to Berko.

The same day, there was a whole special session of the Knesset held to discuss how to combat BDS. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who called for a complete Palestinian genocide last summer, claimed BDS was "anti-Semitism in a new guise."

In the UK, the national executive of the NUS voted this week to affiliate to the BDS movement, the latest in a series of similar such votes over the last few years. Netanyahu responded in a similarly fanatic fashion, claiming that the NUS was hypocritical because it "had refused to boycott ISIS". Putting aside the ludicrous premise (there are no ISIS academic, cultural or economic links for UK students to boycott), Netanyahu's statement was a typical lie: the NUS has in fact passed policy that condemns ISIS "as a reactionary terrorist organization that carries out atrocities".

To combat all this, we know that Israeli spy agencies are working behind the scenes to disrupt, infiltrate, monitor and sabotage the BDS movement. In November, a former Mossad chief wrote a column about the BDS movement, stating that "we are not using all our force, and this has a detrimental effect on our deterrent power". He seemed to be implying that Israel should do more to use its spy agencies to fight an actual war against BDS. Several months and one election later, that is exactly what many Israeli political leaders are now openly advocating.

Pro-Israel billionaires in the US are not happy with the government's approach to BDS, and one writer in the liberal Zionist paper Haaretz this week criticised Netanyahu for not taking a smart enough approach against the movement.

Democrat party funder and Hollywood mogul Haim Saban, convicted US felon Adam Milstein and casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson are all convening in Las Vegas this weekend to brainstorm new ways to fight BDS. It is expected they will splash lots of cash for projects that take their fancy.

Prepare for a new phase of Israeli dirty tricks, and potentially even violence, against BDS.

An associate editor with The Electronic Intifada, Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London.

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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