One year ago I wrote about the Mossad’s strategy to combat the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. In part, I based my argument on the analysis of former Mossad director Shabatai Shavit, who had written an important, and under-noticed, opinion piece about it in Haaretz, Israel’s liberal daily newspaper.
In that piece Shavit had argued, in a most sinister fashion, that “in this age of asymmetrical warfare” Israeli spy agencies are not yet “using all our force, and this has a detrimental effect on our deterrent power.” To me, this seemed tantamount to a declaration of war on the BDS movement. I maintain that in the long term, as Israel becomes more and more desperate in its (mostly failed) attempts to combat BDS, the more likely it is to carry out some sort of violent attack on BDS activists.
It’s already very difficult for Israel to combat BDS. It’s something akin to trying to against fight a shifting sand dune. BDS is a diffuse and broad movement, which, although it has popular and influential figures supporting it, has no central leadership or cadres that Israel could remove through its various nefarious means. More fundamentally, it’s pretty hard to force people to buy Israel products, or make them participate in Israeli propaganda initiatives against their will or interest. Furthermore, although some people can be bought-off, intimidated, or otherwise coerced into silence, it’s pretty much impossible to stop everyone talking about an idea or a strategy.
Nonetheless, that doesn’t stop Israel trying.
How has the strategy of the Mossad and other Israeli spy agencies to combat BDS developed over the course of the last year? An excellent investigative report by dissident Israeli journalist Amira Hass this week gave us a new insight.
Hass discovered the existence of a covert sabotage campaign targeted against Al Haq, likely Palestine’s most important human rights organization. Hass refrains from commenting on who the culprits were, but my own suspicions lie firmly with the Shin Bet (Israel’s secret police force which targets Palestinians and Israeli dissidents at home). In this case, the Shin Bet was most likely working jointly with the Mossad.
A series of emails were spread around accusing Al Haq of corruption and fraud. The anonymous signatories (the emails were signed only by “Fadi” and “Kathy”) posed as a concerned Palestinian Authority employee and a European NGO worker. Hass looked into their claims and found that they were baseless, including the claim that international accounting firm Ernst & Young was investigating Al Haq due to allegations of “financial irregularities … and misuse of donations and funds.” But nonetheless, Al Haq requested that the PA’s audit bureau look into their accounts and do a complete audit, so as to be above suspicion.
It seems clear that whoever was behind this whispering campaign against Al Haq did it as part of a wider campaign against the movement for Palestinian liberation. Al Haq has long been involved in the campaign to have Israel prosecuted for war crimes against the Palestinian people, especially during its various recurring wars against the population of Gaza. Just this week Al Haq delivered its detailed submission, in person, to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court on Israel’s war against Gaza last year.
Another key reason for the timing of this disinformation campaign was the fact that Al Haq has long been involved in the effort to get the European Union to ban goods imported from Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank (which are illegal under international law). Earlier this month, the EU finally adopted its guidelines on labelling settlement goods sold in European supermarkets as such (so that they now have to read “Israeli settlement goods”). Al Haq correctly said the move was too little too late.
The emails seemed deliberately timed to try and cast doubt on Al Haq at the very moment its efforts to bring Israel to account were starting to bare fruit.
I myself learned earlier this year from reliable sources about a similarly shady sabotage campaign against two BDS-supporting groups in Europe, carried out by more mysterious persons posing as supporters of Palestinian human rights.
Back in August we learned that the Aman, another Israeli spy agency, has for years now had a “delegitimzation department,” specifically set up to combat BDS around the world, as well as to fight disinformation campaigns against Palestinian armed resistance groups.
This pattern of conflating BDS, a purely non-violent act of political protest and education, with armed struggle, is emblematic of how crudely Israel fights its wars against Palestinian human rights and, indeed, the very existence of the Palestinian people.
The Mossad’s strategy against BDS is not particularly competent or well thought through. It is still unlikely to meet with much success.
Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London and an associate editor with The Electronic Intifada.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.