A fascinating article by a Jerusalem Post Knesset reporter earlier this month gives quite the insight into the increasingly desperate state of the Israeli “war” against BDS. The boycott, divestment and sanctions movement aims to hold Israel to account for its crimes against the Palestinian people.
At first ignored, and later derided, the BDS movement has by now become one of the top strategic threats to Israel’s ability carry on the business of occupation as usual. Formally founded in 2005, the movement aims to encourage people of conscience around the world to boycott Israel products, dis-invest from Israeli businesses and to put pressure on governments to implement sanctions against Israel.
And over the last 11 years, the movement has achieved some impressive results, despite an enormous and well-funded backlash by Israel’s powerful supporters in the West. Examples are too numerous to detail, but the most recent victory has been the move of the United Methodist Church in the US to divest its $20-billion pension fund of any stake in five Israeli banks – excluded for their involvement in illegal Israeli settlements built on confiscated Palestinian land in the West Bank.
In May, the Israeli president termed the academic boycott a “strategic threat of the first order.” In June, Yitzhak Herzog, the head of the supposedly left-wing Israeli Labour Party (and the leader of the opposition in the Knesset) said 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”.
Fighting talk. In Israeli propaganda, BDS has now replaced Iran as the biggest “existential threat” to the state.
Barely a week passes, it seems, without the launch of a new initiative or Israeli government department to fight BDS.
In August, Israel’s military intelligence agency (Aman) revealed that it now operates a “delegitimization department” which “routinely gathers information on foreign, left-wing organizations” that promote BDS. Millions of dollars and shekels are being poured in – to little discernible effect, so far.
The Jerusalem Post report recounted the launch of a new such initiative. Titled the “Caucus to Battle Delegitimization,” the new project is meant to coordinate Israeli efforts against BDS. So many different departments within various government ministries have been launched over the last few years that efforts have become fragmented. So this cross-party Knesset grouping is meant to improve the situation for the anti-BDS ultras.
The conference was addressed by Gilad Erdan, who was touted during his appointment last year as the “Minister for BDS” (an admission of the power of BDS in itself). Using the Israeli terminology for Palestine solidarity, Erdan told the conference that “delegitimization is a challenge with strategic potential.” He also said his ministry has been allocated 100 million Israeli shekels (more than £17 million) to combat BDS and other forms of “delegitimization.”
Most tellingly, the Post reported that the Minister for BDS admitted that “the government cannot fight the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement alone; it needs a network” of supporters.
This smacks of desperation.
Israel seems to be panicking. As well they might. There is really little they can do against BDS in the long run except delay it. As the BDS movement’s co-founder Omar Barghouti says, Israel has no real answer to BDS.
Figures in the Israeli government have for a long while now been obsessed with describing their campaign against BDS, a purely non-violent civil society movement, in violent and military terms. The habit of fighting wars is not easy to drop, it seems.
Former Mossad director Shabtai Shavit in 2014 criticised the government for not fighting hard enough against BDS: “In this age of asymmetrical warfare we are not using all our force, and this has a detrimental effect on our deterrent power.” And Labour leader Herzog, who I quoted earlier, seemed to be actually advocating violence against BDS activists.
Speaking at the conference, former Israeli ambassador to the US Michael Oren (now an Israeli parliamentarian) is also hooked on the military jargon, saying Israel’s battle against BDS was “a war like any other, and in war, we must take off the gloves and reach new battlefields on campuses around the world … no tank will move and no plane will take off if we don’t have the right to defend ourselves.”
Bizarre really. I’m not sure who any of this is meant to reach. It’s all rather like preaching to the choir.
All of this is an encouraging sign that Israel and its apologists still have no clue how to effectively fight BDS. Back in February 2014, I offered them some free advice: “you can’t make the ‘BDS threat’ go away by throwing money at the problem.”
I’m happy to see that they completely ignored me and are still pouring their cash down the drain.
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.