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The BDS movement is not anti-Semitic

March 30, 2016 at 1:16 pm

The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) adopted a resolution on 24 March put forward by the Palestinian Authority which included Clause 17 “to produce a database of all business enterprises involved in the activities detailed in paragraph 96 of the afore-mentioned report, to be updated annually, and to transmit the data therein in the form of a report to the Council at its thirty-fourth session”. This passed despite substantial pressure on the PA to water it down from the US and the EU, which it did not.

The resolution passed with 32 votes in favour, 15 abstentions and none against. Reacting to the resolution’s success the US Ambassador Keith Harper said: “The United States remains deeply troubled with this Council’s stand-alone agenda item directed at Israel and the slate of one-sided resolutions. Especially disturbing is today’s resolution calling on OHCHR to implement a database of businesses operating in settlements. This is an unprecedented step taken by the Council, one not applied to businesses operating in the DPRK, Eritrea, or any other state.” This is despite the fact that the US considers the settlements “illegitimate” and “an obstacle to peace”.

Israel was outraged. Prime Minister Netanyahu said the UNHRC had become “an anti-Israel circus which attacks the only democracy in the Middle East”. Israel’s UN Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon said: “Marking Jewish businesses in order to boycott them brings to mind dark times in human history.” He accused the UNHRC of being a tool of the BDS movement and acting out of “anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic motives”. The claim that the UNHRC had become a tool of the BDS movement is outrageous and laughable. How can a movement with few resources except people’s commitment to justice, time and energy be perceived as so powerful by Israel that it transforms a significant UN body into one of its tools? However, the more serious accusation by Danon is that the BDS movement has “anti-Semitic motives”.

The same accusation was made in abundance at the Yedioth Ahronoth and Ynet anti-BDS conference held in West Jerusalem on Monday. The conference was addressed by Israel’s President Reuvin Rivlin, Israeli ministers, World Jewish Congress leader Ron Lauder, comedian Rosanne Brar, pro-Israel activists and the US and EU ambassadors to Israel. Organisers stated: “Without knives or missiles but with an explosive payload consisting of outrageous lies – genocide, apartheid and crimes against humanity – the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is conquering a growing number of strongholds in Europe, the United States and elsewhere. From the campuses of California to the supermarkets of Paris, the academic, economic and cultural boycott is becoming a palpable threat to the international status of the State of Israel.”

Rivlin criticised BDS as “a movement founded on the non-acceptance of Israel’s existence… We must differentiate between criticism and de-legitimisation. We must show the world the claims of the BDS movement are based on hatred and enmity of the State of Israel.”

EU Ambassador Lars Faaborg-Andersen had come under pressure from BDS not to attend the conference and especially not to share a stage with settlement leader Dani Dayan. Dayan had just learnt that his appointment as Israel’s ambassador to Brazil had been withdrawn as the Brazilian government objected to him because of his record of championing the settlement enterprise. Israel appointed Dayan instead as Consul General to New York which he surprisingly considered a “victory”. The EU ambassador stated the EU position as being “against BDS. Our policy is the total opposite of BDS. Our policy is total engagement with Israel and we have a long track record to prove it.” He went on to clarify that “products from settlements are welcome on the European market but they are not given the same preferential treatment we give products from Israel proper. This is no boycott at all. It is very, very important to distinguish between BDS and a policy we have on settlements. It is about giving the consumers the correct information.” However, he did also state that if peace is achieved there would be no BDS.

The shear fact that the conference was held and the strength of the line-up can only be interpreted as a testament to the success of the BDS movement in piling pressure on Israel for illegal practices and the failure of Israel either to deal with it effectively or, better still, to meet its legitimate demands. Both at the conference and speaking at the annual Ambassadors’ Forum at Bar-Ilan University, attended by some 50 senior diplomats from various countries, Israeli Minister for Public Security Gilad Erdan said the ultimate goal of BDS is nothing less than to “destroy Israel”. He bizarrely argued that “BDS should not be seen as a threat only to Israel – it is a threat to the international community, to your own countries, and to all who value human rights and freedoms.” He went on to claim the tactics used by BDS “are accompanied by anti-Israel propaganda so vicious it would make history’s greatest anti-Semites proud.”

The accusation that BDS, as a movement, is anti-Semitic is not new. In 2014, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu accused proponents of BDS of being “classical anti-Semites in modern garb.” He went on to say that “it’s an absolute disgrace that there are people in Europe calling for a boycott of Jews.”

While it is clearly impossible to claim that no proponent of the BDS movement is an anti-Semite. The BDS movement itself is clear about its aims. It demands an end to the occupation, equal rights for all citizens of Israel and the promotion of the right of return for Palestinian refugees violently driven from their homes in 1948. Each of these demands is moral and legal. It is clear as is the call for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel that this is aimed at institutions, not individuals. This is in stark contrast to the Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri considering revoking the residency permit of BDS founder Omar Barghouti.

The now regular accusation that the BDS movement is anti-Semitic is extremely dangerous. Anti-Semitism is about the hatred of Jews because they are Jews. By conflating this with a peaceful, moral tactic to pressure Israel to end its illegal and discriminatory policies against Palestinians in the occupied territories and its own citizens, Israel devalues the term. The reality is that many proponents of BDS are Jewish and some are Jewish Israelis. They all share the common and moral goal of achieving justice for Palestinians. True supporters of Palestinians should also do everything they can to ensure the pursuit of justice ensures that racism of any form is not tolerated but exposed and dealt with. The Palestinians will thank them for that.

Professor Kamel Hawwash is a British Palestinian engineering academic based at the University of Birmingham. He is a commentator on Middle East affairs and is Vice Chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. He blogs at He writes here in a personal capacity.


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