On February 12th, Jodi Rudoren argued in a New York Times article against the Palestinian-led Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, imploring readers to consider Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s position that BDS is “immoral”. If we take their claims at face value, than it behooves us to ask why so many Americans consider BDS a moral tool to protest Israeli policies? Why has the international BDS campaign become worrisome for Prime Minister Netanyahu, American Zionists, Israel and its supporters, and why does Ms. Rudoren equate a non-violent movement whose main objective is to achieve equal rights for all citizens whether living in Israel or the occupied territories with prejudice and anti-Semitism? More importantly is it anti-Semitic to envision a political Israeli system where all citizens are equal under the law living within the fold of international covenants and standards?
But first, what are the principles of the BDS Campaign? In July 2005, Palestinian civil society launched
“a call to international civil society organizations and people of conscience all over the world to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel, similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era, until Israel meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with international law.”
BDS also calls for Israel to conform to international law that protects the right of return of the Palestinian refugees who were displaced in 1948. For generations these Palestinians have lived in temporary shelters in neighboring countries without political rights or protections. The BDS campaign reasserted the relevance of the Charter of Nuremberg, which declared forced deportation and uprooting of civilian populations to be both a war crime and a crime against humanity. This is an opinion adopted by the world community following World War II to protect future communities from displacement and to avert a recurrence of the German Jewish experience during the Hitler regime when Germany oversaw the indiscriminate displacement of Jews, with millions perishing in concentration camps. BDS also relies on the examples of the successful South African anti-Apartheid boycott, US civil rights principles, as well as the earlier Jewish United Boycott Committee Campaign when Jews and human rights activists developed an organized boycott campaigns of German goods that was implemented throughout Europe and the US between 1933-1945 to protest German war crimes and injustices perpetuated against Jews. This includes the 1936 boycott of the German Olympic Games, supported by American Jewish Congress and the Jewish Labor Committee, which helped educate the American public on the dire conditions and plight of Jews in Germany. Some German Americans accused the campaign of being fueled by anti-German sentiments, and they also found the US boycott call hypocritical considering our own system of racial segregation. Nonetheless the campaign’s objective succeeded in educating Americans of the conditions and plight of German Jews.
So why now fret about a global movement that is still concentrated in far away places like Europe, South America, Asia and Australia? BDS has been adopted and duplicated widely in the US by religious and non-faith individuals and groups across the United States. For almost a decade Americans devoted to peace and justice have quietly worked to implement some or all of the BDS initiative in their local communities and have succeeded in building a broad national movement. The Israeli government’s continued refusal to consider suspending settlement building – never mind end its illegal occupation of Palestinian land – has so far only generated pathetic rhetorical protests from the US government while massive US military and financial aid to Israel continues. Observing this travesty has been a major factor in encouraging ordinary Americans to implement the Palestinian BDS call.
Like the international BDS movement, the US BDS campaign relies on the guiding principals set by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Geneva Convention, UN resolutions and the International Court of Justice decisions on the Separation Wall and the Israeli occupation. The Hague Court stipulates the following: Settlers cannot be transferred into an occupied territory and the indigenous population of an occupied territory cannot be deported from the occupied territory regardless of motive. In addition the International Court of Justice considers it a crime against humanity for any state whether in peace or war to engage in the collective persecution of “any identifiable group on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, or religious” grounds. Israel clearly is guilty of all the above. Since Israel’s inception it has transferred, deported and discriminated against the indigenous Christian and Muslim Palestinian population.
So, on what basis does Ms. Rudoren claim that BDS is anti-Semitic? While most BDS activists are clueless why she chose this derogatory term, they are well aware that it is not unusual for Israel’s supporters to charge anyone who criticizes Israeli policies as anti-Semitic. Unfortunately it has become the norm for those who uncritically defend every action of the Israeli state to call any Jewish or non-Jewish scholar, advocate, academician or religious leader who challenges Israel’s policies a self hating Jew or anti-Semite. Just read the findings of a recent survey of 500 Jewish Rabbis by the Jewish Council of Public Affairs where more than a third of these rabbis indicated fear of expressing their real views on Israel.
In fact, the campaign against BDS can more accurately be described as anti-Semitic in its objective impact. Those who are waging the anti-BDS campaign in the US are blindly whitewashing Israel’s actions that for decades have proved to be fundamentally contrary to our own government’s declared objectives and the goal of peace and security for all in the region, including the Jewish people living in Israel. The campaign against BDS is a deliberate choice to maintain the status quo and the continuation of Israel’s policies regardless of the cost. They prefer to keep Israeli Jews and Palestinians living in a permanent state of fear and anxiety for their future, willing to indefinitely arrest the opportunity for a just peace in the region. Their objectives and motives are a quandary more deserving of critical analysis and labeling.
BDS is not anti-Semitic, nonetheless it is guilty of gaining momentum in the US and posing a serious challenge to Israel’s territorial claims that extend to the West Bank, Gaza and desire perpetual control of Palestinian resources, air, water, land and sea. More importantly BDS is challenging the Zionist narrative, which for so long has been unchallenged in the US. The US BDS campaign is waged by faith and non- faith Americans including Jewish Americans among them. Readers can judge the merits of Ms. Rudoren’s anti-Semitic, prejudicial charges and decide whether or not her accusations are real or not.