Unsanctioned Events

Jewish Light Editorial

For those of us who oppose the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement — which we’ve repeatedly referred to in these pages as the Delegitimize Israel (DLI) movement — one of the particular challenges is how to address the impassioned social justice concerns of many Jews, particularly younger adults.

BDS has appeal to some Jews because of the recognition that there are Palestinians who suffer in concrete ways due to conditions in the territories, from hunger and nutritional deficiencies, to substandard (or no) housing, to poverty in general, and so on.

These are real concerns, but the problem is that BDS at its core is not equipped to solve them, for it largely offers a two-dimensional portrait of the issues that practically ensures exacerbation of the underlying issues.

The two dimensions? One, a blindly subjective (and not uncommonly anti-Semitic) hatred of Israel, and two, the mistaken premise that the actions of the movement will alleviate economic and other suffering of Palestinians.

The first dimension has been on notable display this past week, when BDS adherents — in this case, London Palestine Action — chose to vandalize hundreds of London Underground’s trains by placing unpaid and unapproved anti-Israel posters in ad spaces in the cars. The ads were designed to look like BBC reports, and in fact some disparaged the BBC itself for alleged pro-Israel reporting (a charge that some Israel supporters will find morbidly amusing, given the number of allegations against the network for anti-Israel sentiment).

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Space limitations preclude us from reporting the details of each of the posters, which were deliberately inflammatory against Israel on a number of grounds, in both their visuals and verbiage. Transport for London, which oversees the Underground, began work almost immediately to remove them.

The posters made no effort to create understanding, build bridges or otherwise work toward any helpful solutions to the ongoing issues between Israel and the territories. The approach of demonizing Israel — so prevalent among those groups who advocate BDS — belies the positive and constructive desire of those seeking true social justice reforms for Palestinians.

So says Sally Abrams, who directs the speakers bureau of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas. In a Times of Israel blog this week, she affirms that well-intentioned Jews are seeking through BDS to “fulfill a noble intention — justice for Palestinians — without understanding how radical and hate-filled the BDS agenda truly is.”

The author cites the demonizing language and suppressive, anti-free speech conduct utilized by BDS leaders around the world, and in particular on college campuses. But she goes on to highlight the second dimension that makes BDS a failure, namely, the faulty assumption that BDS actually helps Palestinians.

Abrams gives a couple examples of BDS’ shortcomings. One is by way of quoting Bassem Eid, an East Jerusalem activist, who takes BDS to task for its armchair incitement.

Eid says, “BDS spokespeople justify calling for boycotts that will result in increased economic hardships for the Palestinians by asserting that Palestinians are willing to suffer such deprivations in order to achieve their freedom. It goes without saying that they themselves live in comfortable circumstances elsewhere in the world and will not suffer any such hardship…(T)his is the kind of ‘pro-Palestinian activism’ we could well do without.”

Abrams provides the example of Sodastream, which closed down its West Bank facility, costing hundreds of Palestinians their well-paying jobs. “Those BDS activists probably feel great about themselves for their ‘victory’ against Israel. But there is a big difference between feeling good and doing good. If you use that as your yardstick, BDS will not measure up.”

We would never discourage those interested in the betterment of others, whether Jews, Palestinians or others, from participating in the realm of social change advocacy. But we do agree that because the BDS movement is not remotely pure in its intentions — some involved want to destroy Israel, some are wildly anti-Semitic — and because its actions so often appear counterproductive to the purported solutions, there are far better places for those with big hearts for progress to offer their support.

BDS is an amalgam of many actors that would like to see change on the ground in Israel and the territories. But the seething and contempt for the Jewish State, often reflected in calls for its destruction, coupled with tactics that themselves undermine Palestinian life, deny the movement as a whole both moral credibility and pragmatic reliability.