By David Shayne, Special to the Jewish Sound
A while back, I heard Palestinian academic Nadia Elia brag that the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement is so effective that Israel’s very existence is threatened.
“Empty bravado from the side that is clearly losing,” I thought.
Afterward, I heard some pro-Israel activists make similar statements. Then, recently, at a community-wide anti-BDS rally, renowned Israeli journalist, Ari Shavit claimed the movement was Israel’s “biggest challenge.”
So what’s going on? How are people on both sides acting like Israel is on the verge of being rendered a pariah state a la apartheid-era South Africa? One might think it must be true — BDS has Israel on the ropes!
Nothing could be less true. Compare Israel’s international standing now to the’70s: Israel suffered a devastating war, then a wave of heinous terrorist attacks, yet much of the international community rewarded this naked aggression by isolating Israel diplomatically and economically. Most of the developing world and Communist bloc countries severed their ties. Even some Western nations scaled back relations. The UN passed its infamous “Zionism is Racism” resolution. President Ford ominously declared he was “reassessing” the U.S.-Israel relationship. Oil companies ran anti-Israel ads and others (e.g. Pepsi) did boycott Israel. Bumper stickers read, “Burn Jews, not oil.” This was all before settlements or occupation became hot topics.
Today, by contrast, nations once hostile to Israel have excellent relations, including China and India. World leaders express strong support for Israel, including those of Canada, Australia, Great Britain and Germany. Tourists, business executives and pop stars come to Israel in droves. Israeli companies do business everywhere, even in the Arab world, and have deeply penetrated Western markets. Recent polls show the American public support for Israel is stronger than ever. In short, Israel’s international and commercial relations have never been better. Israel still faces existential dangers from its Arab and Iranian foes, but these very real threats have little to do with boycotts or divestment.
So should the pro-Israel community just laugh BDS off? Of course not. This movement is dishonest, hypocritical, its supporters engage in thuggish and sometimes anti-Semitic behavior. Even diehard Israel haters like Noam Chomsky have distanced themselves from it. It should be opposed, in principle.
But let’s keep the so-called “BDS” movement in its proper perspective:
It is not new. Since Israel’s founding, its Arab enemies and their allies (including the extreme left) waged total war by all means, including political and economic attacks. Long before “BDS” existed, the unholy Arab-Muslim/left-wing alliance agitated against Israel on U.S. and European campuses, in the media, and sought to harm Israel through boycotts and other economic means.
The anti-Israel propaganda/boycott campaign, as explained above, was more successful in the past than it has been recently. Whatever minor triumphs it can point to today, it has suffered thousands of defeats, from famous celebrities who continue to flock to Israel despite BDS pressure, to the explosion of Israeli commerce, to the recent humiliating defeat at the Universities of Washington and Western Washington. This movement appears to be going nowhere, fast.
Israel faces very serious threats and challenges that should command the focus and energy of its supporters, such as the Iranian nuclear threat, the growing strength of Hizbullah, and the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation, to name but a few. Yes, the BDS movement is one of those threats, but hardly the most dangerous one.
A valid concern is that campus hooliganism intimidates some Jewish students from speaking up on Israel’s behalf. But, according to Shavit, this is a symptom. The real problem is the lack of education and/or personal connection many Jewish youth have regarding Israel. Our failure to educate about and familiarize our youth with Israel should be of much bigger concern.
There is a risk to inflating the BDS threat: Overestimating one’s enemy is as dangerous as underestimation. It can lead to demoralization of your side while giving succor to the other. After all, there is a simple explanation as to why BDS is losing: Most Americans understand that Israel is a successful, progressive and democratic nation attempting to survive in a region populated with dysfunctional and brutally oppressive regimes; and that the Arab side, not Israel, perpetuates the conflict. The BDS movement has not, and I believe will not, succeed in obscuring this basic truth.
BDS is on the wrong side of history. Most Americans know it. Let’s be sure to remind our fellow citizens of this fact, but please, don’t give BDS the credit it doesn’t deserve.
David Shayne lives in Seattle.