The boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign against the state of Israel is nothing new.
Prejudice, isolation and punishment of Jews, an earlier form of BDS has recurred over the past 2,000 years. In Europe and the Middle East, Jewish people were isolated, demonized, and then persecuted and murdered in pogroms, Inquisitions, and wars. In 1930s Europe, Jews faced economic, cultural, and social boycotts that paved the way for the Holocaust. Since the 1940s, Arab states have imposed strict boycotts of Israel. The players may be different, but they all follow the same playbook: the sinister one-two punch. The first punch unleashes lies and distortions to foment hatred. The second punch demands draconian punishments, such as BDS.
The heartbreaking fact is that there are still hundreds of groups obsessed with hatred of Israel and dedicated to destroying it. Israel is now the “Jew” among nations. While bullets and bombs have thankfully not brought Israel to its knees, there are groups trying to destroy it through propagana and the one-two punch. Once they have fomented enough bigotry and hatred in the first punch, even decent people will believe that isolating Israel in the world community or even acts of terror as part of the second punch, are somehow justifiable.
Anti-Israel propagandists borrow from the arsenal of medieval anti-Semitism and the more modern Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
Alison Weir, a favored anti-Israel polemicist who lectures regularly on campuses, claims that Israeli soldiers shoot Palestinian children in the backs just for sport. UCLA Professor Saree Makdisi tells audiences that Israel releases a gas to stunt the growth of children in Gaza. Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the modern day BDS movement, thunders that Israel steals water from thirsty Palestinians even though it is well documented that Israel has been giving the West Bank water from its own supply in quantities far exceeding those agreed to in the Oslo Accords.
Anti-Israel polemicists give a laundry list of what they charge are Israel’s intentional, systematic cruelties. They take singular examples and magnify them as consistent policies. For example, they claim pregnant women regularly deliver babies during unjustifiable checkpoint delays. Has that ever happened? Quite possibly. Is it a regular occurrence? No. By juxtaposing photos of Palestinians at checkpoints with Jews being herded into Nazi trains destined for concentration camps the polemicists equate the two situations, but photos of American airport security lines would be a much more apt comparison to the checkpoints that Palestinians and Israelis have to deal with. Are the checkpoints inconvenient and unpleasant? Absolutely. Are there good reasons to have them? Unfortunately they are, just like American airport security lines, they are designed to weed out terrorists and save lives.
Israel certainly is not perfect. Jews sought statehood, not sainthood. But Israel is not the demon portrayed by these campaigners. They have to lie about Israel to justify their own hatred and to foment hatred in others.
The leaders of this anti-Israel crusade are radical leftists who have allied with Islamic extremists even though Islamists oppose all the other values of the radical left, from personal liberty to religious and sexual freedom and rights for women and other minorities. Most disconcertingly, the anti-Israel groups also count Jews in their ranks and proudly parade them at every opportunity to gain credibility. The extremist, ultra-Orthodox Neturei Karta believes a Jewish state should not exist until the Messiah comes, and its members join anti-Israel demonstrations and actively support Iran’s Ahmadinejad despite his genocidal threats to Jews. They regularly host Norman Finkelstein, the son of Holocaust survivors and a professor who shamelessly refers to Elie Wiesel as the “clown of the Holocaust circus.” They especially like to feature anti-Zionist Israelis like Professor Neve Gordon, who calls for BDS, and Ilan Pappe, who lost a libel suit in Israel when he concocted a story about Israelis massacring an Arab town during the 1948 War.
In the past year, the BDS campaign has intensified as scattered groups joined forces for the one-two punch. One of their most insidious methods for delivering the first punch is fooling the public into seriously debating their false charges against Israel.
Sometimes the ploy works. Last spring, anti-Israel campaigners suddenly introduced divestment resolutions to the student senates at UC Berkeley and UC San Diego. Students who supported Israel were thrown on the defensive, forced to counter the biased, false charges. In another situation, BDS activists lobbied high-profile musicians who planned to tour in Israel, forcing them to seriously consider the biased charges and decide whether to cancel their appearances, which they did in some cases. Fortunately, there are groups like Linkin Park and individuals like Elton John, Justin Bieber and Macy Gray who understood the one-two punch is slick propaganda that will not lead anyone toward peaceful coexistence.
We must recognize the one-two punch when we see it. We need to understand how dangerous it is. We cannot take for granted that people can automatically see through the lies. We cannot assume that college students know enough about Israel to insulate themselves against the propagandists on campuses.
Fortunately, many organizations now recognize that the attacks against Israel are serious and require a forceful response. Many are now asking, “If we do not empower the next generation to stand up for Israel and the values it embodies, who will ensure Israel’s future and the survival of those values?”
We need a massive force to push back the well-oiled, one-two punch machine. We need an army of educators that can inform a wider community and instill pride in Zionism as a preeminently just movement. Around the world, day schools, synagogues, and churches who care about Israel’s survival should make education about Israel a major priority.
We need people to stand up together worldwide and say, “Henani”—”here I am.” Here I am to learn about Israel so that I can become part of a teaching machine. Here I am to learn more about the history of the Jewish people and our millennia-old connection to the land of Israel. Here I am to learn about Israel’s strengths, strategic threats, shortcomings and dreams of a peaceful future in a region that has repeatedly sought to destroy it. Henani.
Roz Rothstein is the CEO of StandWithUs and Roberta Seid, PhD is the StandWithUs education director.