Jewish Journal

How serious a problem is BDS, and what are Jewish organizations doing about it?

'Ineffective economically'

by Kenneth Stern and Michael Berenbaum

Posted on Apr. 30, 2014 at 10:41 am

[Related: Should we fear BDS?]

The authors reached out to a number of leading Jewish organizations, asking each the same two questions regarding the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement: How serious a problem is BDS, and what is your organization doing about it?

American Jewish Committee

Steven Bayme, director of the Contemporary Jewish Life Department of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), writes:

BDS is unlikely to succeed in terms of universities boycotting or divesting from Israel. No university either in America or Europe has supported BDS, notwithstanding the efforts of BDS proponents. Its effects are unlikely to be tangible, although the intangible effects are likely to be quite real quite real in terms of cultural climate and impact upon Jewish students.

BDS does hurt Israel in terms of affecting negatively the climate concerning Israel on campus. Pro-Israel students may become intimidated by the fierceness of the rhetoric articulated against Israel and her supporters. Sadly, some Jewish students have become vocal proponents of BDS, often in the mistaken belief they are protesting Israel’s West Bank policies rather than delegitimizing her as a state with a right to exist.  It is relatively easy to refute the canards equating Israel with pre-Mandela South Africa. Whether pro-Israel students have the passion, conviction and savoir-faire to do so remains in question.

AJC’s primary niche is twofold: [First,] access to university leaders, particularly those who have been on our Project Interchange (PI) seminars in Israel. Over the past seven years, over 60 university presidents have been on our PI seminars, and we recently introduced missions for deans and provosts as well. Similarly, many AJC leaders are active as board members and alumni of universities. Second, AJC’s primary niche is that of thought leadership — writing pieces analyzing the movement, what it represents, what its dangers are, and why it is so misguided at best and perverse at worst.



Roz Rothstein, StandWithUs CEO, writes:

BDS is a long-term strategy that is unfortunately gaining momentum because the fringe anti-Israel groups relentlessly launch one campaign after another. On college campuses, the major danger is that Students for Justice in Palestine and similar groups bring lies and misinformation to campus and students are forced to sit through sometimes 12 hours of debates (for example, on divestment) listening to false allegations against the State of Israel.  

StandWithUs helps students and community members counter and defeat BDS through the use of our support, guidance and resources, many of which specifically expose the lies in divestment campaigns. We partner with all those who refuse to just stand by while Israel is delegitimized. Among SWU’s many programs are three fellowships — one on college campuses in Israel, one in the United States and Canada, and another in high schools — and a highly trained campus staff of experts who  educate students and the public about Israel, challenge falsehoods about Israel, and promote information that inspires the support Israel deserves. 


Simon Wiesenthal Center

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, spoke in an interview:

Rabbi Abraham Cooper said that BDS is not designed to help a single Arab or to advance the Palestinian cause. It is about being punitive and debasing Israel. BDS is ineffective economically, as Israel’s economy is booming as perhaps never before; the movement, he said, is most effective as street theater, attracting attention and creating controversy. It can also be intimidating to Israel’s supporters. Still, every major university will have to deal with calls from the political left on campus for BDS, and Jewish students may feel a sense of isolation.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center is combating BDS in three ways: through its campus outreach program, which offers access to real-time information and best practices; working with church leadership on responses to BDS; and intensifying its work in Europe, which may be the ultimate battlefield.

But make no mistake, Cooper emphasized, BDS is outright anti-Semitism parading as humanitarian concerns. Its current failures do not mean that it might not have success in the future.


UCLA Hillel

Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, executive director of Hillel at UCLA, spoke in an interview:

Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller recently helped pro-Israel students defeat BDS supporters at UCLA in a student government referendum on the issue. Seidler-Feller emphasized that BDS activities on campus reflect the fact that support for Israel has diminished significantly on the political left, and that Israel and Israel’s American supporters are not competing, even rhetorically, in the human rights community. Pro-Israel students in the human rights community feel abandoned by the Jewish community and by Israel’s most ardent supporters. The movement, in effect, has exposed not only divisions between Jews and non-Jews on campus, but also differences among Jews.


Anti-Defamation League

Todd Gutnick, ADL’s press officer, writes:

The BDS movement against Israel is designed to achieve propagandistic and superficial successes and has little tangible effect on Israel and its economy. The movement measures its success in terms of its ability to gain media attention and/or attract the support of mainstream figures. While these “victories” are vehemently opposed by the ADL and the vast majority of the American Jewish community, they are not terribly damaging to Israel from a practical standpoint.

Indeed, not a single one of the divestment resolutions that have passed on American college campuses in the past few years (there have been about a dozen) have been binding. In almost every case, the university’s president or chancellor has swiftly and immediately rejected the possibility of divesting from Israel following the vote.

The BDS movement has the potential to become a divisive issue within the American Jewish community, as we have seen with the recent controversy surrounding Hillel and its strict guidelines against BDS, which has resulted in several campus chapters declaring themselves “open Hillels.”

While the vast majority of American Jews adamantly oppose all forms of boycott against Israel, there is a small but growing amount of support for limited boycott campaigns that include boycotts of products produced in the West Bank and divestment from multinational companies that help Israel maintain the occupation. ADL opposes so-called “targeted” boycotts on the grounds that they are divisive, will not bring the two parties any closer to peace, and because they fail to acknowledge any Palestinian complicity in the conflict. Even many left-of-center Jewish groups share our opposition to BDS, including J Street, the New Israel Fund and Peace Now, which is evidence of just how extreme BDS is.

ADL engages in a range of advocacy to counter BDS initiatives, including:

·Training Jewish and pro-Israel college and high school students to counter BDS resolutions on campus

·Lobbying university administrators, public figures and others to reject BDS

·Urging student senators on campuses considering divestment to vote against resolutions to divest from Israel

·Educating the broader public about why BDS is unjust and does nothing to promote a negotiated peace agreement or present constructive initiatives to bring about Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation 

·Exposing the extreme, hostile goals of the BDS movement (including its objective for a one-state “solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict) through our blog, op-eds and media outreach.

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