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BDS Casualties

July 17, 2019

The boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaign (BDS, more accurately bigotry, deception, and slander) has failed spectacularly. Israel’s economy is booming, exports are expanding, tourism and foreign investment are thriving. But the misguided initiative has not been completely inconsequential. It has achieved some results and caused some pain—albeit not to its intended target. BDS efforts have hurt the Palestinian economy and people, the institutions unsuccessfully weaponized against Israel, the cause of peace, and innocent bystanders.

Palestinian per-capita GDP has been flat for the past six years. It is less than one-tenth of that of its major trading partner (and occupier) Israel, and about one sixth of the world’s average. Under such dire conditions, the Palestinians should be eager to receive foreign assistance, cherish every tax shekel collected, embrace economic development opportunities, and cooperate with the much larger neighboring economy. But no: Their leaders reject U.S. aid and Israeli-collected tax proceeds, because both withhold, by law, “pay-to-slay” funds used to reward Palestinian terrorists. The people who perfected suicide terrorism have turned to suicide economics: Exploding buses and pizza parlors as a political statement didn’t bring about the destruction of Israel, so now they’re trying to blow up their entire fledgling and fragile economy.

Further isolating and damaging itself, the Palestinian Authority boycotted the recent economic workshop in Bahrain. Having failed to get the conference canceled altogether, they rejected its ambitious proposals to invest $50 billion in Palestinian infrastructure, economy, and civil society institutions—threatening violence instead. Palestinian businesspeople who attended the summit—as individuals, not official representatives—were intimidated, denounced as “traitors,” or even arrested by the Palestinian Authority.

On a smaller scale, one BDS “success” has hurt hundreds of Palestinians and their families and communities. SodaStream, an Israeli maker of fizzy-drink machines, “bow[ed] to boycott pressure” in 2016, closing its West Bank factory. One BDS supporter crowed “There is power in collective resistance.” The upshot: Moving its factory out of the West Bank, SodaStream laid off hundreds of Palestinian employees, who lost their work permits. The increased brand awareness that followed culminated in Pepsi Co. acquiring the company for $3.2 billion. And that’s an example of a successful anti-Israel boycott!

A second set of victims are organizations that embrace Israel boycotts or divestment. Student governments, churches, co-ops, academic associations, and others are misled and manipulated by anti-Israel activists, enlisted in a hate campaign under the guise of fighting for social justice and human rights. They become cesspools of toxic debate, embroiled in controversy and accused of antisemitism. The boycott and divestment initiatives are mostly symbolic and toothless: one church couldn’t even abide by its proclaimed divestment, and no university has implemented (or even endorsed) an anti-Israel resolution passed by its student government. But the institutions that adopt them can still lose members and face discrimination lawsuits and fines.

In November 2018, Airbnb announced that it was removing Jewish-owned properties in the West Bank properties from their vacation-home listings. The company was swiftly and publicly denounced. It faced discrimination lawsuits in multiple states. Texas and Florida forbade employees from renting Airbnb properties. Six months later, the company admitted its mistake and reversed the ill-advised—but never implemented!—boycott policy. It even stated that “Airbnb has always opposed the BDS movement.” And it delayed its initial public offering of shares, possibly waiting for the public-relations disaster to subside. So much for another BDS “win”….

Other boycotting organizations have also suffered. After it endorsed the BDS campaign, the American Studies Association was widely denounced, lost members, and was sued. A civil-rights group warned a hotel that was due to host the ASA’s annual conference that it may be violating federal and state antidiscrimination laws if it allows the organization to exclude participants based on their national origin. Like Airbnb, the ASA quickly backtracked.

When the Olympia Food Co-op removed Israeli products, it faced a seven-year legal battle that reached all the way to the Washington State Supreme Court. Unprepared for the blowback, the Co-op admitted that “it was a challenging time for staff and Board, and also for the community” and vowed to “Establish a task force to create a structure for reconciliation.” Clearly, while Israel hasn’t suffered from BDS initiatives, the boycotters have.

The third and most tragic victim of BDS efforts is the cause of peace. Without dialog there can be no coexistence, and without coexistence there can be no peace. Rejecting and condemning any form of social, cultural, or commercial ties with Israel or with individual Israelis increases the disaffection, hostility, and alienation between the two peoples. Diehard Palestinian nationalists refuse to engage even with the most pro-peace, pro-Palestinian, anti-occupation Israelis. How can they possibly ever reconcile?

Even people who have nothing to do with BDS—or with Israel—can get caught in these ugly battles. Anti-Israel rhetoric doesn’t end with boycotts and divestment; it doesn’t even end with Israel. Alleged Israeli transgressions are projected onto individual Jews and the Jewish people as a whole.

BDS advocates “are making students feel unsafe” on American college campuses. In Britain, “discourse about Israel and Zionism on campus can often be aggressive, intimidating and toxic, leaving some Jewish students frightened, angry and confused.” In Europe, dissatisfaction with Israeli and American policies “was used as a pretext for stormy demonstrations accompanied by attacks on Jews” and “anti-Israeli attitudes [are] expressed in antisemitic terms.”

In 2006, a gunman burst into the offices of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, saying he was “angry at Israel.” He murdered Pamela Waechter z”l and wounded five others. The BDS campaign starts by delegitimizing the Jewish state and escalates to demonizing all Jews (and even non-Jews who support Israel), bullying, incitement, violence and even murder. It doesn’t hurt Israel—but it definitely makes life unpleasant, and sometimes dangerous, for Jews everywhere.

As Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has observed, the hate that starts with the Jews never ends there. The bigotry, discrimination, and slander of BDS may not hurt Israel, but it has other—unintended—victims and consequences.

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Also published at The Times of Israel (July 18, 2019). As always, your feedback is very welcome and actively solicited. Please contact me with your reactions, additions, and rebuttals.

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