The Israel Boycotters Are the Right Wing’s Useful Idiots

The BDS people are doing harm to Israel, but in ways diverging from their intents; they are being used by supporters of the settlers, as attention deflectors.

Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer
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Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer

Last week was a good one for Zionists in Scotland. It was also a good week for Caledonian abominators of the Jewish state. Both sides are claiming victory. In the annals of the Israel-Palestine conflict this was barely a skirmish, nothing to warrant even a footnote. But in the university town of St. Andrews, the battle of the Matzah Ball excited passions.

The university’s Jewish society, along with Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi, planned to hold its annual ball at the Golf Hotel last Friday. It wasn’t a huge event − the society numbers around 50 members − but along with the food and dancing, they hoped to raise a few hundred pounds for several Jewish and Israeli charities.

Here they ran afoul of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, which objected to including, among the charities, the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, an organization that funds educational and social programs for Israeli soldiers − or, as the SPSC puts it, supports “an occupation force that brutalizes, humiliates, kills and maims Palestinians, commits widespread human rights abuses to maintain the illegal occupation and settlements, and flouts international law.” They also objected to including the Jewish National Fund, which bills itself as a “global environmental leader ... bringing life to the Negev Desert and education students around the world about Israel and the environment,” but who, according to pro-Palestinians, are little more than “experts in racist land administration.”

Pressure was applied to the Golf Hotel not to allow the event to take place. The hotel was bombarded with phone calls and an online campaign, including threats of violence ‏(from which the campaigners belatedly distanced themselves‏). Two days before the ball, the Golf Hotel capitulated and canceled the event. SPSC was triumphant and celebrated on its website “a further blow to supporters of such human rights abuses.”

The organizers began looking for an alternate venue, but due to the short notice − or fear of more protests − they were refused by three other locations until finally they found a new site. The new location was kept secret; ticket-holders were instructed to meet on Friday evening at pubs in the area, where they were to be transferred by taxi to the event.

The ball went ahead ‏(with security‏), and according to one organizer it was “a success both in terms of the amounts raised for charity and the enjoyment of all our guests.” Apparently over a thousand pounds, three times the original goal, was raised.

So who won the Battle of Matzah Ball 2013? The SPSC which succeeded in getting a local hotel to cancel a fundraising event for Israeli charities, or the university’s Jewish students who held their ball?

Is the SPSC really proud of browbeating local businesses and intimidating the small Jewish community? And JSoc cannot be happy at having to celebrate at a secret and secure location.

An anecdote from distant borders

The Jewish community in Scotland is small, and statistically at least it is dwindling. The Scottish pro-Palestine movement is more radical than its counterparts in the rest of Britain and largely isolated from them. But what happened last week in St. Andrews still represents a much wider picture.

It is hard to assess the success of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. Despite the activists’ efforts, Israel’s export economy has flourished, dozens of international cooperation agreements have been signed, and hundreds of multinational companies have invested tens of billions in Israeli companies.

So a couple of American churches and a handful of European trade unions have voted to divest from Israel. Their effect has been negligible. One British supermarket chain has stopped buying Israeli produce and a few companies have pulled out of projects in which they were involved across the Green Line. Hardly anything that has hobbled Israeli businesses.

Neither is the academic boycott particularly effective. A few lecturers have found it difficult to publish articles, but it has barely limited Israeli academia.

Some singers canceled their performances in Israel; others prefer not to visit. Israeli musicians, dance troupes and theater companies have been heckled, mainly in Britain. But while music lovers in Tel Aviv may miss out on a few of their favorite performers, Israeli artists are still very much part of the international scene. There is no way of knowing how many business deals, concerts, conferences, package tours and co-productions would have taken place if foreigners were not afraid of drawing the ire of the BDS crowd.

Undoubtedly, there has been a cost. But if the intention was to isolate Israel and Israelis and to influence Israeli policies, it has been a total failure. The movement’s small success, mainly on university campuses and in a few places in Britain and South Africa, has been to remind Israelis and their Jewish supporters that they cannot ignore the Palestinian conflict. In effect, they tried to do what the Arab national movement failed at − deny Israel normalization. And to a large degree they have also failed.

Even under successive right-wing governments, Israel has expanded its trade relations, membership in international bodies, cultural and sporting ties. More crucially, they have provided a cause around which Jewish organizations and individuals ‏(all but a small fringe of anti-Zionists‏) can rally, a cause that unites them, a cause in which they have the support of the great majority of Western governments in fighting against Israel’s “delegitimization.”

And here is where they have truly caused damage and set back the cause of peace between Israel and its neighbors.

Despite the small industry of Jewish organizations and Israeli agencies dedicated to fighting “delegitimization,” no one in the West aside from a rag-tag group mostly comprised of aging hippies, radical students, champagne socialists, Arab emigres and detached professors is actually delegitimizing Israel.

Facebook may give them a deceptively loud voice. But if you spend a bit of time online and go to a few demonstrations, you will realize that it is just a bunch of the usual suspects, with a small supporting cast of disaffected young Muslim immigrants − and a few radical Jews, so the group can prove it is not anti-Semitic.

They are useful though to the Israeli right wing and supporters of the settlers who have effectively utilized the BDS people as bogeymen to deflect attention from what should be a concerted Jewish and Zionist campaign to convince the wide Israeli public to finally vote in a government dedicated to establishing a two-state solution and ending the occupation of another nation.

Small wonder Benjamin Netanyahu is such a fan; he has tasked his acolyte Yuval Steinitz with the useless position of minister of international relations, to fight the phantom of “delegitimization.” The boycotters are his useful idiots; their hysterical rhetoric supplies him with proof that the Palestinians don’t want peace, that all they want is to end the Jewish state. Not that BDS movement actually represents Palestinians actually living under occuption.

The BDS campaign is little more than a minor nuisance to Israel’s current policies; a movement whose successes include empty resolutions, heckling concerts and forcing Jewish students to dance in hiding. They have joined Jewish settlers in the West Bank as obstacles to peace. Read their literature and you will see how similar both groups are. They both oppose a two-state solution, both believe that Western media is biased against them, both abhor the Palestinian Authority and any real effort being made to improve the daily lives of Palestinian citizens, both see the Obama administration ‏(any American administration, for that matter‏) as a hostile entity, and while both deny racist tendencies, they are riddled with bigots and maintain contacts with dubious regimes and political parties.

The BDSers have only one advantage over the settlers − we can totally ignore them. Any undue attention to this rabble of misfits, cranks and conspiracy theorists only serves to aggrandize them and provides the settlers and their supporters with ammunition. Anyone who is serious about achieving lasting peace in the region should let them languish in obscurity.

A Belgian demonstrator displays a sign reading "Boycott Israel, racist state"Credit: Reuters

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