To Combat BDS, 'Solve the Palestinian Issue,' Say Top U.S. and EU Diplomats

Participants at a daylong conference addressing the growing international boycott movement against Israel agreed that ‘political goodwill’ is the best antidote.

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People look at caricatures of Israeli artists against the BDS movement displayed during the Ynet and Yedioth Ahronoth's anti-BDS conference, Jerusalem, Israel, March 28, 2016.
People look at caricatures of Israeli artists against the BDS movement displayed during the Ynet and Yedioth Ahronoth's anti-BDS conference, Jerusalem, Israel, March 28, 2016.Credit: AFP

While expressing absolute condemnation of the growing international boycott movement against the Jewish state, the ambassadors of the United States and the European Union had similar words of advice Monday for Israeli government leaders: If you want BDS to go away, revive negotiations with the Palestinians.

Speaking at a conference in Jerusalem, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro stressed that his country’s opposition to the boycott movement was “resolute” and that it had demonstrated its commitment to fight such initiatives since the early 1970s.

“But it has always been the case that one of our most effective tools to defeat boycotts and delegitimization is the presentation of a political process, negotiations or some political horizon that gives hope for a two-states-for-two-peoples resolution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict,” he said. 

“Our unwavering commitment to defend Israel against boycotts and de-legitimization does not change and will not change, but when we have such a tool, our hand is strengthened. Not with the core advocates of BDS, who have a truly anti-Israel agenda independent of the conflict, but with those who are persuadable, and there are significant numbers of such people.”

Lars Faaberg-Anderson, the European Union ambassador to Israel, made the case even stronger, saying: “The most effective antidote to BDS is to solve the Palestinian issue. If it were solved, there would be no BDS movement.  It would shrink into virtually nothing.”

The two were guest speakers at a conference sponsored by the Yedioth Ahronot newspaper group titled “Stop the Boycott.” Among the keynote speakers was American actress and comedian Roseanne Barr, a born-again, pro-Israel advocate, who referred to BDS as a “right-wing, fascist movement.”

Faaberg-Anderson himself had come under intense pressure from the BDS movement to withdraw his participation from the conference, after it became known that he would be sitting on the same panel as settler leader Dani Dayan, whose appointment as Israel’s next consul-general to New York was just announced. 

“I’m totally undeterred by allegations against me,” Faaberg-Anderson said when asked to comment on the campaign against his participation. “Sometimes it’s the BDS movement and sometimes it’s fanatic settlers.”

The ambassador stressed that the European Union opposes all forms of boycott against Israel. “Let me make something 100 percent clear,” he said. “The EU is against BDS. Our policy is totally the opposite – one of engagement with Israel, and we have a long track record to prove it.”

New EU directives that require special labeling of products made in West Bank settlements, Faaberg-Anderson insisted, were nothing more than an attempt to provide European consumers with full disclosure about the origins of their products.  “The settlements are not part of Israel, and for that reason products from the settlements, although they are welcomed in the European market, they are not given the same preferential treatment,” he said. “This has nothing to do with BDS.”

The ambassador, who hails from Denmark, warned Israel against exaggerating the importance of the boycott campaign. “Most people agree that the BDS phenomenon is marginal and has very little impact on Israel,” he said. “It’s important to keep a sense of proportion and make sure we’re not talking up this phenomenon. There’s a big big difference between legitimate criticism of Israel and BDS, and there’s a great risk that by lumping them together you give the BDS movement prominence it doesn’t have.” 

Speaking on the same panel, Dayan warned against succumbing to what he called the “little BDS” – a boycott of products from Jewish settlements in the West Bank.  “It is a slippery slope,” he said. 

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog said that responding to every BDS initiative was the equivalent of “swatting at mosquitoes.”  “What we have to do is dry up the whole swamp,” he said, “and that means separating from the Palestinians and calming tensions.”

On a special panel devoted to the boycott of Israeli academics, the former head of the American Association of University Professors warned the Israeli government against direct involvement in anti-BDS efforts in the United States. 

“I’ve heard lots of chest-pumping here today, but the job of fighting this is up to those of us in the country,” said Cary Nelson, a professor at University of Illinois. “We’re the ones who understand the language these people talk.”

Nelson, a well-known pro-Israel advocate in American academia, said the Israeli government could best help combat BDS efforts by showing some political goodwill and curtailing settlement activity. 

“You can send a message to the international community that while you are not yet ready to negotiate a final solution to the conflict, you still want to leave the possibility of negotiation open,” he said. “And you can say that while you will continue settlement expansion west of the security barrier, you will stop settlement expansion east of the security barrier. That would be a useful weapon for those of us fighting BDS.”