Opinion |

The Long-running Fiction About BDS

A senior Israeli official serving in the United States didn’t even attempt to evade the truth. It’s true, he told me – we have been greatly exaggerating the issue of the boycott. It’s a marginal, insignificant phenomenon

Nitzan Horowitz
Nitzan Horowitz
BDS activists in Los Angeles, August 22, 2016.
BDS activists in Los Angeles, August 22, 2016. Credit: AFP / Robyn Beck
Nitzan Horowitz
Nitzan Horowitz

It’s a well-known rule in politics: the more inflated the job description, the more the actual position is meaningless and superfluous. Take, for example, the government department with the grandiose name of the Ministry of Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy. It was invented by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and became a consolation prize handed to all kinds of cabinet members whose egos had been hurt.

It has been dismantled and reconstituted several times. This coalition-building fiction is now in the hands of Gilad Erdan, who wants to turn it into a mini-Mossad or at least a little Shin Bet. He is promoting an outrageous bill that would exempt the ministry’s operations from the Freedom of Information Law and give it cover for acts such as tracking Israeli citizens and sneaking agents onto college campuses to fight the BDS (boycott, sanctions and divestment) movement.

This too involves a fabrication, one of the most widespread legends cultivated by the government – the idea that there is a huge movement in the West threatening Israel and working to boycott the country out of opposition to its very existence. This lie has many accomplices who know the reality but either handsomely profit from it or are afraid to buck the party line.

But isn’t there opposition to Israel and its policies? Of course there is, but not of the kind that the government describes. Yes, I have read the official reports, heard the briefings and have also visited a lot of colleges and universities in the United States and Europe. I’ve met activists of all kinds – Jews and non-Jews, supporters and opponents, on the right and the left. Here and there were a few BDS activists as well as “anti-Israel” individuals who denied Israel’s right to exist. But they were an insignificant minority.

A senior Israeli official serving in the United States didn’t even attempt to evade the truth. It’s true, he told me – we have been greatly exaggerating the issue of the boycott. It’s a marginal, insignificant phenomenon.

The BDS movement, which advocates the boycott of Israel, its institutions and products, culture and higher education, is tiny (and even the movement itself says it doesn’t deny Israel’s right to exist, although one can quibble about that). Armies of Israeli politicians, diplomats, political wheeler-dealers and journalists are profiting handsomely from the fight against the delegitimization of Israel. That too is frightfully exaggerated.

There barely exists any delegitimization of Israel. What is prominent and substantial, despite the sentiments of Israel’s current leadership, is broad opposition around the world to the occupation and the settlements. Protest over these issues comes up in every discussion of Israel. It’s also prominent within the Jewish community, certainly among college students and other young people.

It’s difficult for the Israeli establishment to deal with them. They love Israel rather than hate it, and they are certainly not anti-Semites. They are like most Israelis, who love their country and want there to be a diplomatic solution to the conflict. Since the current Israeli government wants the settlements and continued control of the territories, it cultivates an intimidating image of the boycott movement, actually strengthening it for clearly political reasons.

There’s a cynical confluence of interests here: Both maintain that Israel and the occupation are inseparable. Boycott activists explain that it’s not enough to boycott the settlements because the problem is with all of Israel, with Zionism. The Israeli government, sad to say, basically says the same thing: The territories, the settlements, the occupation – are Israel, and whoever boycotts them is taking action against Israel and against all Israelis. It was in this spirit that the 2011 boycott law was passed.

It’s very disheartening to see others, such as Yair Lapid, adopting this same twisted line. In so doing, they are only strengthening the extreme right. Let’s be clear: The legislative moves and the rigid hasbara strategy are not aimed at boosting Israel’s standing in the world, but above all at influencing Israelis to oppose a political solution. They assert that the settlements and the occupation don’t make any difference, that Israel is hated and boycotted because of its very existence and no political solution will help.The truth is that Israel’s standing is dramatically affected by the political situation. Boycott activity is also closely tied to developments in the conflict and is not a “constant.” The Foreign Ministry found that during 2014’s Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, the “BDS discourse,” as they call it, increased tenfold – from a few thousand people actively posting on social media to tens of thousands. But the government and its legions of advocates will not be swayed: The whole world is against us, criticism of the occupation is anti-Semitism, there’s no point in a diplomatic move because Israel-hatred is permanent. In this way, Israel plays into the hands of the boycott movement.

The world’s Jewish communities, all of Israel’s friends in the world, and especially Israelis themselves must be urged: Don’t go along with this unfounded hasbara argument. Opposition to the occupation and the settlements is not “anti-Israeli.” It does not weaken Israel, it strengthens it. It is completely legitimate opposition. Moreover, it is genuinely patriotic, because ending the occupation with the two-state solution is the way to ensure the Zionist vision and Israel’s endurance as a Jewish and democratic state, and the guarantee of its security and prosperity. Instead of spending a fortune fighting fringe elements and enacting anti-democratic laws, it would be better to invest in advancing the two-state solution: the only sure way to improve Israel’s standing in the world and our situation in this country.