The BDS Narrative Rests Upon Lies; Telling the Truth Can Defeat It

Most U.S. students just want to do the right thing about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Facts and logic still move them. The mission of the Maccabee Task Force is therefore quite clear.

David Brog
David Brog
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A BDS stand at the University of California Berkeley, January 2015. Credit: Noam Eshel
David Brog
David Brog

From a purely financial perspective, boycott, divestment and sanction campaigns on American college campuses have been a bust. No major American college has withdrawn so much as one dollar from the Israeli economy as a result of this movement. Campus divestment resolutions are merely recommendations from a small and often marginal group of student legislators. Thus far, most college administrators have politely declined the advice.

Yet those who would dismiss BDS as sound and fury miss its startling significance.

BDS has never been about stopping American investment in Israel today. This movement is focused on the far more ambitious goal of ending American support for Israel tomorrow. BDS supporters are working diligently to turn a generation of Americans against Israel and are quite happy to enjoy the fruit of their labor when these students run our government, media and corporations.

This goal is far more realistic than it may seem. Repeated polls show that while America as a whole has never been more pro-Israel, this support drops dramatically as we move from older to younger generations. BDS is hardly the only reason for this decline. But it contributes to it while thriving in a student body already softened by biased media, hostile academia and a progressive movement that is increasingly embracing a nihilistic relativism.

The good news is that BDS is constructing a house of cards. Some of these cards are outright falsehoods about Israel. Others are merely gross oversimplifications of a complex reality. Pull out a card or two and the edifice falls. Thus we see BDS make lightening advances by slandering Israel with the right words to the right audiences. But then the burden shifts. Now they must hold their territory of lies. They must hide all evidence of Palestinian violence and repeated rejection of peace offers. They must erase all signs of Israeli moderation. The soft underbelly of BDS is the truth.

The mission of the Maccabee Task Force is therefore quite clear. To tell the truth about Israel. To tell it clearly. To tell it boldly. Most of all, to tell it repeatedly.

All who seek to fight BDS must do the same.

The Maccabee Task Force recently sponsored a series of focus groups with students from campuses facing active BDS campaigns. The students who participated knew very little about the conflict, yet most shared a vague sense that Israel is occupying Palestinian land. They were therefore often sympathetic to the idea of boycotts and other non-violent means of pressuring Israel to end this occupation. The BDS narrative has clearly percolated into their minds.  

But then something interesting happened. These students were asked to read a series of statements responding to the BDS narrative. They read, for example, that Israel has made some quite serious peace offers to the Palestinians. They read that these offers were rejected, sometimes quite violently. They read that Israel’s conflict with her neighbors is a complex one, and that it’s hardly fair to place all of the blame for it on one side. In case after case, these students volunteered that these facts made them less sympathetic to the idea of boycotting Israel. What many previously perceived as a righteous stand against oppression suddenly felt more like an extreme effort to scapegoat Israel. And that’s precisely what BDS is.

This claim, that the truth about Israel can defeat BDS, is no doubt causing many jaded friends of Israel to roll their eyes. They’re already certain that teaching such history will change nothing. They insist that the only way to defeat BDS is to first unseat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. What they’re saying, in so many words, is that the BDS narrative is fundamentally correct, and therefore only a dramatic change in Israeli policy can defeat it.

Yet such one-sided condemnation of Israel by her supporters rings just as hollow as that of her detractors. Israel’s conflict with her neighbors is more complex than they care to admit. And our students are far more comfortable with nuance than they seem to realize. It takes thick ideological blinders to ignore decades of Palestinian rejection, terror, and downright hate. Most American students are not that far gone. They just want to do the right thing. And when it comes to what the right thing may be, they are still moved by facts and logic.  

The truth we must share is neither right-wing nor left-wing. While we in the pro-Israel community are divided on so many issues, fighting BDS need not be one of them. Let us go forth and tell the truth. And let us tell it together.

David Brog is the executive director of the Maccabee Task Force.