Opinion

Hopelessly Criminalizing BDS Only Augments Its Impact

Dickinson’s 20,000 inhabitants, who had probably never heard of Israel, are now new and ardent supporters of the movement to boycott it

Damage from Hurricane Harvey in Port Arthur, Texas on Sep 28, 2017
Damage from Hurricane Harvey in Port Arthur, Texas on Sep 28, 2017 David Goldman/AP

Imagine a natural disaster in Israel, after which city officials demand that victims sign a form swearing never to boycott Iceland before they can receive aid. In their distress, people who never dreamed of boycotting Iceland will sign anything. Now you have them hating that Nordic island nation.

That ridiculous scenario is exactly what unfolded in Dickinson, Texas, after Hurricane Harvey. Agreeing in writing not to boycott Israel was a precondition for receiving compensation. Dickinson’s 20,000 inhabitants, who had probably never heard of Israel and even more assuredly have never thought of boycotting it, are now new and ardent supporters of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. This is how “Hurricane Israel,” in the words of Mayor Julie Masters, was born.

Hungry for power and control, and working with unbridled enthusiasm, “friends” of Israel are trying to combat this movement any way they can. In fact, they are only augmenting its impact. Anyone wishing to understand how anti-Semitism is born and how the seeds of its violence are sown is invited to visit Dickinson. The obligation not to boycott Israel is the essence of everything anti-Semites claim: Jews control the money, power and influence, everywhere. One doesn’t need “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” we have Dickinson.

The process of criminalizing the BDS movement is intensifying in the U.S. and Europe. Laws that have never been passed against any other protest movement are being enacted against it. Anyone who boycotts Israel is a criminal. Anyone who heeds his conscience is a transgressor. Israel’s propagandists, false friends and diplomats are chalking up one success after another, but these are false gains. This aggressive campaign will blow up in their face. Dickinson embodies the height of farce but such legislation is scandalous anywhere. It’s hard to fathom how democrats around the world remain silent in face of the draconian and anti-democratic criminalization taking place in their countries. One doesn’t have to support a boycott of Israel in order to oppose its criminalization. Every democrat knows boycott is a legitimate means, a nonviolent and democratic way for civil society to express protest. What could be more inspiring than citizens following their conscience? Animal rights activists boycott butcher shops, religious Jews boycott nonkosher shops, advocates of social justice boycott sweatshops, law enforcement agencies impound stolen goods and supporters of international law boycott the Israeli occupier. Could anything be more sublime?

Not in the world that Israel and its delegates are trying to establish. On Wednesday, Chaim Levinson and Barak Ravid reported in Haaretz on a clandestine legal unit the state is employing overseas against the BDS movement. This ridiculous secretive apparatus is involved in “gathering intelligence and attacking,” no less, with millions of shekels invested in the venture. Thus, Israel is increasingly becoming more like its predecessor, South Africa. Now it’s not only an apartheid regime in the occupied territories, it’s a war waged by those responsible for it against the critics of this regime around the world. Israel is already there, stirring the pot in foreign countries, as if it was in charge there. Maybe it is indirectly responsible for the madness of Dickinson.

Legislation, intelligence-gathering, attacking, propaganda, lawyers, surveillance, a desperate and hopeless battle. This fearless campaign lacks just one ingredient: the justice of its path. Does Jerusalem really believe that by threats and strong-arm tactics Israel will change world opinion? Does this campaign’s leader, Israel’s minister of information, public security and strategic affairs, Gilad Erdan, think that through legal action Israel will win friends? Perhaps instead of all these propaganda brigades and hordes of legal experts it would be simpler to consider a change of policy, the one that is at the root of all these attacks? After all, we’ve learned from South Africa that without a regime change this battle is lost. So perhaps we should instead strive to change the regime in the territories. Oops, no one has thought of that in Jerusalem.