What BDS Really Wants: A One-state Solution, Minus the Jewish State

The movement may claim to be driven by a concern for Palestinian human rights and justice, but this idealistic message is a smokescreen that hides an ugly agenda.

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A pin with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) logo.
A pin with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) logo.Credit: AP

The boycott, divestment and sanctions movement has consistently demonized Israelis and Diaspora Jews, irrespective of their widely varied views on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Last month, a prominent Australian BDS advocate, Associate Professor Jake Lynch from the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Sydney was publicly accused of anti-Semitism. Lynch had waved banknotes in the face of (and threatened to sue) an elderly Jewish woman who had thrown water in his face from a drink bottle, following an aggressive disruption by pro-Palestinian activists of a talk at the university by a retired British army colonel and pro-Israel speaker, Richard Kemp. Lynch was cleared of allegations of anti-Semitism this week, but is still being investigated by the university for possible breaches of its behavioural code of conduct.

Lynch's actions at this event were consistent with a long pattern of discriminatory, McCarthyist behaviour directed at Israeli Jews and left-wing Jewish supporters of Israel’s right to exist.

In early 2013, Lynch chose to boycott the visiting Israeli academic Dan Avnon, a Hebrew University political scientist renowned as the only Israeli scholar to draft national civics curriculums aimed jointly at both Jewish and Arab children. His work has often been attacked by hardline Israeli nationalists. Despite the fact that Avnon is involved in combatting intolerance and promoting peace and conflict resolution, Lynch refused contact on the grounds that Avnon is affiliated with an Israeli university.

As we note in our new book, "Boycotting Israel is Wrong: The Progressive Path to Peace between Palestinians and Israelis," the case of Avnon is but one of many examples that expose the BDS movement’s true aims. Another is the movements' insistence on a so-called right of return for Palestinian refugees of 1948 and their millions of descendants to Green Line Israel. Given the current hatred between Israelis and Palestinians, it is very likely that any large-scale return of refugees to Israel would bring civil war and enormous bloodshed rather than peace and reconciliation. It would almost certainly turn the Jewish population into a disempowered minority, and is inherently inconsistent with any form of two-state solution.

The self-described "global" BDS movement claims to be driven by a principled concern for Palestinian human rights and justice. But this idealistic, Universalist message is arguably a philosophical smokescreen behind which sits an ugly nationalist agenda: the abolition of the State of Israel and its replacement by an Arab-majority State of Greater Palestine. If successful, BDS would almost certainly produce the expulsion of most Israeli Jews from their homeland.

Further evidence of the BDS movement’s extremism is provided by its regular vilification of moderate Israelis and others who favour mutual compromise. BDS advocates do not target their polemics at hawkish individuals such as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or the Greater Israel settler movement (although there is a discrete boycott campaign against settlement products, this is mostly the preserve of Peter Beinart and other left-wing Zionists who support Israel's ongoing existence. The dominant BDS position favors boycotting all Israelis, not the settlements alone). Rather, its principal anger is directed at those Israelis who recognize both Israeli and Palestinian national rights. In his book on BDS, the movement's leader Omar Barghouti slams left-wing Israelis for rejecting only the occupation, rather than Israel’s very existence. He accuses prominent peace activists, such as Amos Oz, A.B. Yehoshua and Uri Avnery, of being "racists" because they refused to support an unlimited Palestinian Right of Return, and derides Avnery for wanting to preserve Israel’s “Jewish character.”

Jake Lynch, head of the University of Sydney's Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies Credit: Karl Schwerdtfeger

A third manifestation is the BDS movement’s discriminatory policy of boycotting individual Israeli academics, many of whom are associated with the political left. Activists claim that their boycott is only directed at institutional arrangements with Israeli universities, and does not adversely impact individual academics. As is evident in the Lynch-Avnon case, this is nonsense. BDS fails to distinguish between Israeli civil society organisations including universities and the state, and attempts to hold academics collectively responsible for state actions. Consequently, Israeli academics are denied opportunities to travel to international conferences, to develop inter-collegial relationships, and to participate in inter-institutional research projects.

This ugly policy of boycotting Israelis on the basis of their nationality underpinned Lynch’s decision to boycott Avnon. Not surprisingly, it was lampooned by Israeli hawks who also reject mutual compromise leading to a negotiated two-state solution. Lynch’s actions were sarcastically applauded by Israeli columnist Ben-Dror Yemini who commented that "it served him right. Professor Avnon tried to incite against the Jewish state, and was boycotted because he is Israeli. He suddenly understood that there aren’t personal exemptions for an ingratiating academic."

Ben-Dror Yemini and Jake Lynch make strange bedfellows, but the Avnon affair amply demonstrates how BDS strengthens the Israeli right by undermining strategies for promoting Israeli-Palestinian peace and reconciliation.

Associate Professor Philip Mendes is the Director of the Social Inclusion and Social Policy Research Unit in the Department of Social Work at Monash University, and also holds an Honorary appointment in the Monash University Centre of Jewish Civilisation.

Dr. Nick Dyrenfurth is an Adjunct Research Fellow in the National Centre for Australian Studies at Monash University, and a leading media commentator. They are co-authors of the new book Boycotting Israel is Wrong: The progressive path to peace between Palestinians and Israelis published by New South Press.

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