Israel Is Foolish to Get Down and Dirty With BDS

Government intervention is hardly a recipe for success; Israel is better off leaving the fight against BDS to organizations that know how to do it.

David Rosenberg
David Rosenberg
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A BDS demonstration in Melbourne, Australia, 2010.
A BDS demonstration in Melbourne, Australia, 2010.Credit: Mohammed Ouda/Wikimedia Commons
David Rosenberg
David Rosenberg

Fifteen or so years ago, at a time when India had recently won a string of international beauty contests, an intrepid reporter sought to uncover the secret of the country’s success. Probably the best answer he got was that it was one of the few activities where the government wasn’t involved.

“The moment the government decides to help and sets up a Ministry of Beauty, all will be lost,” to paraphrase the answer.

Over here in Israel, the government has left beauty pageants alone. But it is now determined to enter the fight against boycott, sanctions and divestment movement and has allocated 128 million shekels (about $33 million) to the Strategic Affairs Ministry for this year alone to fight the delegitimization of Israel. “Our goal is that in 2025 no-one in the world will question Israel's right to exist," Director General Sima Vaknin told lawmakers on Sunday

No-one in the world? Iran? The Muslim Brotherhood? Student councils at trendy liberal arts schools? Berkeley community activists? Black Lives Matter?

If that goal sounds a little ridiculous, that’s just a start.

'Throw' the bums 'out'

Having set a pretty exacting deadline, Vaknin then told lawmakers that a committee of officials from a various ministries had been formed to agree on a desired alternative narrative they would like to see in the world regarding Israel.

And that is how, dear readers, the first nine months of the nine-year timetable will be consumed. By the time, it has completed its work, its minister, Gilad Erdan, will probably have moved on to better things and a new minister will, of course, want his or her own plan, a better definition of delegitimization and a more ambitious deadline.

Meanwhile, Strategic Affairs Minister Erdan opened fire on BDS on another front Sunday, wearing his second hat as public security minister. He and Interior Minister Arye Dery agreed to form a joint taskforce that will devise ways to prevent foreign BDS activists from entering Israel and the West Bank, and to deport those already here.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

It’s hard to see how expelling activists from the West Bank will strike a blow against BDS, since the movement, by its nature, operates outside of Israel, propagandizing on college campuses, with church groups and labor unions, and the like.

One can only assume Erdan’s real target isn’t BDS but Likud voters, who will be heartened by the thought of Israel’s enemies being packed off to London or San Francisco.

That was the only reason to advertise the plan, which is dumb – but especially dumb if you make it public, thereby giving more ammunition for critics of Israel who say it is suppressing free speech.

Much yowling, little pain

There are really two different BDS threats. The first and the really important one is that businesses and governments will begin boycotting Israel -- which would bring us to our knees. We are too reliant on international trade and investment, as well as Western diplomatic support, to survive that kind of boycott. But there's nothing like that on the horizon, even though Vaknin strangely insists that the world perceives Israel as a pariah state.

Maybe that is because she is thinking of the second BDS threat – the one occurring on college campuses and a few other places where Israel is persona non grata.

This BDS attracts a lot of attention but it’s basically of little consequence. As unpleasant as it is to see a bunch of self-righteous 20-year olds passing resolutions condemning Israel as an apartheid state, it only becomes a problem when a group of 60-year-old trustees vote to divest the university’s portfolio of its Israel holdings. None have.

A pro-BDS student at an Open Hillel Conference.Credit: Gili Getz

But the fight on college campuses and other bastions of leftist politics has mysteriously grabbed the government’s attention. It wants to get down and dirty with grassroots activists, engaging them in online warfare and digging up dirt on them, all of which is an undignified and ridiculous waste of the state’s time and money. Let Jewish, Christian and Zionist groups meet the enemy, such as it is. They know the territory and can do it more effectively.



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