The political warfare against Israel known as the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement has been gradually losing ground. In the economic sphere, these campaigns never amounted to much, and Israeli firms are continuing to expand sales and partnerships worldwide. “BDS lite,” in the form of European labelling for goods produced beyond the pre-1967 “green line” (including the Golan) has had no measurable impact. Culturally, the artists’ boycott has had a terrible year (or rather, Israelis had a good concert season), as performers from around the world have come this summer.
In the United States, the counterattacks against obsessive and discriminatory anti-Israel campaigns led a number of states to make such boycotts illegal, and in Ottawa, Parliament overwhelmingly voted to “condemn any and all attempts by Canadian organizations, groups or individuals to promote the BDS movement, both here at home and abroad.” As well, a number of European governments that fund hate groups under the guise of human rights are pulling back. In these venues, BDS is a losing proposition.
However, there are other battlegrounds where BDS continues to advance, including a major push to demonize the Jewish National Fund and to increase pressure in the academic realm and among mainline Protestant churches. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s declaration in the Knesset that the “BDS war has been defeated” was premature and overstated.
In the universities, the focus and tactics have been shifting from student councils to professional groups. In the past year, intense boycott votes have been held by the Modern Language Association, the American Public Health Association and the American Anthropological Association, among others.
In these three frameworks, members voted against BDS, but debates referring to Israel through terms such as “apartheid,” “war crimes” and “ethnic cleansing” did major damage. At the same time, there is increasing evidence of individual and often “silent” boycotts against Israeli academics, in the form of conference invitations that never come or are rescinded, as well as refusals to participate as referees for journal submissions and in promotion committees.
In the churches, the results are mixed, at best. The Geneva-based World Council of Churches is deeply invested in anti-Israel warfare, often with theologically anti-Semitic themes. In the past year, the Presbyterians and the United Church of Christ voted in favour of boycott and divest resolutions, while the Methodists narrowly rejected similar resolutions, as did the Episcopal Church. Like the other BDS debates, the publicity given to anti-Israel hate speech based on double standards and false accusations under the moral façade of human rights continues.
For the BDS campaigns, the JNF represents a new and promising target, serving as a visible and tangible substitute for the State of Israel in the cities of North America and Europe. Demonstrations against JNF dinners and events do not attract many participants, but the disruptions get media attention and thus serve the objective.
More dangerous are the campaigns seeking to revoke the JNF’s charitable status in Canada, Britain and the United States and thus cripple its activities on behalf of Israel and Zionism. Led by marginal groups such as the Green party, as in the wider BDS campaign, they exploit the combination of fundamental ignorance and bias against Israel, and use a few fringe Jews as fig leaves to claim legitimacy.
In these arenas, the main impact of BDS is the ongoing demonization of Israel and Israelis, which, above all, has a debilitating psychological toll and also contributes to physical attacks against Jews. On North American campuses, studies show increased anti-Semitism and an environment hostile to Jewish students and faculty.
For these reasons, the fight against BDS in its various forms remains crucial for Israel and the Jewish People. Overstating the threat does not help, but neither does the effort to diminish the impacts or pretend that the war is over.