Home Perspectives Opinions Time to understand the danger of the BDS movement

Time to understand the danger of the BDS movement

A Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) protest against Israel in Melbourne, Australia, on June 5, 2010. [Mohamed Ouda via  Wikimedia Commons photo]

Motion 36, Queen’s Park’s Dec. 1 declaration denouncing BDS, the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel, received a lot of media attention and was heralded as an important victory for the Jewish community and others firmly committed to countering discrimination, hatred, and – especially – anti-Semitism

Thornhill, Ont.’s  MPP Gila Martow introduced the motion, which was adopted by all Liberal and Conservative members present but, sadly, not by the NDP.  The motion expressed the view that the House stood “firmly against any position or movement that promotes or encourages any form of hatred, hostility, prejudice, racism and intolerance in any way.”   


It also endorsed the Ottawa Protocol on combating anti-Semitism and rejected “the differential treatment of Israel, including the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.”

A Postmedia editorial commending the Ontario declaration as a “meaningful blow against anti-Semitism,” noted that the BDS movement’s “purported goal is to influence peace and stability in the region, but in reality the group demonizes Israel – for example, by comparing the democracy to 20th century apartheid South Africa – and employs divisive tactics to isolate Israel internationally.”

Other media reports expounded the same point: BDS pretends to be about peace but actually serves only to “delegitimize,” even “demonize” Israel.

What requires explanation, however, is precisely how BDS is a form of anti-Semitism and thus why all, including the NDP, who stand solidly against racism in any form should, without hesitation, oppose BDS.


The key to drawing this connection lies in the Ottawa Protocol, which parliamentarians unanimously adopted in 2010 as a statement against the growing global tide of anti-Semitism in all its manifestations, including anti-Zionism.

While noting that “criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic,” the protocol added the crucial qualification: “But singling Israel out for selective condemnation and opprobrium – let alone denying its right to exist or seeking its destruction – is discriminatory and hateful, and not saying so is dishonest.”

When – back in January 2009 –  Canadian writer and activist Naomi Klein, in the Nation magazine, penned her landmark BDS manifesto against Israel, she proudly declared that the movement aimed explicitly to “single out” Israel for special treatment. “Why single out Israel when the United States, Britain and other Western countries do the same [bad] things in Iraq and Afghanistan?  Boycott is not a dogma, it is a tactic.  The reason the BDS should be tried against Israel is practical: in a country so small and trade-dependent, it could actually work.”  A lab-rat experiment, in short.

Even if her intent hadn’t been to promote anti-Semitism, by the Ottawa Protocol’s definition, that was its effect. 

It gets worse. Omar Barghouti, the Palestinian founder of BDS, boasted that the aim of the movement, which emphasizes the centrality of the Palestinian claim of a “right of return” of millions of refugees to Israel, is the destruction of that country. 

As he explained in a 2009 interview with the Electronic Intifada: “people fighting for refugee rights like I am, know that you cannot reconcile the right of return for refugees with a two-state solution. That is the big white elephant in the room and people are ignoring it – a return for refugees would end Israel’s existence as a Jewish state.” Two years ago, Barghouti reiterated that toxic message at the University of Ottawa.

That’s the crux of the BDS movement: not only to isolate and demonize Israel but also to finish what the Arab world failed to achieve in their 1948 war against the nascent Jewish State – its elimination.

At the heart of the movement’s credo is its intolerance of Israel’s Jewish (and democratic) character by insisting that, through the “return” of Palestinian refugees, Israel would eventually become another Arab-majority state.

It’s time to connect all the dots about the BDS movement’s focus on “right of return” and embracing of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. It’s time to understand the danger of the movement’s harsh reality.  

Paul Michaels is CIJA’s research director.

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