A college student assembly passes an anti-Israel resolution. Benjamin Netanyahu plans visits to Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. A labor union declares its support for BDS. Japanese companies push to increase investment in Israel. A pop star pulls out of a concert in Tel Aviv. India and Israel expand defense collaboration. Activists say the world is turning against the Jewish state. Vladimir Putin declares Israel Russia’s unconditional ally. A leftist co-op discontinues Israeli products. Washington and Jerusalem conclude a $38 billion aid package.
We could continue these comparisons ad nauseum, but the point is clear: around the world, broader engagement with Israel is outpacing symbolic disavowals of Zionism and the Jewish state. American Jewish community leaders and organizations should institute programs that reflect this reality.
The narrative of “#BDSfail” and large-scale counter boycott actions cannot coexist without raising some questions: is Israel under serious threat of international boycott, or is the campaign foundering? Advocacy groups frequently share examples of “#BDSfail” on social media. But the same organizations continue to organize anti-BDS conferences, like StandWithUs’s convention in Los Angeles and Sheldon Adelson’s Las Vegas gathering. These entities conduct massive fundraising to fight the boycott movement. Many advocacy and community groups applaud American state governments that take legislative action against BDS. Many organizations fight the BDS movement on massive budgets – StandWithUs operates on $10 million USD – funded through major donations. If BDS is failing, why is this money being allocated solely to fight BDS?
The potency of BDS is not only inflated among Zionist Jews, but also among advocates of the boycott itself. For the BDS movement, heavy-handed interventions against its activism is viewed as a morale boost, affirmation that its work actually poses a threat, and incentive to continue its campaigns.
The BDS brand and accompanying anti-BDS conventions are relatively new. The boycott itself is not. Israel’s detractors abstained from purchasing Israeli products and investing in Israeli businesses before BDS’s official inception 2005 and will likely do so in perpetuity. BDS cannot be defeated in a conventional sense because its goal – the dissolution of Israel as a Jewish state – is not realistically attainable, and so can be pursued by anti-Zionists indefinitely. Because Israel is a stable state, the BDS movement will have a target for decades to come. The multi-million dollar anti-BDS industry will continue to place an emotional, political, and financial drain on the U.S. Jewish community, unless American Jews and their allies opt not to take the bait. By allocating such funds in the first place, one could argue that BDS is winning, which should not be the case.
This does not mean the BDS movement should be completely ignored. Rather than pursuing measures aimed at countering boycotts and promoting “buycotts,” American Jewish groups can focus on identifying the anti-Semitic rhetoric that frequently accompanies pro-BDS efforts. It may be harder to attract donors when BDS is viewed in perspective. However, it is unhealthy to place American Jews – particularly college students – on a perpetual war footing against a threat that may never come to pass. Without ignoring dangerous anti-Jewish invectives, communities should avoid a siege mentality that prevents Jewish students and professionals alike from honestly judging Israel’s achievements and failures.
The boycott bogeyman does provide American Jewish organizations with a focus. Deconstructing the BDS paper tiger will mean realigning our community’s efforts around Israel. Absent a monolithic threat, introspection may become more commonplace, healthy disagreement can be embraced, and more nuanced conversations will be needed to foster necessary cohesion where anti-BDS campaigns once rallied American Jews to a cause.
The American Jewish community’s BDS obsession robs time from our synagogues, JCCs, Hillel houses, and youth groups, time that could be spent on engaging and illuminating Jewish and Zionist programs. The BDS movement has gone by many names since well before 1948. Its rhetoric should not go ignored, but its continued lack of success must be recognized. Our communities may find more disagreement on Israel if we shake our attachment to the BDS distraction, but our present condition is one of cognitive dissonance.