By Andrew Tucker, Director, thinc.


The Israeli government has called the BDS movement the second most serious existential threat to Israel. Second only to the threats issued by Iran to destroy Israel. 

Israel is not overreacting. The BDS movement is both dangerous and misleading. As Canadian PM Trudeau recently remarked, it is also anti-Semitic. 

This is shown clearly by a report entitled Behind the Mask: the Antisemitic Nature of BDS Exposed that was launched late September in Brussels. Using the working definition of antisemitism of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), which was endorsed by the European Parliament, the European Council and 18 individual countries, the report presents some 100 examples of deeply anti-Semitic BDS imaginary and language. They fall into the three main categories identified by the IHRA definition: a) classical anti-Semitism, such as BDS cartoons of Israel represented as a hook-nosed religious Jew or as a pig with the Star of David. Also popular among BDS activists is the revival of medieval blood libels, such as accusing Israel of poisoning Palestinian water or drinking the blood of Palestinian children (President Abbas did this recently in the EU Parliament); b) Likening Israel to Nazis, such as when BDS activists accuse the Jewish state of carrying out  genocide or adorn the Israeli flag with a swastika; and c) denial of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination. 

The BDS movement purports to oppose Israel’s ongoing “illegal occupation” of the “Occupied Palestinian territories” (West Bank, Golan Heights and Gaza Strip). To ordinary people who have little knowledge of the region this may seem like a good cause. Who does not want to support the underdog?

But BDS is about much more than fighting the “occupation” of these territories. It is, fundamentally, about rejecting the right of the Jewish people to live as a nation within secure borders. This is because the BDS movement fundamentally rejects Zionism (in the sense of the expression of the right of the Jewish people to self-determination) as “racist” and “apartheid”. In so doing, they challenge the legitimacy of right of the Jewish people to live as a nation in Israel itself.

Secondly, the BDS movement requires the withdrawal of Israel from ALL of the “occupied territories”, and the creation of a Palestinian state within the so-called “1967 borders”. As anyone who has been in Israel knows, these “borders” are totally indefensible against a hostile neighbor.

The problem with the BDS movement is that it is distracting the world from the real problem: the rejection of their existence.

Ever since the Jews started investing in Palestine and building a strong economy over 100 years ago, the Arab Palestinians have suffered from a dysfunctional leadership that seems more bent on rejecting the Jews than on building a better society for its own people. The Palestinian Arab leadership has rejected several concrete proposals for an Arab Palestinian state – including 1947 (UN Partition Plan), 2000 (Clinton/Barak/Arafat) and 2008 (Bush/Olmert/Arafat). 

It is this spirit of what Professor Irwin Cotler has called “double-rejectionism” that has undermined any attempts to build a strong Arab Palestinian civil society. In 2008 Cotler wrote

“It is tragic to appreciate that had the Partition Resolution been accepted 60 years ago, there would have been no Arab-Israeli war – no refugees, Jewish or Arab – and none of the pain and suffering since. Indeed, we would have been celebrating the 60th anniversary of both the State of Israel and the State of Palestine. Moreover, this “double rejectionism,” where Arab leadership was prepared to forgo the establishment of a Palestinian state if it meant countenancing a Jewish state in any borders, not only found expression 60 years ago, but has underpinned the Arab-Israeli-Palestinian conflict ever since. Yet the revisionist Mideast narrative – prejudicial to authentic reconciliation and peace between peoples as well as between states – continues to hold that there was only one victim population, Palestinian refugees, and that Israel was responsible for the Palestinian Nakba of 1948. The result is that the pain and plight of 850,000 Jews uprooted and displaced from Arab countries – the forgotten exodus – has been both expunged and eclipsed from both the Middle East peace and justice narratives these past 60 years.”

These words are as true today as they were ten years ago.

Instead of requiring productive Israeli businesses to be removed from the West Bank, it is time for the international community to focus on the most urgent problem – stimulating good Arab Palestinian governance. Without a strong government, a Palestinian state is doomed to implode into chaos. There are plenty of good examples of this in the region. Just look at Syria and Libya.

The ordinary Palestinians deserve a better future. But that will only happen if they themselves build a strong leadership that promotes values of cooperation, mutual reconciliation and productivity – not hatred and destruction. In the first place that means dismantling the UNWRA camps, and making sure that the millions of dollars and euro’s of foreign aid received each year by the Palestinian Authority are channeled into productive projects – not the pockets of its corrupt leaders.

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