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September 16, 2019

Why BDS?

On Friday, May 17, Germany’s Bundestag became the first parliament in Europe (if not worldwide) to pass a motion labeling BDS - the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel - as anti-Semitic. 

“The pattern of argument and methods of the BDS movement are anti-Semitic,” the resolution stated, vowing not to fund any organizations that question Israel’s right to exist, call for a boycott of Israel, or actively support BDS. 

The non-binding motion claimed the campaign to boycott Israeli artists and goods was “reminiscent of the most terrible chapter in German history,” comparable to the Nazi slogan: “Don’t buy from Jews.”

The motion, which mentioned “growing unease” in the German-Jewish community as antisemitism has increased, was brought to Parliament by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union party and its Social Democratic coalition partner, as well as the liberal party and the Greens.

BDS, which was inspired by the AAM, the anti-apartheid movement, (originally known as the Boycott movement) has had several recent successes. In 2018, following Lorde and Lana Del Ray, nearly two dozen artists pulled out of a music festival in Israel. Most recently, the BDS movement has called on artists and fans to boycott the Eurovision Song Contest, arguing that Israel’s hosting of the event amounts to a “whitewashing” of the country’s policies towards “Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and in the besieged Gaza Strip.”

One can, and should, argue against some of the methods of BDS. To boycott Israeli goods is one thing, particularly those produced in the occupied territories, but the idea of an academic and cultural boycott is wrong. During the anti-apartheid campaign, the British Council continued to work culturally with South Africa and was praised by Nelson Mandela himself for doing so. 

The unfortunate and uncomfortable truth is that there are some subliminal currents of anti-Semitism in the BDS movement, and a few individuals that are unequivocally anti-Semitic.    

However, economic sanctions or the boycotting of Israeli goods is not an anti-Semitic act, and cannot be compared to the Nazi’s “don’t buy from the Jews” campaign. BDS are targeting Israeli businesses, not Jewish ones. And although Israel is not yet a fully apartheid state, people have the right to oppose the occupation of the Palestinians’ lands and people. To boycott is a legitimate, nonviolent action.   

The conflation of BDS and antisemitism is supported by the Israeli government (the most far-right Israeli government to date) which has, as the critics of the Bundestag motion pointed out, “formed part of a strategy to delegitimise any attempt at international solidarity with the Palestinian cause.”

On the other hand, it is no coincidence that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was one of the first leaders to congratulate the German Bundestag on its “important decision to recognize BDS as an anti-Semitic movement and that it is forbidden to support it.”

“I particularly appreciate the Bundestag’s call on Germany to stop funding organizations that work against the existence of the State of Israel,” Mr. Netanyahu said, “I hope this decision will lead to concrete action, and I call on other countries to adopt similar legislation.”

Yuli Edelstein, the speaker of the Israeli Parliament, tweeted: “Thank you #Bundestag! For the courageous and important decision! BDS is a dangerous, anti-Semitic movement. You are the first, but many others will follow in your footsteps.”

It is not surprising that the German far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) proposed a separate motion calling for a complete ban of the BDS movement. Jürgen Braun, an AfD MP, claimed that his party was the true friend of Israel in the German parliament, adding that “anti-Semitism comes from the left and Islam.” 

The AfD abstained on the government’s motion. In that aspect, it is important to look at crime statistics published by the German Interior Ministry earlier in May, showing that anti-Semitic crime and hate crime rose by 20 percent last year. The report found that far-right extremists committed 9 in 10 anti-Semitic offenses. Therefore, we are witnessing a theatre of the absurd, where far-right radicals, responsible for the majority of anti-Semitic hate crimes in Germany, are calling to ban a non-violent left-wing resistance movement because it is “anti-Semitic”. 

In a twist on Winston Churchill’s famous saying: people like the AfD MP Braun are wolves in wolves clothing.          

Image: Heri Rakotomalala via Flickr