Challenges to Israel's Legitimacy

Detroit Jewish News, January 14, 2016

If Spring is Approaching, Can BDS Activities Be Far Behind?

by Allan Gale, Associate Director, Jewish Community Relations Council of Metropolitan Detroit

             The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said: “Don’t use cures that don’t cure, blessings that don’t bless, solutions that don’t solve.” BDS tactics won’t solve the conflict. Encouraging investment, engagement and a negotiated solution will.

In a few weeks, as winter turns into spring, the prospect of anti-Israel BDS activities witnessed in recent years looms large on local college campuses and in other venues throughout our community. Advanced by some of Israel’s most ardent detractors, offensive tactics such as ‘Apartheid Wall’ displays, anti-Israel church resolutions, and attempts to pressure city councils, food co-ops or student governments to boycott or divest from Israel are central to the BDS Movement.

BDS refers to anti-Israel boycotts, divestments and sanctions intended to place economic and political pressure on the Jewish State in an attempt to influence its behavior and the behavior of other nations towards Israel. These strategies are being utilized by the “BDS Movement,” an international, radical network of individuals and organizations that propagates an extreme, inflammatory and biased political agenda designed to undermine the legitimacy of the State of Israel. It identifies Israel as the one and only guilty party in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and seeks to punish only Israel.  The true goal of BDS is to isolate and weaken Israel politically, economically and culturally. The movement’s overall objective is to challenge Israel’s right to exist as a western democracy, and to delegitimize the only sovereign homeland of the Jewish people.

The BDS Movement endeavors to have its agenda adopted by colleges and universities, churches, labor unions, civil and human rights organizations, community groups, co-ops, minority affinity groups, and others. While some BDS supporters claim that they are interested in an equitable and peaceful solution to the conflict, the movement’s approach impedes a just outcome and offers a distorted, intolerant and one-sided picture of a complex situation.

The boundaries of the BDS Movement and the actions of its supporters are not always clearly defined. Often the movement co-opts well-meaning people who are frustrated with the lack of progress in the peace process, angered by some of the actions of the Israeli government, or just want to take action to impact the political deadlock between Israel and the Palestinians.

Ironically, despite claiming to seek “peace,” the BDS Movement works unambiguously to undermine the “two states for two peoples” solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict - the commonly accepted goal of the United States, the European Union and the United Nations. For example, the movement calls for the return of Palestinian refugees to modern day Israel, not to a Palestinian state, a result which would create an Arab majority state in all of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, eliminating the State of Israel as we know it.

To achieve a peaceful political solution, Israelis and Palestinians must negotiate directly, and with international support, towards the goal of a two-state solution. In contrast, BDS tactics, which are one-sided and are focused solely on pressuring Israel, create a distorted picture of the region. Rather than improve the situation, these advocates undermine the internationally-backed peace process that is premised on the development of mutual understanding and respect.

Economic boycotts and divestment actions will not help the Palestinian people. The true path to the two-state solution depends on creating an atmosphere of peace and reconciliation, combined with economic development and political achievement.

Rather than tearing down Israel, those seeking to foster peace should support programs and efforts that promote reconciliation and coexistence, a re-start to the peace process, and improvements to the Palestinian economy. We need to champion efforts that help the parties move toward a “two states for two peoples” solution that would realize a Jewish and democratic state of Israel living in peace alongside an independent State of Palestine.

The BDS Movement is simply using these unfair and anti-Israel tactics to tell a story which is counterproductive, disingenuous and wrong. BDS demonizes one side of what is an extremely complicated conflict. We must be building bridges between different peoples, not burning them. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said: “Don’t use cures that don’t cure, blessings that don’t bless, solutions that don’t solve.” BDS tactics won’t solve the conflict. Encouraging investment, engagement and a negotiated solution will.

A Definition of BDS

**The B of BDS, boycotts, promotes academic and/or cultural boycotts of Israel, contradicts the principles of academic freedom and the open spirit of international cooperation between scientists, artists and others. It is particularly counterproductive to target Israel’s academic community, which promotes honest debate, criticism and self-examination within Israeli society. Israel’s universities enroll significant numbers of Arab students and are important forums for interaction and cooperation between Jews and Arabs. It is for that reason that the American Association of University Professors has rejected any academic boycott of Israel. For similar reasons, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), which represents 312 affiliated organizations in 156 countries and territories representing 176 million workers, rejected calls to support the BDS Movement and, instead, called for a two-state solution to allow both peoples to live in peace and security. Recently, the United Auto Workers International headquartered here in Detroit reversed a California local which had endorsed BDS.

**The D of BDS, divestment, calls for the selling of stock in Israeli companies or companies which do business with Israel. These efforts have been widely rejected by a variety of organizations as being counterproductive to the goal of reaching a peaceful solution to the conflict. All American university and college presidents, and most churches and investment funds, have rejected BDS initiatives brought before them. Recently retired Michigan State professor Kenneth Waltzer is now heading the newly formed Academic Engagement Network, an effort to combat divestment and other BDS initiatives on college campuses The BDS efforts often damage the civility and open debate at our universities, pit student against student, sometimes result in anti-Semitism and test the limits of political correctness.

**The S in BDS, sanctions, typically refers to attempts by national governments, multilateral organizations and other international bodies to limit or ban trade and other relations with Israeli institutions or individuals. In 2010, the influential Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) did just the opposite, by voting unanimously for Israel to join its ranks, praising its scientific and technological progress as having “produced outstanding outcomes on a world scale.”