BDS: It’s Not Economics, Stupid!

By Jack Saltzberg

First published in The Algemeiner

Recently, the Jewish News Syndicate (JNS)’s editor-in-chief, Jonathan S. Tobin, wrote that the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel is simply an “annoyance to Israel.” Tobin claimed that BDS has done little damage to Israel’s prosperous economy,” and other articles at JNS — and in other Jewish media outlets — have proudly proclaimed that BDS is in decline.

While BDS may have a limited economic impact on Israel, evaluating the boycott movement in these terms is shortsighted — and possibly dangerous. Theories such as Tobin’s give a false sense of security to pro-Israel supporters, who should be vigorously battling BDS as if it was a war for Israel’s survival (which it is).

Tobin and his ilk often conflate two separate issues: 1) if the Israeli government should be in the anti-BDS business; and 2) whether BDS is succeeding or failing.

The first point stems, in large part, from Israel’s controversial decision to blacklist 20 actively pro-BDS organizations (and its members) from entering Israel.

BDS’ goal is not simply to stop Israeli settlements or to promote a peace process that leads to two states, Arabs and Jews, living together in peace. BDS’ documented goal is one state, as articulated by its founders. Therefore, I have no problem with Israel curtailing entry for people who openly work toward that country’s demise. In fact, all countries do this.

As for the second point, and specifically Tobin’s assertion that BDS is an annoyance based on Israel’s vibrant economy, my rebuttal is from a piece that I wrote after Ben Cohen wrote two years ago that “2016 may well be remembered as the year that the BDS movement targeting Israel finally died its death — in a clinical sense, at least.”

In my response, I wrote that looking at BDS’ economic effect on Israel should be the least important factor to gauge BDS’ impact or effectiveness. I used an analogy that, on average, about 300 people die each year in Israel from automobile accidents — and that, outside of family and friends, those deaths are simply numbers and minor news. However, when a Jewish/Israeli mother-of-six is stabbed to death by a Muslim/Arab, the entire Jewish world suffers. One is an accidental death. The other is a deliberate attack against our religion, our people, and our Jewish nation.

Evaluating BDS’ success or failure based on its economic impact, or even, as Cohen suggested, by the number of governments that are friendly to Israel, is misguided. Many, such as Cohen, point to the fact that US states passing anti-BDS legislation is proof that BDS is losing. The mere fact that a state must pass such legislation is, in itself, proof that the BDS movement is successful. If it wasn’t, there would be no reason to pass legislation in the first place.

Does it really matter that California passed anti-BDS legislation when students in 12 California universities (including Stanford, UCLA, UC Irvine, UC Berkeley, and UC San Diego) passed anti-Israel resolutions? While companies doing business with California cannot boycott Israel, hundreds of thousands of students (in California alone) — future lawyers, producers, journalists, teachers, scientists, doctors, social workers, editors, artists, politicians, and voters — were educated by BDS’ lies that Israel is a racist, genocidal, and an apartheid country. This is the true threat.

By Tobin, et. al’s logic, one would conclude that a terminal illness is not dangerous because a patient’s symptoms don’t appear life-threatening. Israel’s economy is thriving; but that doesn’t negate BDS’ present damage and its ultimate goal: the destruction of Israel.

The better questions to ask people like Tobin are: Why are artists boycotting Israel? Why did the founder of the BDS movement receive the Gandhi Award at Yale?

Why did a pro-BDS organization lead an anti-Israel continuing education course for K-12 teachers in Los Angeles and Orange County? Why did 2017 Academy Award nominees refuse a free $50,000 packaged trip to Israel? Why did students swear at Ami Horowitz when he waved an Israeli flag at Berkeley?

Why did UAW 2865 academic workers vote to divest from Israel? Why was a UCLA student asked if being Jewish would present a conflict of interest to her serving on the student council?Why did 60 artists and more than 2,000 individuals call on Lincoln Center to cancel an Israeli play because it was sponsored in part by the government of Israel?

Why have millions of people marched against Israel? Why have “Made in Israel” warning stickers been placed on products? Why have there been 113 anti-Israel divestment resolutions at colleges and universities? Why were Jewish people celebrating LGBT pride in Chicago told to put away Israeli flags, because some people found them “offensive?”

The list goes on and on — but why is all this happening if BDS has no impact?

The intense world condemnation of Israel is not connected to settlements, the Likud government, Donald Trump, or any other straw man arguments. It is founded in Arab/Islamic hatred of Jews and Israel — meshed with extreme leftist ideologies and partnering organizations — and led by the global antisemitic and virulently anti-Israel BDS movement.

Until supporters of Israel acknowledge this unpleasant reality, and stop wasting good money on failed organizational efforts, and instead begin to vigorously battle BDS through innovative and aggressive grassroots initiatives, it may be too late.

Jack Saltzberg is the founder and president of The Israel @TheIsraelGroup.