FEBRUARY 12, 2016
Ben Cohen, Senior Editor of The Tower magazine, wrote an op-ed about BDS that was for the most part salient. Unfortunately, his opening sentence was both irresponsible and detrimental to the anti-BDS effort.
Cohen wrote “2016 may well be remembered as the year that Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement targeting Israel finally died its death — in a clinical sense, at least.”
His point was that because so many states are passing anti-BDS legislation, “The legislation should provide a powerful incentive against its adoption.” Basically, because there will be little teeth to the divestment initiatives, BDS will die a clinical death.
Reading Cohen’s assertion made me think of the 2015 Knesset Research and Information Center report that found that that the global movement to boycott Israel was having no discernible impact on Israel’s economy. That report received a lot of attention. But looking at BDS’ economic effect on Israel should be the least important way to view BDS’ impact or effectiveness.
On average, about 300 people die each year in Israel from automobile accidents. Unfortunately, outside of family and friends, those deaths are minor news, if that. However, if a Jewish Israeli mother-of-six is stabbed to death by a Muslim/Arab from the West Bank, the entire Jewish world suffers. One is a death. The other is an attack against our family, our religion, our people and our Jewish nation.
We must place the same perspective on BDS. It’s not about whether divestment initiatives have teeth or not. Most don’t. In fact, today, there are presently 42 divestment initiatives pending on US campuses. Does it matter that, even if the initiatives pass, virtually none of the universities will divest from Israel? No. But the psychological damage — which is far greater than the economic — has been done.
When Stanford’s student government voted to divest from Israel, what mattered was what its 7,000 undergraduate and 9,000 graduate students were wrongly led to believe — that Israel is an illegally occupying, oppressive, racist, apartheid, genocidal country that abuses Palestinian human rights at every turn. And those 16,000 students will become our future journalists, editors, producers, teachers, CEOs, politicians, funders and voters. That is the danger to Israel, not the economics or the ability to divest or not.
In 2014, United Auto Workers Local 2865, the University of California union that covers all teaching assistants, graduate student instructors, readers and undergraduate and graduate tutors voted to divest from Israel. More than 13,000 University of California students erroneously were taught, and many now believe, that Israel is a human rights violator against a peaceful people searching for their rightful homeland. It is irrelevant that their vote was later repealed by a few union leaders — the damage was done. And studies show that it is very difficult, sometimes nearly impossible, to overturn newly learned concepts once they have been accepted — even when those concepts are later proven false.
Moreover, each one of these divestment initiatives, whether they succeed or not, creates free international PR for the propaganda machines against Israel. BDS founders laugh at every headline proclaiming “Another BDS Defeat!” The fact that we are writing about it is proof that BDS is alive and well.
When influential funders, community leaders, and pro-Israel supporters read that someone as distinguished as Ben Cohen declares BDS clinically dead, they have reason to stop their efforts to fight BDS. That is a monumental mistake. The war against BDS should be viewed as fighting cancer. Like cancer, BDS and hatred of Israel metastasizes, continually taking new forms and threats. And, like fighting cancer, as many resources as possible must be dedicated to the effort. Anything less is capitulating to those who constantly fight to destroy Israel.
To his credit, Cohen correctly wrote, “It will not, sadly, disappear. Instead, BDS will adapt.” Unfortunately though, BDS is not clinically dead; it’s like a cancer spreading on steroids. And when doctors treat cancer, they never declare the malignant cells clinically dead — just in remission.
Jack Saltzberg is the founder and executive director of The Israel Group, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting Israel in the Diaspora. Saltzberg, an IDF combat veteran, has been in pro-Israel leadership for nearly 20 years and speaks at high schools, universities, shuls, synagogues, and churches nationally on extremely effective methods to combat BDS. firstname.lastname@example.org