The Battle over BDS

Trends, Lessons & Future Trajectories

The campaign to delegitimize Israel’s right to exist as the nation-state of the Jewish people is not new. It began with the campaign to convince Britain to refrain from issuing the Balfour Declaration, and later to prevent the adoption of this declaration in the language of the mandate given to Britain in 1922, “To reconstitute a Jewish homeland in Palestine.” Even before Israel’s founding in 1948, Arab and Islamic countries established an international boycott of the Yishuv (the Jewish presence in the land of Israel).

Since the Durban Conference against Racism in 2001, this campaign has gained momentum and has become identified by the name of one of its major efforts – BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel).

The ultimate goal of BDS is to delegitimize Israel and lead to its demise. It seeks to achieve this goal by building international support for the Palestinian narrative that denies the rights of the Jews as a people in the Land of Israel, thereby eroding international support for its existence as the nation-state of the Jewish people. BDS also seeks to weaken the commitment of the Jews in Israel and the Diaspora to the Zionist narrative.

In the last decade, following the accusatory Goldstone Report in 2009 and the Mavi Marmara flotilla incident in 2010, Israel, Jewish, and non-Jewish organizations around the globe, have started to fight back against BDS. In recent years, they have increased their proactive measures, while the BDS movement intensified its activities as well.

The important question that needs to be carefully examined is: which side’s efforts are more effective in moving the needle of delegitimization in Western society, where this battle is being waged? The BDS has gained a stronghold in progressive circles, posing as a human rights movement; it is trying, through emotional materials, grassroots, and political activity, to spread its anti-Israel vocabulary to liberal circles in the West. The pro-Israel campaign, on the other hand, has been working to expose the true nature of BDS to counter its efforts.

Asher Fredman’s research looks at this battle and provides us with a deeper understanding of the efforts undertaken by both sides, and of the trends on the battlefield. While a clear-cut answer to the question regarding the direction of the needle cannot be provided at this point, the research demonstrates that the proactive measures of the pro-Israel network have had a significant impact on the BDS movement. This impact has been manifested, for example, in the growth of counterBDS legislation and the greater awareness of its antisemitic nature, its real goals, its connection to terror and its methods (the German Bundestag and the Austrian Parliament resolutions defining BDS as antisemitic are probably the most important developments in this context).

At the same time, the research shows that, as an organization engaged in continual learning, BDS continues to adjust its methods of action. It is shifting the focus of its activity today to ‘low-hanging fruits’ and political bodies, especially municipalities.

Follow-up must continuously be carried out to develop monitoring tools that will enable those who strategize the battle against BDS to make educated decisions as to how best to use their resources.

The writing of this research ended days before the coronavirus crisis has spread over the entire world. Unfortunately even in these dire days, when one expects humanity to come together to fight the disease and while Israel is doing its utmost to help the Palestinians under the PA and under Hamas in Gaza to be able to cope with the challenge, those who try to de-legitimize Israel spew lies and hate towards Israel. This is why there is a need for this paper even as we focus on confronting the virus.