Boycotts as a form of protest were initiated as early as 1769 by the First Continental Congress against Great Britain over the issue of taxation without representation making a boycott against a perceived oppressive power an integral part of American heritage.
A reaction against racism also became a noticeable motivating factor for many boycotts. The Chinese instituted a boycott against the US over the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1892 and 1904. In 1933 the American Jewish Congress declared a boycott of Nazi Germany in protest to its racially motivated oppression of the German Jewish community. Ghandi encouraged Indians to boycott imperial Britain. African Americans boycotted segregated institutions and from the 60’s to the 90’s, much of the world boycotted South Africa over issues of apartheid.
In 2005, 170 Palestinian civil society organizations put out a call for a boycott of Israel. This was a nonviolent effort to pressure the State of Israel to conform to international law and cease its oppression of the Palestinian people. The call was also for divestment which meant targeting corporations complicit in the violation of Palestinian rights and ensuring that university investments and pension funds were not used to finance such companies. Sanctions are also an essential part of demonstrating disapproval for a country’s actions. Israel’s membership in various diplomatic and economic forums provides both an unmerited veneer of respectability and material support for its actions. This is known as the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, or BDS for short. I discuss this in great detail in the third edition of Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with Both Sides.
The Anti-Defamation League opposes BDS claiming that “many of the founding goals of the BDS movement, including denying the Jewish people the universal right of self-determination, is anti-Semitic. Many people involved in the BDS campaign are driven by opposition to Israel’s very existence as a Jewish State. All too often, BDS advocates employ anti-Semitic rhetoric and narratives to isolate and demonize Israel.”
The traditional definition of anti-Semitism is a dislike of or bias against Jews by virtue of their imagined inherent “Jewishness.” This is very different from objecting to the criminal behavior of someone or some group that happens to be Jewish. In the first case, it is the “Jewishness” of someone you object to while in the second, it is their criminal behavior you find objectionable, regardless of the perpetrator’s religion.
The Israeli government, by conflating all Jews as an integral part of the Israeli state, claims that any criticism or opposition to Israeli state behavior, even if that behavior is criminal, is anti-Semitic, thereby redefining anti-Semitism in a way that allows Israel to sidestep all moral responsibility by turning the onus around and pointing fingers at its critics.
In so doing, Israel has grossly miscalculated. It cannot continue its oppression of a people, the confiscation of their lands, unjust imprisonment, restrictions on movements, displacement and house demolitions and cry anti-Semitism when it is called out on the international stage for its oppressive behavior. There is a definite shift in opinion about Israel’s behavior and it is helping to create a growing movement that shines a light on Israel’s crimes.
In June 2018, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) representing 1.5 million Americans voted unanimously to support the BDS campaign. In July 2018, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church USA, with its 3 million members, voted to support BDS by screening suspect companies that might be complicit in Israel’s violation of Palestinian human rights. Dozens of Jewish organizations worldwide, with their tens of thousands of members, also support BDS.
Israel can no longer hide behind alleged anti-Semitism every time critics charge them with human rights abuses. BDS is winning and Israel has only itself to blame. It is an unapologetic apartheid state and deserves world-wide condemnation for its inhumane actions.
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