Less than a week before Israel Apartheid Week opened on college campuses across the U.S. and UK, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired the first shot in Israel’s defense. Referring to the founders of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS) as “classical anti-Semites in modern garb,” Netanyahu said the time has come to delegitimize those who delegitimize Israel.
Netanyahu was likely referring to people such as Omar Barghouti, one of the main founders of the BDS movement and its chief ideologue.
Barghouti claims his movement is opposed to all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism. His own statements, however, demonize Israel and fall well beyond the scope of legitimate criticism. At a speech in Los Angeles earlier this year, for example, Barghouti claimed that IDF soldiers shoot Palestinian children “for sport” just because they are “bored.”
Still, criticism of Netanyahu’s statement came quickly. The Forward published a piece the following day with the unambiguous headline, “BDS is Not Anti-Semitism.” The writer, Emily Hauser, dismissed Netanyahu’s accusations as a cover for Israel’s presence in the West Bank.
And yet, Hauser also adds, “I do not doubt that some members of that movement are unrepentant anti-Semites — just as some members of the Greater Israel movement are unrepentant racists and Islamophobes.”
It’s not just Hauser who acknowledges that a portion of the BDS movement is, indeed, anti-Semitic. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, writing a few weeks earlier, admitted the same thing.
Friedman noted that students on many college campuses had started boycotting Israel until it withdraws from the West Bank. However, he adds, “Israelis are right to suspect some boycotters of using this cause as a cover for anti-Semitism, given how Israel’s misdeeds are singled out.”
Even Jay Michaelson, a notable left-leaning political commentator, writing in the Forward almost exactly a year before Hauser, echoed her message almost exactly. “Of course there is anti-Semitism in the BDS world — just as there is racism among many right-wing Zionists.”
There is, of course, a significant difference between the BDS movement and Hauser’s Greater Israel and Michaelson’s right-wing Zionists. Those movements are political; BDS claims to be moral. Its call for boycott is couched in the language of justice. The essence of Israel Apartheid Week is the fight against racism.
Except, it isn’t really a fight against racism when it’s carried out by racists and Jew haters. And even supporters of the BDS movement who are not themselves anti-Semitic are aware of the anti-Semitism that permeates the movement. And a movement that tolerates anti-Semitism lacks moral authority.
In a recent column in Haaretz, Peter Beinart suggested that organized Jewish groups would be more effective in the fight against BDS if they actively opposed settlement growth as a sign of commitment to the two-state solution. A similar test can be applied to BDS. The movement would be more credible in its calls for justice if it made a credible effort to fight anti-Semitism, beginning with the anti-Semitism of its own members, alongside the fight for the rights of Palestinians.
You can’t fight for justice with hypocrisy, and there is no bigger hypocrisy today than Israel Apartheid Week.