Despite Impressive Victories Against BDS, the Battle Is Not Won
“The Zionist pushback was expected.”
Thus lamented the zealously anti-Israel Mondoweiss website after McGill University’s student body, once again, rejected the student union’s latest attempt to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) tweeted, “The BDS movement, like Israeli Apartheid Week, has no place on Canadian campuses. As a @McGillU alum, I’m disappointed.#EnoughIsEnough.”
In recent months, this pro-Israel “pushback” has yielded some impressive victories all over the world.
The Canadian Parliament overwhelmingly passed a motion condemning BDS and reaffirming Canada’s longstanding friendship with Israel on February 22, 2016. A few days earlier, the British Parliament passed a law that exposes BDS promoters to prosecution and also prevent public bodies from participating in or backing boycotts of Israel.
The pro-BDS networks are undeniably on the defensive. US state legislatures passed anti-BDS bills in Illinois, South Carolina, Virginia, Florida and more states are considering passing such statutes. These measures would require state bodies to cease doing business with any company participating in anti-Israel boycotts. Further, President Obama signed the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015, which requires the Federal government not to cooperate with entities that participate in BDS.
In January, the City Council of the Spanish city of Aviles reversed the pro-BDS resolution it had passed just one month earlier, calling BDS “discriminatory.” Last year, again in Spain, after BDS activists pressured a music festival to cancel the appearance of American Jewish singer Matisyahu, the international outrage was so intense the festival re-invited him. Opposition to BDS’ intimidation triggered criticism from both the left and the right of Spanish politics.
In October, 2015 BDS was dealt a legal blow in France when that country’s high court upheld lower court rulings finding BDS promoters guilty of inciting hate and discrimination. In Germany, a major bank closed the account of one of the most active BDS groups; the Bayreuth city council withdrew its human rights and tolerance prize to the US-based pro-BDS group Code Pink; and in Bremen, a publicly-funded cultural center canceled a BDS lecture.
Yes, BDS is feeling the heat.
The anti-Israel group Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), along with its radical Islamist and fringe-Left allies, are hyperactive on scores of campuses across the US and Canada. For more than a decade, they have been introducing BDS resolutions into student governments on dozens of campuses, have erected mock “walls” and checkpoints as guerilla theater, occupied buildings, disrupted pro-Israel speakers and events, attempted to intimidate pro-Israel students both psychologically and physically, and have created an atmosphere of overt antisemitism on far too many campuses.
Yet, even in this environment, steady and effective pro-Israel advocacy work has shown impressive results. In Canada, where Israel Apartheid Week began in Toronto in 2005, twelve BDS resolutions were passed by 2013. Since Israel advocacy and education was offered to students, five more have been defeated. Since 2005, approximately 70 divestment resolutions were introduced into student senates in the US. Two-thirds of these completely symbolic resolutions failed to pass.
This high failure rate is a tribute to the work of pro-Israel student leaders, and organizations such as StandwithUs and our campus partners, which support them.
Tellingly, no university where student government passed BDS has yet to divest from companies doing business with Israel. Many university administrations have issued statements distancing themselves from these resolutions, emphasizing their academic and business relationship with Israel will not be impacted.
Complacency, however, is not an option. There is something to be said about the publicity these BDS debates generate. The loud and antagonistic disputes inject vicious anti-Israel propaganda into campus communities, often creating a hostile and unsafe environment for Jewish and pro-Israel students — and poisoning uniformed minds about Israel.
The struggle against BDS is not yet won. Education about the complex Middle East reality must be continued on North American campuses to combat the lies and misrepresentations of the BDS movement.
The road ahead is long and difficult, but the pro-Israel struggle against BDS will prevail if we continue to turn myths and libels into truth for an unsuspecting public.
Roz Rothstein, CEO and co-founder and Yitzhak Santis, Senior Writer and Analyst of StandWithUs, a fifteen year-old international Israel education organization.