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On May 31, Middle East Forum President Daniel Pipes joined an estimated 2,000 diplomats, public officials, journalists, and other opinion makers from around the world at a special conference on the delegitimization of the State of Israel at the United Nations headquarters in New York.
The unprecedented nature and size of the conference, entitled "Building Bridges, Not Boycotts," befits the scope of this growing problem. Founded nearly 11 years ago, the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS) seeks to lobby governments, companies, universities, artists, and others to sever ties with Israel. Supporters say that Israel alone should be singled out among the nations of the world for its alleged human rights abuses and violations of international law.
Opponents say BDS has nothing to do with actual Israeli transgressions and is "not about helping the Palestinians or bringing peace," as Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. Danny Danon remarked in his address to the conference. Its "only goal is to bring an end to the Jewish state ... BDS is the true face of modern anti-Semitism." As MEF fellows Alexander H. Joffe and Asaf Romirowsky explain, the BDS movement in the West is propelled by "an unholy alliance of far-left organizations and Muslim Brotherhood-backed Islamists," centered primarily in universities and unions.
According to a new poll, a third of Americans now think boycotting Israel is 'justified.'
Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour boasted that conference is an "admission" that Israel is "losing ground at American universities and colleges to BDS," and he's right. The BDS movement has continued to make advances on U.S. campuses, winning 12 of 26 BDS referendums last year, as well as a Middle East Studies Association (MESA) resolution lauding "calls for [anti-Israel] institutional boycott, divestment, and/or sanctions" as "legitimate forms of non-violent political action."
There were also notable BDS failures, such as at Bowdoin College and the American Historical Association, where MEF fellow Jeffrey Herf helped lead the battle to defeat anti-Israel resolutions last year. But a new poll shows that a third of Americans now think boycotting Israel is "justified."
Although BDS organizers have gained less traction at most major American universities than in Europe, MEF staff and fellows see trouble on the horizon.
MEF fellow A.J. Caschetta warns of what he calls "backdoor BDS" currents (#backdoorBDS) that allow participants to ostensibly oppose BDS while aiding its advance under the table. The first, spearheaded by the Open Hillel Society, fights for the BDS movement's right to have a voice within the Jewish campus organization Hillel, which bars its 550+ chapters from hosting or partnering with organizations that work to delegitimize Israel.
The second, led by The Third Narrative (TTN) and Scholars for Israel and Palestine (SIP), advocates sanctions that selectively target Israeli settlements or individuals associated with them. Both unfairly single out Israelis, but in a way more palatable to mainstream academics than the BDS movement. Joffe and Romirowsky call them "BDS-lite" movements.
Ignoring the immorality at the heart of BDS 'lends it a veneer of legitimacy,' according to Winfield Myers.
In a February 2016 Miami Herald oped, Campus Watch Director Winflield Myers notes that even the good news – the tendency of university administrators to speak out publicly against BDS demands – is not as auspicious as it seems. Such statements tend to oppose boycotts on the grounds of academic freedom, while "failing to address the odiousness of singling out Israel for boycott" among the multitude of brutal, undemocratic regimes in the Middle East. Ignoring the immorality at the heart of BDS "lends it a veneer of legitimacy," according to Myers.
While the Obama administration has expressed approval of backdoor, or BDS-lite, sanctions of the kind introduced by the EU, a number of U.S. states are taking action on their own to combat the BDS movement. Some have passed legislation sanctioning companies that discriminate against Israel, notably South Carolina Illinois, and Indiana. Similar legislation is currently before the New York state assembly, as discussed by Romirowsky and Benjamin Weinthal in a widely-read New York Post oped.
As several Middle East Forum researchers and fellows have underscored, sanctions advocated by BDS and backdoor BDS activists aren't oriented toward helping Palestinians. All sanctions targeting the highly interconnected Israeli-Palestinian economy will bring down Palestinian living standards. As Romirowsky illustrates, even those that specifically target Israeli settlements "hurt the very constituency they claim to represent" by putting Palestinian laborers in the West Bank out of work.
The BDS movement is about defaming the world's lone Jewish state, pure and simple. That is why, as Campus Watch west coast representative Cinnamon Stillwell explores in a recent article, the BDS movement has tried to shut down a program that sends American Muslims to Israel to meet with Jewish, Muslim, and Christian residents in order "to explore how Jews understand Judaism, Israel, and Jewish peoplehood."