During the summer, the focus of BDS has become the international arena. Israeli officials revealed that most global BDS organizations have connections to terrorism through individuals linked to groups such as Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. At the same time, a pre-World Cup soccer game between Argentina and Israel was canceled after Israeli officials insisted it be held in Jerusalem. Similarly, Israel's win in the annual Eurovision contest sparked calls for next year's contest to be boycotted. The incidents are reminders that BDS is not simply a campus phenomenon, but a global campaign that takes its cues from Palestinian factions implacably opposed to Israel's existence.
One of the most important developments in this regard was the publication of a report by Israeli authorities showing the role of terrorists in Palestinian BDS organizations. These organizations, including al-Adameer, al-Haq, and the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, are key local links for international BDS organizations. Convicted terrorists from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Hamas, and the Palestinian Authority have leading roles in these and other groups.
While the extent of active coordination with terror groups remains unclear, the involvement of terrorists should both discredit local and international BDS organizations and lead to sanctions. Additional reports continue to demonstrate the extent of European support for certain NGOs in Israel and the Palestinian Authority, including those supporting BDS, effectively putting those countries and the European Union in the position of providing indirect support to terrorism.
Two major recent BDS incidents revolved around sports and entertainment. A planned soccer match between Argentina and Israel was canceled after the Argentinian team received threats to themselves and their families. Star player Lionel Messi was the focal point of the threats, after Palestinian Football Association head and former terrorist Jibril Rajoub called for Messi's posters and jerseys to be burned if he played in Israel. Reports indicate that the BDS movement also threatened to lobby against Argentina hosting the 2030 World Cup if the game went ahead.
Both the team and Argentinian officials expressed regret about the cancellation, with the country's Foreign Minister complaining that the threats received were "worse than ISIS." Argentinian media also severely criticized the decision.
But Palestinian agitation against Israel also produced a backlash when FIFA began disciplinary moves against Rajoub over his threats to Messi. FIFA had previously rejected calls from Rajoub to have Israel banned from world soccer.
Israel's win in the annual Eurovision contest has brought similar issues to the forefront. In May, Netta Barzilai's song "Toy" won the competition, and gave Israel the right to host the 2019 contest. Calls to boycott the upcoming event began immediately, particularly in Iceland, Ireland, Sweden, and Britain.
European Broadcast Union (EBU) organizers of the contest warned against "politicizing" the event.
The issue of where to hold the contest was also complicated by initial Israeli insistence that it would have a say in associated programming and European Broadcast Union (EBU) insistence that Israeli plans to separate the news and entertainment wings of Israeli Public Broadcasting Network would jeopardize Israel's hosting rights. By late June, it appeared that Eurovision organizers were satisfied with Israel's actions and planning was continuing. Four Israeli cities, including Jerusalem, will bid on hosting the contest, and the results will be announced in September.
The FIFA and Eurovision incidents demonstrate how all events involving Israelis are subject to BDS pressure in order to "denormalize" and demonize Israel. Israeli officials and by extension the Israeli public are placed in untenable positions by the BDS movement and Palestinian calls for "denormalization." International organizations remain willing to hold events in Israel, but increasingly loud demands that these events be held in Jerusalem, generated by both the desire to showcase Israel's capital and the opportunity for Israeli politicians to demonstrate that they are firm on the issue, generates backlash.
Elsewhere internationally, local efforts to boycott Israel accelerated dramatically. In Ireland the Galway City Council voted to boycott Israel, while in Spain there is a renewed wave of BDS moves. In a first, the state of Navarre condemned Israel and passed a resolution calling on the Spanish government to support the international BDS movement. This followed similar calls in the cities of Valencia, Oviedo, and Pamplona. Oviedo immediately canceled a performance by an Israeli orchestra and ballet company saying, "Israeli organizations are not wanted." Overall, some 90 Spanish communities have voted to support BDS.
In Pamplona, councilors declared Israeli officials persona non grata, while the leader of the far-left Podemos party, which has pushed BDS resolutions across Spain, stated, "Spain needs to act more decisively against an illegal state like Israel. … Our party defines the existence of Israel as illegitimate."
National efforts must be seen as the intersection of local politics with fundamental antisemitism that motivates diverse constituencies. In the case of Spain, local resolutions are being pushed by antisemitic far-left parties and Muslim organizations, but have found support from the socialist Popular Party that recently toppled the center right government in a no-confidence vote and is in need of coalition partners. Hating Israel as an expedient political move to build political coalitions will increase as local politics change to reflect new demographic realities.
In contrast, two reports from German intelligence services labeled the BDS movement antisemitic and a security threat. Both reports from state-level intelligence units addressed a far-right group that has adopted an explicit BDS stance. The group, and by extension other BDS groups, may now face sanctions and legal action. The German case suggests the gradual convergence of right- and left-wing antisemitism.
In the domestic arena, the Camp Ramah movement rebuffed the IfNotNow organization after it was revealed that the pro-boycott group trained camp counselors to introduce BDS themes to their campers. As their materials put it, IfNotNow's workshops focused on how counselors could communicate to campers that "your educators and your parents are hiding from you the real information about the occupation and the discrimination against the Palestinian people."
In response, the director of Ramah stated, "Ramah will not partner with any organization that is not unequivocally pro-Israel. … Zionism is one of our core educational pillars, and always will be." After a meeting with representatives of the group, the Ramah movement reiterated its stance. Despite their extensively documented stances, IfNotNow members expressed resentment at being called "anti-Israel, anti-Zionist, or anti-Semitic."
With the summer camping season underway, it remains to be seen how the situation will play out. In the meantime, reports indicate that IfNotNow representatives accosted a Birthright group about to depart for Israel at a New York airport and demanded they take literature regarding the "occupation." Reports also indicate that, in what was claimed to be a spontaneous move, several individuals walked off a Birthright trip after demanding to be taken to Hebron and shown the "occupation."
The incident reflects again how Jewish institutions are increasingly told to accommodate BDS supporters in the name of "diverse viewpoints" and "inclusivity," and how the BDS movement will subvert any Jewish institution it can, both directly and covertly.
In other domestic news, the Presbyterian Church USA passed a number of BDS and anti-Israel resolutions at its annual meeting. One resolution opposed anti-BDS legislation at the state and local levels and another condemned the real estate firm Re/Max for allegedly operating in "settlements." Some observers note, however, that the most strident resolutions, such as calls to cut off dialogue with Jews "who are insufficiently critical of Israel" were defeated, thanks to the work of a pro-Israel faction within the church. Early in the meeting, Palestinian anti-BDS activist Bassam Eid was harassed and threatened by BDS supporters. While the denomination has shrunk considerably in recent years, it still has 1.4 million members in over 9,000 congregations.
Fallout over the Durham City Council's recent BDS-inspired decision to cut off law enforcement contacts with Israel is continuing. Documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests show that the mayor and city council violated rules by bringing the measure to a vote rapidly to minimize public awareness and orchestrated the affair using private emails. The measure condemned Israel for police brutality in the US and banned bilateral law enforcement exchanges, despite the fact that Durham has none. A complaint from the local Jewish community to the Durham Human Relations Commission was made.
The Durham affair shows how local governments are being hijacked by BDS activists, with ample aid from Jewish Voice for Peace and other BDS organizations, leading to the alienation of the Jewish community, the vilification of local law enforcement and Israel, and the breakdown of civil functions. Similar incidents in Cambridge, Berkeley, and Portland demonstrate that the strategy is aimed particularly at municipalities with strong traditions of left-wing politics.
Finally, in academia, after UCLA refused to sanction BDS supporters who had disrupted a pro-Israel event in May, students filed a criminal complaint. University administrators had previously denounced the disruption and stated that "outsiders" participating in it would be referred to the police, but no action was taken.
The extent to which BDS has been normalized in the University of California system was demonstrated by two incidents. In the first, BDS supporters disrupted the swearing in of the University of California at Santa Barbara's new student government. Earlier in May, BDS resolutions were sidelined by procedural issues and then tabled indefinitely. Protesters characterized their actions as "civil disobedience."
State-wide, the union representing graduate students, UAW Local 2865, issued a list of demands prior to contract negotiations. The demands included divestment from "corporations that profit from the prison industry, fossil fuels, and the oppression of Palestinians." In 2014, the national union nullified the local union's BDS initiatives. The continued prominence of BDS in the graduate student demands indicates how deeply the issue has saturated academic culture, ensuring its prominence when current students become faculty members. It also demonstrates the extent to which graduate student culture at the University of California has become a hostile environment for pro-Israel, Israeli, and Jewish students.
Alexander Joffe is a Ginsburg-Ingerman Fellow at the Middle East Forum