The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel has established a mostly uncontested place among the non-profit causes advertised in North America. It's welcomed in many communities as a harmless and probably good-hearted effort. At its most innocent-sounding it merely expresses a critical view of Israel's actions, which sometimes it considers excessive.
BDS emphasizes what it considers the negative aspects of Israeli life. It seldom lies, as it does when outrageously accusing Israel of apartheid in a vicious attempt to compare it with the former South African government. Most of the time it leaves us with the view that, barring certain events, Israel's status is legitimate.
But the more you examine BDS, the more threatening it and many of its adherents appear. If you have any doubt, consider the words of As'ad AbuKhalil. He's a Lebanese-American professor at California State University. He's pro-Palestinian and anti-Zionist. He calls his blog the Angry Arab News Service. He supports the BDS movement and says it should aim to bring down the state of Israel. In his view, "Justice and freedom for the Palestinians are incompatible with the existence of the state of Israel."
On the other hand, there's J.K. Rowling, the author, an opponent of BDS. She gets quoted now and then by Mitchell Bard, the director of the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise. Rowling sees beyond the mildness of BDS and compares it to more blatant versions of hatred. "Would your response to any other form of racism or bigotry be to squirm, deflect or justify?" After noting that Jews are bombarded by anti-Jewish comments, she says, "perhaps some of us non-Jews should start shouldering the burden."
Bard, who spends much of his time ferreting out libel against the Jews, claims that "The one place in America where anti-Semitism is still considered acceptable is in the university." Consider, he says, the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) conference at UCLA, where students are allowed to foment anti-Semitism and call for the destruction of the Jewish state. He reports that thousands of professors, some monopolizing departments at elite universities, espouse anti-Semitic views. Academic departments routinely organize programs where anti-Semitic views are promulgated without objection. On Nov. 19, the Canadian Federation of Students passed a resolution endorsing the BDS movement.
But surely, while considering the BDS movement and its cousins, we arrive at a crucial question: Who else?
Who else are you campaigning against? Have the Saudi Arabians awakened your conscience by the fierce battles they are fighting in Yemen? Have you turned against the Russians because of their repeated attempts to absorb Ukraine? Has Syria been added to your agenda? There must be a dozen places where a powerful nation is overcoming a less powerful people. How do you decide which most deserves the force of your disapproval?
The chances are that the leaders of BDS can't name a single state, aside from Israel, that receives its serious attention. BDS has a foreign policy, but it's limited to one state. I've always suspected that it reflects anti-Semitism, since the people who run it show no interest in the sins of states other than Israel.
In a sense, BDS has failed. The Israeli economy flourishes, far from being crippled by years of boycott. Since BDS has had a minimal effect, why does it continue to organize, pass resolutions, issue press releases, etc.? My guess is that its function today is simply propaganda. It exists now as one of many voices reminding the world that Israel's statehood remains in question.