More on BDS, the Olive Tree Initiative and “Lip Service”

Note: On December 28, 2010 The Orange County Independent Force on Anti-Semitism issued an Open Letter Concerning the Olive Tree Initiative at UC Irvine to leaders of the Orange County Jewish Community. In the letter we urged  the Jewish Federation, The Rose Project and and Hillel to adopt the The Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties Funding Guidelines. As of this date, that letter has gone unanswered. (OCITF)

What’s the Matter with Boycotting Israel?

Nichole Hungerford on Mar 11th, 2011 Front Page Magazine

“How ironic — no, scratch that; how incredibly shortsighted — that just as Egypt starts to open up, an American Jewish community would start to clamp down.” This, Rob Eshman penned February 16th in a piece for the Jewish Journal in which he argued against the removal of Jewish communal funds from organizations engaged in BDS (boycott, divestment, sanction) strategies against Israel. To do so, as Eshman intimates, would be to close the Jewish community; to stifle the freedom of thought and expression from within its ranks. Although it is a well-meaning call for openness, it is, nonetheless, a deeply misguided assessment of the danger posed by the BDS movement. To understand the true nature of the movement, is to understand why it cannot be countenanced by the Jewish community in any form — at least not a Jewish community interested in the preservation of Israel.

To be sure, many people view BDS in the same way that Mr. Eshman does — as an innocent expression of free speech by people concerned with the well-being of Palestinians. Many of these individuals are genuine supporters of Israel, and believe that, while BDS is extreme, it is also a “complex” issue, and is morally ambiguous for this reason. Rest assured, this ambiguity is very intentional.

The true nature of the BDS movement is really not complicated in the least. At its heart, it is a manifestation of the propaganda war against the Jewish State — the “soft war,” if you will. The soft war is itself supplemental to the armed conflict against Israel, and both work in tandem to effect the same terrible end. Furthermore, the entire program of the Israeli BDS movement is in fact predicated entirely upon vicious anti-Semitic mythology created by terrorists and terrorist sympathizers. Its purpose is to a) agitate against Jews and justify violence against them, and b) strip Israel of support in the international community, thereby making it easier to dismantle. These are the only purposes the BDS movement serves, whether it is being championed by singer Macy Gray or Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

How do we know this? NGO Monitor traces the “Israeli apartheid” canard, one of the central falsehoods of the BDS movement, to the PLO’s Negotiations Affairs Department, which also asserts that the Oslo peace accords instituted the apartheid system. Never mind that both Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas of the PLO evidently endorsed this dreadful apartheid document, since both agreed to the accords. In essence, the PLO’s apartheid claim is a manifestation of the UN’s “Zionism is racism” resolution passed in 1975. The resolution was advanced primarily by the PLO and the Soviet Union, which, at the time, was cracking down on Jewish “refuseniks” and trying to find a way to eschew a proposed UN condemnation of anti-Semitism. The PLO, for its part, was completing a barbaric series of terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians, some of them school children, in the years just before the resolution was passed. The resolution was also supported by such individuals as genocidal Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, who viewed it as path to expelling Israel from the UN and achieving “the extinction of Israel as a state[.]” Through the lens of this resolution, “Zionism” was equated with colonialism and imperialism, and is still used in much this same sense by BDS activists and terrorists alike today.

Beyond the mere historical background, we know that BDS is essentially a handmaiden of the violent war against Israel because this is what many of the practitioners and prime movers of the BDS movement themselves say. The International Solidarity Movement (ISM), for example, is very active in the BDS movement. It works tirelessly in the U.S., Israel, and other Western countries promoting the lie that Israel is an apartheid state and abuses the human rights of Palestinians as a matter of public policy. The group goes to great lengths to portrays itself as a nonviolent human rights organization dedicated to achieving peace between Israelis and Palestinians. However, the ISM is unequivocal in its support for Palestinian violence against Jews, which it believes is a legitimate form of “resistance” against Israel.

According to a study conducted by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, the ISM “not only rejects the policies of every Israeli government (‘the Israeli apartheid in Palestine’), but also the existence of Israel as a national homeland for the Jews. Publications and statements of ISM activists stress the implementation of the Palestinian refugees’ ‘right of return’ to Israel, reject the Oslo Accords, and make no mention of a two-state solution” (emphasis original).

The perniciousness of the ISM is notorious, and much is detailed in the Meir Amit report: ISM activists have been documented sheltering Palestinian terrorists, impeding Israeli counterterrorism measures, training other activists to break Israeli laws and deceive law enforcement, and, in at least one 2006 incident, ISM activists were photographed with weapons. During the the second intifada (Palestinian uprising), the ISM even found justification for the onslaught of fanatical Palestinian suicide bombings perpetrated against Israeli civilians.

The conjunction of soft warfare and terrorism in the case of the ISM is not difficult to understand: the ISM supports terrorism because it is no less than what an “apartheid state” deserves. This is why the group works so diligently to popularize this mythology worldwide. It is this group of terrorist sympathizers and abettors that is at the avant-guard of the propaganda campaign against Israel, from which supposedly peace-minded BDS supporters take their cues.

Just as the propaganda war has been so effective at demonizing and delegitimizing Israel, it has, correspondingly, been very good to Hamas, whose image has elevated remarkably in the eyes of many influential individuals. In 2008, Israeli apartheid-promoter and former president Jimmy Carter met and physically embraced Hamas officials in a peace pilgrimage to Egypt. In a 2006 interview, revered  radical academic Noam Chomsky, who has met at least twice with the terrorist organization Hezbollah, said that the policies of Hamas, while “unacceptable,” are “more conducive to a peaceful settlement [to the Palestinian-Israel conflict] than those of the United States or Israel.”

This trend of Hamas-sympathy is also abundantly apparent at most anti-Israel rallies. It is not uncommon for BDS protesters to promote the solidarity tropes, “We Are All Hamas” and “We Are All Hezbollah,” which are designed to appeal to the mainstream of the nonviolent anti-Israel movement. Nonviolent Western protesters commonly wear terrorist accoutrement — Hamas scarves (the Keffiyeh, technically, a headdress) and headbands — at their rallies to show support.

Hamas has also notably gained support among some members of Muslim Students Association (MSA) and Muslim Student Union (MSU) chapters in colleges and universities. When confronted, these students often refuse to condemn Hamas publicly, claiming that the issue is “complicated.” Conservative author and activist David Horowitz has encountered these students many times in his talks on the university circuit. In the spring of 2010, one such student revealed obliquely to the audience that she supported Hamas, and also that she agreed with a Hezbollah leader’s statement wishing all the Jews would gather in Israel so he didn’t have to hunt them down globally. The Muslim Student Association is the same group which hosts the radically anti-Israel propaganda campaign known as “ Israel Apartheid Week,” which is designed to encourage BDS against Israel, and justify Palestinian terrorism.

For those readers who, at this juncture, may be wondering if there is in fact a “gray area” when it comes to Hamas, the answer is emphatically “no.” There is absolutely no defense for Hamas, for supporting it, or for adorning oneself in its signature attire to express “solidarity.” Hamas is an expressly genocidal, religiously fanatical organization with no redeeming qualities whatsoever.  Its founding charter draws heavily on the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which is an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that blames Jews for most of the world’s wars and for the economic enslavement of humanity. Let us point out just a few of the lines of Hamas’s founding charter to make this crystal clear (via the Jerusalem Fund, a pro-Palestinian organization):

Israel will rise and will remain erect until Islam eliminates it as it had eliminated its predecessors

[...]

For our struggle against the Jews is extremely wide-ranging and grave, so much so that it will need all the loyal efforts we can wield, to be followed by further steps and reinforced by successive battalions from the multifarious Arab and Islamic world, until the enemies are defeated and Allah’s victory prevails

[...]

The Islamic Resistance Movement [Hamas] is a distinct Palestinian Movement which owes its loyalty to Allah, derives from Islam its way of life and strives to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine [present-day Israel].

[...]

[T]he Hamas has been looking forward to implement Allah’s promise whatever time it might take. The prophet, prayer and peace be upon him, said: The time will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews (and kill them); until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: O Muslim! there is a Jew hiding behind me, come on and kill him! This will not apply to the Gharqad, which is a Jewish tree (cited by Bukhari and Muslim).

[...]

[T]he so-called peaceful solutions, and the international conferences to resolve the Palestinian problem, are all contrary to the beliefs of the Islamic Resistance Movement.

It is crucial to note that Hamas has also been at the forefront of popularizing the notion that the Israeli government is a Nazi regime, a comparison which is as ubiquitous in terrorist group’s charter as it is at pro-Palestinian “peace protests” in Western countries.

Not surprisingly, where groups like the MSA, MSU, and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) have managed to gain a foothold on campuses, where they have been given a platform to promulgate the incendiary invention of Israeli apartheid, racism, and genocide, the hostility toward Jewish students and speakers has dramatically risen. The message of these groups can often be directly associated with incidents of violence and harassment toward Jewish students. In 2010, a young Jewish student at the University of California – Berkeley named Jessica Felber was physically attacked by a member of SJP. She is currently taking legal action against the university for failing to protect students like herself, despite the fact that extreme anti-Israel hostility on the campus has been on the rise. Gary Fouse, a teacher at the University of California – Irvine, which has been identified by the Anti-Defamation League as a hotbed of anti-Semitism, has spoken out about similar incidents of hostility and bigotry related to the university’s anti-Israel events. The pattern here is not difficult to recognize for anyone with eyes to see: the same Israeli apartheid agitprop that is used by Palestinians to justify violence and terrorism is also what motivates belligerence toward pro-Israel Jewish students on campuses — the supposed proponents of this alleged oppression.

Moreover, the extreme message of these groups and of the BDS movement itself — that Israel is an apartheid state, is the new Third Reich, and so forth — is the same as message as some of the worst anti-Semitic Islamist leaders of the Muslim world. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of the Iranian Islamic Republic, has called Zionists (Israelis) the “racist perpetrators of genocide.” This same rhetoric could have easily been leveled by any number of BDS organization and Palestinian “human rights activists.” In fact, Ahmadinejad’s message on Israel (Zionism is racism, Israel is racist and oppressive, etc.) is virtually identical to the message of the BDS movement.

Why is this so important to point out? Because individuals like Ahmadinejad, who promote the fiction of Israeli apartheid, racism, persecution of Palestinians, etc., do so to delegitimize the state of Israel and to diminish its support in the international arena (Iran does not even recognize the state of Israel, but refers to it as the “Zionist regime”). This serves a very important purpose in extreme anti-Israel designs: if Israel is delegitimized and seen as oppressive, then sponsorship of terrorism against the Jewish State gains justification, and so does the larger objective of wiping it off the map. BDS activists play a special role in this process: they help promulgate the subterfuge of Israeli oppression and bring it into the mainstream.

What is perhaps most disturbing about the BDS movement is that it is so deceptive. Not only is BDS predicated on malicious lies, but it is typically festooned in the mellifluous rhetoric of “peace,” “dialogue,” and “bridge-building.” BDS activists are often invited to college campuses, for instance, under this pretext. This, too, falls apart under scrutiny. It is impossible to dialogue with BDS activists and others engaged in the delegitimization of Israel. The reason is simple: one cannot promote BDS against Israel unless one accepts that Israel engages in practices befitting measures as extreme as BDS. But these alleged practices — Israeli oppression, racism, and apartheid — are lies. Those who aren’t knowingly perpetuating the lies for the purpose of dismantling Israel, are helping to perpetuate the lies and their end game nonetheless.

At this point, someone like Mr. Eshman might naturally object with the following: although it’s true that anti-Semites incorporate BDS into their violent agenda, many genuine human rights activists view BDS as a legitimate way to deliver a message of disapproval to Israel. Israel, like any other country, is not above reproach, after all. Thus, we can’t put these two very different camps of people into the same category and, furthermore, we can’t blame the nonviolent BDS advocates for the crimes of the violent, anti-Semitic ones.

The response to this ill-considered concern is clear: it is difficult to say what is in anyone’s heart. A nonviolent BDS activist might not engage in violence himself, but might view violence against Jews as just — as activist of the ISM do. On the other hand, perhaps it’s true that some people are naive and genuinely believe anti-Israel lies without thinking critically. Or perhaps they have legitimate criticism of Israel and believe BDS is an appropriate expression of that criticism. Ultimately, neither of these excuses are defensible. There is no justification for the boycott of Israel unless one believes Israel is an apartheid state or otherwise deliberately abuses human rights. If one believes the latter, then either they do so out of ignorance, in which case they are helping to popularize anti-Semitic falsehoods and weaken the Jewish State, or they genuinely believe the mythology promoted by like likes of Idi Amin, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and their followers. The upshot? In either case, reasonable criticism of Israel is certainly unproblematic, but when criticism is based on falsehoods created for the purpose of inciting hatred toward Jews, this has crossed the line and cannot be abided in any form.

We should also note that the demand for dialogue is a two-way street. Yet, because the demonization campaign against Israel has been so successful, the contribution of pro-Israel dialogue is slowly being delegitimized as well. Dee Sterling, a member of the Irvine, California community, has devoted herself to exposing Jewish funding of an anti-Israel student program known as the Olive Tree Initiative, which is involved with many BDS activists. Sterling has been publicly defamed by supporters of the Olive Tree Initiative, and she has been prevented from speaking out about her experiences. Also at Irvine, in a now infamous incident, a 2010 speech given by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren at UCI was shouted down by student protesters. Protesters hurled terrible invective at the ambassador, including accusations of Israeli-perpetrated genocide, and had to be forcibly removed. The examples go on and on. For all of the lip-service on the importance of dialogue and the freedom of speech by BDS supporters, their ability to actually engage in it is seriously in question.

The price for ignoring the power of the BDS movement is not only being felt in our college campuses, but in the international community as well. On February 18th, the UN moved to condemn Israeli settlement policy as illegal and an obstacle to peace, essentially singling out and shifting the blame for the continued failure of the peace process onto Israel — not Palestinian terrorism, not the promotion of anti-Semitism by Arab autocrats, Hamas, or Palestinian schools. More disturbingly, although the US ultimately vetoed the resolution, UN ambassador Susan Rice stated publicly that the US sided whole-heartedly with the spirit of the resolution. The propaganda war is being lost.

It is being lost because whether one naively helps to empower the misinformation campaign against Israel or one disseminates its propaganda with the intention of destroying the Jewish State, the result is the same. It is a difference without a difference. It is therefore incumbent on any individual and organization that cares for the welfare of Israel to disassociate from the BDS movement as much as possible. It is far from difficult to do so. The Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties has set an excellent example by incorporating protocol into its funding guidelines to prohibit money from being used to support BDS-related activity. All it took was a simple clause. Of course, language of this kind can never be formulated perfectly, but this should not stand in the way of organizations who wish to send a clear message of dissent to the BDS movement. There should also not be a worry over compromising one’s commitment to free speech in adopting such protocol. If boycotting Israel is a legitimate expression of free speech, then surely boycotting the boycotters of Israel is as well.

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