My BDS Questions

There will be many wanting to get in line to cheer British Prime Minister David Cameron.


Because of his remarkable speech to the Israeli Parliament yesterday and for his courageous stance on the BDS, “To those who do not share my ambition, who want to boycott Israel, I have a clear message. Britain opposes boycotts, whether it’s trade unions campaigning for the exclusion of Israelis or universities trying to stifle academic exchange.” And, “Delegitimising the state of Israel is wrong. It’s abhorrent. And together we will defeat it.”

This week, the Australian media reported that Dan Avnon, The Hebrew University Professor boycotted by Jake Lynch, Director of the University of Sydney’s Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, arrived in Sydney to take a fellowship at the Institute for Democracy and Human Rights.

As a result of Lynch’s actions, the Israeli Legal Centre Shurat HaDin has filed a lawsuit against Lynch and his centre, accusing him of breaching Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act by supporting the Boycott, divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

The case is currently being heard in the Australian Federal Court.

As you can imagine, being chairman of the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission, a Jewish communal organisation that for more than 30 years has been combating anti-Semitism and racism in all its forms, the highly disturbing BDS exercises my mind a great deal.

BDS proponents shout from the rooftops that they are not anti-Semites.

Yet, they cannot answer some very simple questions.

Like, for example, why they keep singling Israel out.

Or why is it that it’s only Israel that animates and fuels their passion.

I wonder how many of the BDS proponents are currently advocating a BDS against “numerous regimes in the world guilty of oppression and breaches of freedom worse than any committed by the Netanyahu government which, at the very least, faces a free media, parliamentary opposition, regular elections and a Supreme Court that has disallowed torture”, as former Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Bob Carr put it.

Boycotters, like the group of protesters who waged a BDS campaign and staged rallies (sometimes violent) outside Max Brenner outlets in Australia, frequently claim that they are driven by human rights.

Yet, they fail to explain why they punish and single out Israel, when there are barbaric human rights offences committed in the Arab world, in Africa, in Asia, that are worthy of their attention, but escape their boycott?

Call me naive, but I am still bewildered by how bashing and boycotting Israel seems more important and urgent than the mass  murder of Africans by Muslims in Darfur, or the slaughter of civilians of ethnic minorities by the Burmese military regime, or the gruesome horrors taking place in the Central African Republic, or the mass rape of women in the Congo, or the killing fields in Syria, or the widespread ownership of slaves by Muslims in Niger, or  the denial of  freedom for the female half of the population in many nations, or the persecution of Arab homosexuals, or the disappearance, torture, and murder of journalists and political activists in Gaza or in  countries like Pakistan and Turkey?

The cover of the BDS allows its backers to unleash an explosion of invective against Israel that is frightening in its fury.

As a host of commentators have noted, BDS activists do not propose boycotting Indian academics because of India’s military brutal rule of Kashmir, nor do they argue for a boycott of Chinese academics because of the government’s massive settlement of Tibet, nor do they mention Russia’s appalling devastation and killing in Chechnya and recent action in the Ukraine, nor they do promote a ban on Russian academics, nor do they advocate a BDS against Turkey for its treatment of the Kurds.

If they want, I’m sure we can all prepare an enormously long list of countries with horrific track records of racism, genocide, terrorism, human rights abuses, sexism and homophobia that are a thousand times worse than anything Israel does.

But they are not interested in any such list.

Because in their playbook, boycotts and discrimination should only be applied to Israel.

Isn’t it strange that of all the human rights violators, the only state that is targeted by the BDS also happens to the world’s sole Jewish state?

Richard Cohen writes, “Arab nations have shamefully been granted an exception to the standards expected of the rest of the world, as if they were children. If I were an Israeli, I’d be worried. If I were an Arab, I’d be insulted. If I were a critic only of Israel, I’d be ashamed.”

You would think that academics would know better.

Yet, the offensive and patently unjust vote by the American Studies Association (ASA) in February of this year to boycott Israeli academic institutions violated the most basic tenets of academic freedom, open exchange and the sharing of ideas.

By singling out the only democracy in the Middle-East, where open debate is encouraged and permitted, the ASA revealed its narrow-mindedness and hypocrisy.

Anyone who understands the BDS mindset would not have been surprised to learn that this was the first time that the ASA boycotted a country, once again demonstrating the double standard Israel is repeatedly and unfairly subjected to.

Anthony Julius, who represented Deborah Lipstadt in her trial with David Irving, has stated that the academic boycott against Israel is part of a long anti-Semitic tradition to isolate the Jewish community and is “continuous with historical anti-Semitic discourse and practice”.

Hanna Rosenthal, the former US State Department’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat anti-Semitism, unequivocally stated in 2010 that, “when academics from Israel are boycotted—this is not objecting to policy—this is anti-Semitism”.

No wonder that Larry Summers, the former President of Harvard University has denounced the call to boycott Israeli academics as anti-Semitic, “both in effect and intent”.

Consider now Professor Fred Gottheil’s experiment.

After seeing a 2009 anti-Israel petition signed by 900 academics, Gottheil sent 675 of those who signed the petition his “Statement of Concern”.

It expressed concern about human rights violations in the Middle East, including wife beating, honour killings, violence against gays and female genital mutilations.

Gottheil figured that since those signatories cared about social justice in the region, they would fully back his document.

Now, without reading the next line, can you guess how many endorsed his statement?


In the BDS world, there is no context to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

There’s only the excessively simple formula in which Israelis alone are the villains, guilty of everything, and the Palestinians are the victims, guilty of nothing.

In the BDS world, rejectionism, terrorism, genocidal threats of annihilation and 60 plus years of complex history are disregarded.

In the BDS world, Hamas, Iran, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad are not even referenced.

The bottom line is that everyone, apart from Israel, gets a free pass.

For Gabriel Schoenfeld, anti-Semitism is “the right and the only word for an anti-Zionism so one-sided, so eager to indict Israel while exculpating Israel’s adversaries, so shamefully adroit in the use of moral double standards, so quick to issue false and baseless accusations”.

I agree.
This article was originally published in the Times of Israel, March 14, 2014.