The Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions movement (BDS) calls for the international community to put economic pressure on Israel to end its flagrant violations of human rights. It demands an end to the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and the dismantling of the apartheid wall; equal rights for Palestinians in Israel; and the right of return of Palestinian refugees. Thus, although BDS does not take a direct stance on the question of a one- or two-state solution, the policies it champions would lay the foundation for a just peace by moving the region closer to a bi-national, truly democratic society.
So why is BDS itself the target of so much vituperation, in the media, in political discourse, and in actual government acts around the globe?
“We will always… oppose any effort to delegitimize Israel, including at the United Nations or through the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement,” pledges the Democratic platform.
“We… specifically recognize that the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (“BDS”) is anti-Semitic in nature and seeks to destroy Israel,” agrees its Republican counterpart.
In letters to her top donor Haim Saban, Hillary Clinton “expresses her alarm” over this grassroots movement, declaring that “we need to make countering BDS a priority.” Meanwhile, Donald Trump has scrambled to move to Clinton’s right on this issue, declaring that “She and President Obama have treated Israel very, very badly” and that he would be “100 percent” for “the Jewish state.” Backing him up, Alan Clemmons, a South Carolina state representative on the Republican platform committee, insisted, “The false notion that the Jewish state is an occupier is a anti-Semitic attack on Israel’s legitimacy.”
Meanwhile, the corporate media continually runs stories smearing the BDS campaign as racist. State legislatures across the country are passing bills criminalizing this nonviolent action. Some, such as New York, are creating blacklists of companies, organizations and even individuals who support it.
In all of these statements and actions, Judaism is portrayed as inseparable from the Israeli government. And, to be sure, equivalating all Jewish people with the actions of a deeply racist, genocidal state is a troubling and blatantly false position. However, BDS has never advanced this belief. In fact, many of the movement’s most prominent supporters — from Jill Stein to Jeff Halper to Jewish Voices for Peace — are themselves Jewish. Rather, this conflation is a standard Zionist line, an attempt to palliate unjustifiable actions through untrue ad hominem attacks on their critics.
Finally, the fact is often overlooked that Palestinians, too, are a Semitic people; Arabic is a Semitic language. Perhaps, therefore, those who seek to deny them human rights are the true “anti-Semites,” rather than those who seek justice for all people, regardless of race or creed.