Poll reveals many BDS supporters have ulterior motives

BDS supporters march through the streets of New York City in 2014. (Otto Yamamoto/CC BY-SA 2.0)

A recent poll seems to confirm what many have long suspected about the anti-Israel BDS campaign: it isn’t just about boycotts, divestment and sanctions.

The survey found that among those Canadians who support BDS, nearly half believe that Israel should be subject to further punishments, even if it complies with all the movement’s demands.

The poll’s results send “a loud message about the beliefs and values” of BDS proponents, said Amanda Hohmann, executive director of La’ad Canada. The organization, which hopes to build Jewish identity among millennials, commissioned the study.

“Proponents of BDS claim that the movement is motivated strictly by a desire to end so-called abuses by Israel,” Hohmann said in a statement. “However, the results of this survey appear to show that for almost half of BDS supporters, that is simply not true. This begs the question of what motivates these individuals, because it’s clearly not about co-existence.”


Conducted by the research and strategy firm Campaign Research, the national telephone survey queried 1,485 Canadians in September. It asked three questions about BDS, two of which were repeated from a poll the firm conducted in July 2017.

The first asked whether respondents were familiar with BDS, without mentioning Israel. Last year’s poll, which surveyed 1,540 people, found that only 10 per cent were familiar with the movement. In September’s survey, it was 12 per cent.

The second question explained the BDS campaign against Israel and asked whether respondents agreed with it. Both polls found that 19 per cent of those surveyed agreed with the movement.

This year, however, a third question, initiated by La’ad Canada, drilled down further. It asked: “If Israel were to meet its ‘obligations under international law,’ including withdrawal from the occupied territories, removal of the separation barrier in the West Bank, full equality for Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel and promotion of the right of return of Palestinian refugees, do you believe that it should be subject to further boycott, divestment and sanctions?”

BDS activists protest outside Concordia University in Montreal FACEBOOK PHOTO

Of those supporting BDS, 45 per cent answered “yes.”

“That’s our big issue,” said Sam Eskenasi, director of advocacy for La’ad Canada. “If you’re still calling for BDS once Israel does every single thing BDS is asking for, clearly, it’s not about whatever BDS is aiming for, it must be about something else. Our conclusion is, it’s very likely anti-Semitism.”

Hohmann sounded the same warning.

“For (nearly) half the supporters of BDS, their issue is with the very existence of Israel as a Jewish state,” she said. “Make no mistake – this is the very definition of anti-Semitism: that the Jewish people do not deserve the right to self-government.”

BDS supporters protest at McGill University in Montreal in 2016. MCGILL DAILY PHOTO

La’ad Canada is partnering with Hasbara Fellowships Canada to use the poll results on university campuses, “one of the main hotbeds of BDS activity in Canada, … to further explore the linkage between anti-Israel attitudes and anti-Semitism,” added Hohmann.

The survey’s results “confirmed for us what we have been seeing for many years: that the lines between those who are anti-Israel and those who are anti-Semitic are increasingly being blurred,” said Robert Walker, executive director of Hasbara Fellowships Canada.

He too said the poll will allow students to help their peers distinguish between legitimate criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism.

This year’s poll showed that support for sanctioning Israel beyond the aims of the BDS movement is highest among those aged 18 to 24 (76 per cent), higher among males (50 per cent) than females (39 per cent) and highest regionally in the Prairies (54 per cent).

It found that in Ontario, support for further penalties against Israel, even if it complies with BDS, was highest in Toronto, at 66 per cent.