Calling out BDS anti-Semitism

Gerald Steinberg

The boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) crowd that targets Israel often declares that, in contrast to the charges made by critics, they are not anti-Semitic or viscerally anti-Israel. But the evidence does not support claims of innocence – these campaigns are clearly a form of discrimination based on double standards and singling out Israel, as the Jewish state, for attack. 

Based on the 2001 NGO declaration at the UN anti-racism conference in Durban, South Africa, which called for “the complete international isolation of Israel as an apartheid state,” BDS campaigns on university campuses and by churches (such as the United Church of Canada) promote hate speech that would not be tolerated against any other group.

 In many examples, this anti-Semitism leaks out, beyond the façade of “opposing the occupation” and supporting “Palestinian human rights.” In addition to ignoring the human rights of Israelis (including 4,563 rockets and missiles from Gaza against Israeli civilians in last year’s war – each one a war crime), a number of BDS campaigners make their hatred of the Jewish state very clear. 

For example, while Amnesty International claims to promote the universal principles of human rights, its core involvement in BDS reflects the stain of anti-Semitism. Among other employees, Kristyan Benedict, campaigns manager of Amnesty’s U.K. branch, is clearly obsessed with irrational hostility toward Israel, as reflected in his numerous social media posts. In a tweet during a Gaza flare-up in 2012, Benedict posted a “joke” about three Jewish British MPs, portrayed as warmongers: “Louise Ellman, Robert Halfon & Luciana Berger walk into a bar… each orders a round of B52s … #Gaza.” (In July 2015, Benedict re-tweeted a Hamas post referring to “Israel’s war crimes.”) Amnesty reportedly “disciplined” Benedict, but he remains in his post and continues with impunity.  

Rock musician Roger Waters is another illustration of the close links between BDS and anti-Semitism. Abe Foxman, former head of the Anti-Defamation League, called Waters a “narrow-minded bigot.” Waters is the most visible entertainer to promote BDS, and in his concerts, he’s used a balloon in the shape of a pig painted with Jewish symbols, including a large Magen David (Star of David). In reference to Israel, Waters said that “parallels with what went on in the ’30s in Germany are so crushingly obvious… So this is not a new scenario. Except that this time it’s the Palestinian people being murdered.” On another occasion, Waters proclaimed, “The Jewish lobby is extraordinary powerful here and particularly in the industry that I work in, the music industry and in rock ’n’ roll.”

A new level of anti-Semitism was reached recently when BDS campaigners forced the cancellation of a scheduled appearance by the Jewish American (and clearly not Israeli) entertainer Matisyahu at a music festival in Spain earlier this month. His invitation was withdrawn after he refused to sign a statement denouncing Israel and supporting the creation of a Palestinian state – an absurd condition demonstrating that among BDS leaders, there is no distinction between Jews and Israelis, and both are targets. None of the other singers, from various ethnic groups and nationalities, were given a political litmus test. 

Furthermore, the use of fringe Jewish groups and a scattering of radical Israelis doesn’t provide protection or “prove” that BDS is free of anti-Semitism, but rather the opposite. During centuries of church persecution, including during the Inquisition, anti-Semites used a handful of Jews and converts to give “evidence” of Jewish perfidy. In today’s version, groups calling themselves Independent Jewish Voices and Jewish Voices for Peace provide the same service to churches that promote divestment (the D in BDS) from Israel under the façade of “human rights”.  But a fig leaf with a few Jews or even Israelis does not in any way demonstrate the absence of anti-Semitism. 

For many years, BDS and its operating arms, including Students for Justice in Palestine, have been allowed to promote anti-Semitism. The time to end this impunity is long overdue.