Koren: BDS’s real threat is more insidious

BDS protesters rally in 2016. (Palestine Solidarity Campaign/CC BY 2.0)

Writing in The CJN recently, columnist Benjamin Shinewald argued that the BDS movement has been an utter failure and that the Jewish community shouldn’t get too worked up about it (“Boycott, shmoycott: by all measures BDS has failed,” Oct. 17). With all due respect, he misses the point entirely.

Yes, the BDS movement is failing to fulfill its stated goal of isolating Israel economically. In fact, as Shinewald notes, thanks to so-called buycotts and the power of Jewish social media, it “may even have modestly propelled the Israeli economy.” Nor is it having an effect on major corporations like Amazon, which just launched a television series that primarily focuses on Startup Nation, or celebrities like Snoop Dogg, who just signed on as a brand ambassador for an Israeli cannabis startup.

What Shinewald fails to articulate, however, is that the goal of BDS isn’t economic discrimination against Israel. That’s just a ruse, a tactic to cover up its real objective: targeting supporters of the Jewish state on college and university campuses, social media and elsewhere.

In reality, judging from the rhetoric espoused by the movement’s most vocal proponents, BDS aims to expropriate the language of progressivism and human rights activism to negate the existence of the world’s only Jewish state, rewrite thousands of years of Jewish history and what constitutes Jewish identity, and force young Jews to abandon their indigenous homeland.

And in that respect, BDS hasn’t failed at all.

As the director of Hasbara Fellowships Canada, which empowers student leaders to fight for Israel on campus, I have seen how BDS activists, students and professors discriminate against Jewish students at institutions of higher learning in Canada, the United States and around the world.

Under the pretense of BDS, these activists purport to advance a peaceful and just agenda against the “evil colonialist apartheid regime” that would benefit both Jews and Arabs – yet, if it ever came to fruition, their own stated goals would mean the end of the Jewish state as we know it.

In the U.S., a Brandeis Centre study linking anti-Semitism on 50 college campuses to BDS is thorough and informative, although devastating. In a recent incident, a Holocaust survivor who spoke to a classroom of students at Benedictine University in Illinois was criticized by a Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) group for saying that Israel has a right to exist.

Here in Canada, as they do everywhere, BDS organizers allege that their movement is peaceful and does not incite violence. But their actions speak otherwise. Campus groups like SJP and Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA) promote vile anti-Israel imagery on dozens of Facebook pages, all of them more dedicated to fomenting hatred against Israel than promoting peace and prosperity for two peoples.

These groups also commonly promote speakers who have maligned the Jewish state or have a history of openly promoting anti-Semitic tropes. In September, the SAIA chapter at the University of Toronto offered a platform to Issam Al-Yamani, a self-admitted former terrorist who has been deemed a “danger to the security of Canada” by the Canada Border Service Agency. Fortunately, after advocacy from organizations like the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center and Hasbara, the event was eventually held off-campus.

Canadian professors are also not immune to espousing bigoted viewpoints or conspiracy theories about Israeli domination. You may recall, for example, a pro-Israel student by the name of Ari Blaff who was accused of being a Zionist agent by his pro-BDS professor at the University of Toronto.

There were also the cases of the Jewish students in Montreal who were ridiculed for being “little Zionist Jewboys,” in the midst of a BDS vote at McGill University; the non-Jewish student leader at the University of Windsor whose office was vandalized with graffiti of a Star of David and the word “Zionist” ahead of a student BDS vote; and the walkout at Ryerson University over Holocaust Education Week.

These instances of delegitimizing and demonizing the Jewish state are the real victories of the BDS movement – not SodaSteam, Lorde or Demi Lovato.

If we were to take BDS organizers at their word, then yes, Shinewald’s premise is accurate: they are failing at their stated goal of hurting Israel economically, much to Roger Waters’ chagrin, I’m sure. But anyone who has been listening to him or Omar Barghouti knows that depriving Israel of a few shekels isn’t the only thing going on here. There is a much more insidious game at play.