Yom Kippur may have passed, but I still have a confession to make: I’m not that worked up about BDS. I know this sounds heretical to some, but the campaign to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel just doesn’t get me going.
I’m not saying that BDS is inconsequential, particularly on campus. I also recognize that BDS evokes disturbing parts of our history of persecution and that it has the potential to become something terrible. But BDS has been around for about 15 years – much longer, if you think it began with the Arab boycott of pre-state Israel – and, by any measure, it has failed.
Think about it: BDS really got going around 2005. A few years later, Israel joined the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Around the same time, Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle became a bestseller. The “miracle” in the title was not Israel overcoming BDS – the term is not even mentioned in the book – but Israel overcoming a host of other challenges, to create an astonishingly successful startup, high-tech and venture-capital fuelled economy, which continues to flourish.
In fact, BDS may even have modestly propelled the Israeli economy. The movement, which is not short on irony, actually motivates its opponents to buy the very things that its proponents want boycotted. Like some Zionist twist on The Producers, one can almost imagine investing in an Israeli product in the hopes that it will be boycotted by BDS supporters, and then “buycotted” by Israel’s. The more they boycott, the richer you get!
BDS does occasionally have an impact, but in a tragic twist, it principally damages the very people it ostensibly supports. For instance, under pressure from the BDS movement, in 2016, SodaStream closed its Maale Adumim facility – one of the few places in the West Bank where Jews and Arabs worked together in harmony – and moved production to Israel proper. Some 500 West Bank Arabs lost their jobs in this BDS “victory.”
That “victory” continued when, two years later, Pepsi bought SodaStream for over $4 billion. True to form, the BDS movement immediately called for a worldwide boycott of PepsiCo.
It’s not going well. Aside from recently returning over $9 billion to shareholders, Pepsi just opened a $44-million production facility in the West Bank. Of course, none of this matters to the armchair generals who lead the BDS movement, presumably while sipping on Cokes.
But here’s the strange thing: even as BDS sets back Palestinian interests, it consumes ours. Hell hath no fury like a Jewish community all broigus, and we reliably rise to the bait. Though it’s not quite dead, BDS has flopped. And yet, we still teach our kids to oppose it, rail against it from our pulpits and leverage it to fundraise for our charities. When I worked for the Canadian Jewish Congress, I half-joked that BDS was paying my mortgage.
Meanwhile, we face real enemies and real challenges. From community security to a nuclear Iran, from impoverished Holocaust survivors to declining Jewish identity, we have a never-ending agenda of more pressing communal needs.
And yet, the dumpster fire that is BDS consumes that agenda, or at least consumes way too much of it. Our advocacy organizations have even succeeded in getting politicians of varying stripes to condemn BDS publicly and repeatedly. If only that political capital had been spent on more pressing needs.
When we look back in 50 or 100 years, BDS will be some weird footnote to Jewish history. Already, no one outside our community and some peripheral left-wing circles has ever even heard of it. So, let’s not ignore this marginal nuisance, but let’s keep it in perspective, too.
BDS is a ship whose sails are constantly fluttering, though its crew preposterously believes it is sprinting across the ocean. For some bizarre reason, so do we. Why do we keep blowing wind into its luffing sails?