Who's Afraid of BDS?


Growing support for Palestinian rights—and to put economic pressure on Israel through boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaigns targeting companies complicit in human rights abuses and violations of international law in local municipalities, campus endowments, and churches—has provoked an intensive backlash from Israel’s defenders. 

 Jewish establishment organizations, Christian Zionist organizations, and other Israel lobby groups are competing for the millions of dollars that pro-Israel funders have mobilized to address what they see as a public relations problem. Rather than question the increasingly extremist policies of the Israel government and leveraging their power to change it, these organizations are deflecting well-deserved criticism of the Israeli state’s policies with accusations of anti-Semitism.

Unable to defend Israel’s increasingly repressive policies, advocates have turned to new tactics to shut down the conversation about Palestinian human rights. They have slipped anti-BDS amendments into federal trade legislation, pushed resolutions at the state level to condemn the BDS movement as anti-Semitic, supported legislation to prevent states from contracting with companies that boycott Israel or Israel’s illegal settlements, and created blacklists of groups and companies that support economic pressure to change Israeli policies.

Israel advocacy groups have zeroed in on a much-criticized definition of anti-Semitism the State Department uses to monitor anti-Semitism globally to conflate criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism. The definition includes the so-called “3Ds”— demonize, delegitimize, and apply a double-standard to Israel—that can and have been used to silence activism for Palestinian rights.

Those whose political agenda is to silence legitimate criticism of Israeli policies and the subsequent treatment of Palestinians, both currently and historically, have been applying this expansive definition of anti-Semitism.

Despite this pressure, student activism for Palestinian rights is gaining momentum. Just this week the student government at the University of Chicago passed a divestment resolution, and the graduate student union at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst passed a resolution endorsing BDS. Given Israel’s rightward shift and the stalled (and flawed) peace process, there is growing recognition that political and economic outside pressure will be necessary to bring about a semblance of justice and security for all people living in the region.

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