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Israel Battles the Boycotts

Back in the 1980s I had a friend who was, like me, a CIA Case Officer. He came from a German-Jewish family that had immigrated to the United States in 1933 and, though non-practicing in religion, he was a devoted reader of Commentary. At that time Commentary was the house organ for what we now would describe as a neoconservative foreign policy, a fringe viewpoint that had not yet captured the Republican Party.

One day my colleague approached me and began to rant and rave about the movie “Gandhi.” He had been reading about the film in Commentary and told me that it was historically inaccurate and little more than a puff piece that had been funded by the Indian government. Lacking any particularly insight into the matter I made agreeable noises and left it at that, but it occurred to me that there was something more to the story.

Today I understand what the problem was. Gandhi forced a seemingly unassailable imperial occupying power to pull up stakes and go home. And he did it through nonviolence. Commentary clearly understood that if the Palestinians were to copy Gandhi it would create possibly insurmountable difficulties for the Israeli occupation, which was even then beginning to build permanent settlements for 100,000 settlers [1] in East Jerusalem, on the West Bank and the Golan Heights, as well as in Gaza. It could also expose Israel’s denial of basic human rights [2] to many of the Palestinians under its control.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and numerous other friends of Israel have essentially declared war [3] on the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS), which one might describe as the Palestinian version of Gandhi, as it is nonviolent and nonconfrontational. BDS essentially seeks to bring about change through exposing the immorality of the status quo and even challenging the legitimacy of the Israeli state, which was founded by dispossessing the Palestinians. BDS was organized in 2005 and has three stated objectives [4]: ending the Israeli occupation, granting Arab Israelis full citizenship rights, and respecting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes. The third demand, the most contentious, is generally conceded to be a bargaining chip, expected to be subsumed into an agreement that would produce two contiguous states, which the BDS organizers explicitly support.

Boycotting Israeli products, divesting from companies that operate there, and calling for sanctions directed against particularly egregious human rights violations are intended to create economic pressure to bring about the type of change that eventually occurred in apartheid South Africa. Netanyahu clearly understands that BDS is the greatest threat that the current Israeli government faces because it actually might be successful, as the world now realizes that Tel Aviv plans a perpetual de facto occupation of all of Palestine coupled with second-class status for anyone who is not Jewish. As a result, even many traditional supporters of Israel regard continuation of the Israel-Palestine status quo as both morally and politically indefensible.

Supporting boycotts or foreign sanctions has now been declared illegal for any citizen of Israel and the government is also taking aim at [5] local human rights groups that it says are providing fodder for foreign critics. Israel was rocked two weeks ago by a near miss [6] over a possible suspension of the country from the international soccer federation FIFA due to its treatment of Palestinian footballers, and fears that similar moves might be taken against its participation in next year’s Olympic Games. Netanyahu understands that international ostracism is a threat far greater than a potentially nuclear-armed Iran and much more significant than the two intifada outbreaks of violence that began in 1987 and 2000. He has stated so explicitly, saying recently [7] that BDS “is an international campaign to blacken [Israel’s] name” and declaring that it “is not connected to our actions; it is connected to our very existence.”

Ayelet Shaked, the Israeli justice minister, has instructed [8] her department to “prepare a plan of legal steps” against BDS to “move from the defense to the offense.” The government has budgeted [9] $26 million to fund the effort. Gilad Erdan, Minister for Public Security Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy, will lead the effort together with Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely. Erdan and Hotovely might well be considered gifts to the Palestinians as both are poster children for Israel’s hardest hardliners, Erdan saying that [10] Arab members of the Israeli parliament will be “cleansed” when the time is right while Hotovely has declared [11] “This land is ours. All of it is ours.”

The Israeli government view is that accepting BDS is analogous to letting Nazis into your house. Yair Lapid, a former Finance Minister, told a New York audience [12] that BDS organizers were “outright anti-Semites” linked to Arabs who “collaborated with the Nazis” and for a kicker threw in that they were “responsible for 9/11, for terror attacks in Madrid and London, and for the 250,000 people already killed in Syria.”


In the United States a broad array of organizations considered to be part of the Israel lobby have also mobilized, while Israeli-American billionaires Haim Saban and Sheldon Adelson, who recently hosted [13] a meeting in Las Vegas to address the problem, are funding the effort with $20 million to raise an activist army called “Campus Maccabees.” [14] Saban noted that [15] “Any company that chooses to boycott business in Israel, we’re going to look at this case, and once we’re done, they’re going to think twice about whether they want to take on Israel or not.” Self-described “America’s Rabbi” Shmuley Boteach was at the meeting as designated point-man, damning BDS as [16] “Hitler’s U-boats” and an “an act of war” that is “driven by a malignant pulse of anti-Semitism.”

The BDS movement in the United States has won some minor victories, to include resolutions supporting boycotts on 15 university campuses [13] as well as divestment by the Presbyterian and Methodist Churches. In Brazil, the government recently canceled [17] a $2 billion contract with an Israeli security firm linked to the upcoming Rio Olympics. In Europe, the movement is much more advanced. The European Union (EU) intends to demand that products originating in Israeli settlements be identified [18] as to place of origin while 16 of 28 EU foreign ministers now support sanctioning such goods. Recently, major French telecom company Orange Chief Executive Stephane Richard recognized the problem in doing business in Israel, stating that he would like to pull out completely. He was forced to travel to Israel to apologize personally to Netanyahu, recanting obsequiously [19] under pressure from Jewish organizations and the French government.

The U.S. Congress recently approved [20] an anti-BDS amendment to the omnibus European trade bill, mandating that nations engaging in anti-Israel boycotts, to include “Israeli controlled territories,” should be penalized in any trade agreement. In early June the South Carolina legislature made it illegal [21] for any public entity to do business with a company or organization that “boycotts others” based on “national origin.” The bill also targeted other kinds of discrimination, but it was really all about Israel, with one State Representative acknowledging “our great ally” before noting that the legislation would counter “economic warfare to forward the purposes of hatred and bigotry … the tactics employed by the Nazis.” Similar bills have also passed in Indiana and Tennessee while Illinois has unanimously approved [22] legislation prohibiting any pension fund investment in companies that boycott either Israel or territories occupied by Israel. There are reportedly [21] 18 other states with similar legislation pending.

New York State considered cutting off funding [23] to colleges that pass resolutions boycotting Israel, a step that GOP Presidential candidate Senator Ted Cruz also supports [24] at the federal level, blocking money that would include student loans and research grants. Cruz, who called BDS both a “lie” and “anti-Semitism,” was picking up his Defender of Israel award from the Champion of Jewish Values International Awards Gala at the time.

The counterattack in the U.S. has also spawned an interesting website called Canary Mission [25], which “was created to expose individuals and groups that are anti-Freedom, anti-American and anti-Semitic.” In reality it is all about Israel, targeting BDS activists at colleges and naming students involved, as “We believe in the right of employers to know which potentially threatening organizations prospective employees were affiliated with during their time on campus.” In short, if you become too active with BDS, we will attempt to make you unemployable [26].

Some observers note that attempts to use “Lawfare” and coercion against BDS activists might also actually make the movement go underground and be more difficult to confront. Instead of demonstrating or demanding divestment in public fora, critics will simply avoid having anything to do with Israel or with the business interests of prominent American and European Jews who are heavily engaged in supporting the Israeli government. Entertainers will increasingly avoid performing in Israel and academics will stop going to conferences. At a certain point, even friendly investors will consider the country to be a poor risk due to its politics.

The Nazi theme inevitably surfaces regularly in the attacks on BDS. One editorial describes [10] the movement as “a blatant lie rooted in Goebbels’ school.” Benjamin Weinthal, a research fellow for the neocon Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, notes that [18] neo-Nazi groups support BDS and that the first phase of the Holocaust consisted of boycotting Jewish businesses. He cites an acerbic Israeli Foreign Ministry response to European efforts to label settlement products, “It seems European nations now want to put a yellow patch on Israeli products…” It is a familiar argument: since neo-Nazis support boycotting Israel then anyone supporting a boycott must be considered a neo-Nazi.

One can only expect the fight over BDS to become even more bitter as the two sides dig in. The involvement of both federal and state governments on behalf of Israel is particularly regrettable as there will be pressure on universities to conform, and First Amendment rights could easily be trampled along the way. The argument that efforts to bring about change in Israeli policies equates to anti-Semitism is also dangerous, particularly as it could lead to a questionably broad definition of “hate speech.” Even if Netanyahu is able to win by blocking critics, it will still be a Pyrrhic victory because it will not address the fundamental issue: Israel, by its own actions, has become internationally isolated, reducing the number of countries that are reliably sympathetic to a handful. As Israel’s leading columnist Nahum Barnea, in describing the unsustainability of the status quo, put it laconically [10], “…as long as we have not occupied the rest of the world, we have a problem.”

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is executive director of the Council for the National Interest.

15 Comments (Open | Close)

15 Comments To "Israel Battles the Boycotts"

#1 Comment By Michael N Moore On June 18, 2015 @ 9:13 am

The Gandhian reference is a good one, as Israel appears to have gotten its international start by acting as the Gibraltar of the eastern Mediterranean; a lynchpin of the British Empire. Israel attacked with Britain and France after the Arab nationalist’s seized the Suez canal, then owned by English and French investors. It was rewarded by France with nuclear weapons.

Israel is now in the grip of militarists working for the US military-industrial- congressional complex, thus any movement against it that cannot be bombed is a huge threat.

#2 Comment By KXB On June 18, 2015 @ 9:48 am

The comparison to British India is hindered by a major difference – Britain was not actively settling its own people into India and displacing the native population. Britain required the cooperation of thousands of Indian soldiers and civil service to manage the empire. Israel does not have these issues.

Given that the US tolerates gross human rights violations from Middle Eastern allies such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, I see no reason why Israel cannot continue on its current course. So long as they enjoy the support of the US federal government, and rising nations such as China and India do not comment on Israel’s domestic matters, why should Israeli leadership change course?

#3 Comment By nick On June 18, 2015 @ 2:32 pm

The Israeli reaction to BDS is just another clear indication Israel fails to pause (for even a split second) and reflect on their conduct. From Netanyahu’s appointment of hard liners to combat BDS to the redundant and misguided “nazi and anti-semite” accusations by Zionists and other blind supporters of the illegal state.
Will Israel ever realize it’s not just “Jew hating Nazi’s” that do not support Israel and would prefer to avoid business.
Is it not my right as an American consumer or business leader to require an ingredient of ethics in who I choose to do and not do business with? Now I can be punished if I choose not to support a powerful people who I perceive to take the land, life, and dignity from weaker people? This state legislation in the pipeline throughout our country is a crime and a front to our freedom.
Hobby Lobby can deny benefits to Americans over the company’s “religious rights” yet I am punished for deciding not to do business with a foreign entity who has benefited through war crimes, land theft, etc?

#4 Comment By Michael N Moore On June 18, 2015 @ 2:53 pm

KXB said:

“The comparison to British India is hindered by a major difference – Britain was not actively settling its own people into India and displacing the native population. Britain required the cooperation of thousands of Indian soldiers and civil service to manage the empire. Israel does not have these issues.” end KXB

I think that the author was making comparisons to Gandhi’s tactics and not his country. Yes. The UK was a more assertive settler state in Northern Ireland, North America, and Australia than India.

There was a large class of English people who lived in comparable comfort by residing in India. Anyone who has not seen “The Jewell in the Crown” really should. In that BBC series the Indian Police executive, “an English grammar school” boy who has done well in India, explains the facts of imperial life to an English educated Indian who has returned: “We view you with contempt and you view us with fear. Understand? Contempt – Fear.” This is the universal colonial dynamic that is at play in Israel.

#5 Comment By Andrew Zook On June 18, 2015 @ 3:53 pm

The only way this breaks in the right direction is if Jews/Israelis with a conscience the world over, stand up and are willing to confront their leaders/elders/kin with the questions: “Is our treatment of the Palestinians past & present found/justified in Torah? found/justified in freedom/justice-promoting democracy? found/justified as broadly-considered humane morality? If not, then why are you supporting it?” They need to be the loudest saying “We can do better than this…” I’m kind of supportive of BDS, but it seems to give the real totalitarians a lot of ammo. The only people who can really take that rhetorical ammo away are Israelis themselves; not an american gentile like me.

#6 Comment By Mark Thomason On June 18, 2015 @ 4:39 pm

If Israel turns this into a political confrontation in the US using our political system to take its side, then it MIGHT manage to maintain the status quo here.

However, it might lose, and in losing suffer huge damage here.

Even if it can maintain the status quo here, that too is a victory for the Gandhi point of view. It would humiliate both Israel and its US supporters before the rest of the world, with political consequences everywhere.

This is a fight Israel can win or at least not lose only by not fighting — a very Gandhi like truth.

#7 Comment By Lawrence Swaim On June 18, 2015 @ 6:32 pm

The neo-Zionists–that is, people who believe that Israel can never be criticized even when it is wrong–are now moving to the stage where they are trying to police political association, speech and advocacy in the US. This will be where they fail. Although name-calling is extremely unpleasant, most Americans simply don’t like to be told how to think, feel and speak by foreign governments. But the Israel Lobby is especially a disaster for Judaism and Jewish culture, because it is an attempt to make Judaism an extension of the Israeli state.

The Israel Lobby is about a year or so from using violence on American soil, especially on US campuses. The question then becomes: how much to we value our own Constitution? Do we value it enough to fight a system that tries to make people unemployable through gutter name-calling, and uses its billionaire donors to destroy lives of people that dare to criticize the almighty Israeli state?

#8 Comment By cityeyes On June 18, 2015 @ 10:11 pm

This boycott should have begun in June 1967 when they refused to accept culpability for their merciless attack on the USS Liberty.

#9 Comment By Romerus On June 19, 2015 @ 12:28 am

As I very recently posted elsewhere:

‘In principle, threats are not to be eliminated but are to be maintained and contained, because they do an immense service in the shaping of a shared and effective political and historical consciousness. So it is that Netanyahu the Younger skips and hops between potential catastrophe, on the one hand, which he cultivates, and preventing its realization, on the other, all the while keeping Jewish existence suspended in a state of emergency. His political philosophy is, then, fully based on what can be called a doctrine of restrained catastrophism.

‘Thus, in Netanyahu the Younger’s playbook, only a perpetual Palestinian threat, only “management of the conflict” and the maintenance of a perpetual state of war, can preserve the Jewish state over time.’


Is it not possible that the U.S. (vide Jeb Bush, but also Hillary Clinton) is macrocosmically also playing the same indefinite bellicose game in the Middle East and elsewhere for similar and convergent (with Israel and others), if not concerted, reasons?

#10 Comment By Common Sense On June 19, 2015 @ 9:48 am

I belong to that hardy breed that buys American whenever possible, so I effectively boycott products from a lot of places. With regard to Israel in particular, the main concern is security. As a responsible tech manager, I would no more install Israeli software on our computers than Russian or Chinese stuff.

At the moment there may not be much we can do to prevent our own NSA from hacking corporate and trade secrets, or the private data of individuals, but that doesn’t mean we have to gift wrap it for Israeli commercial competitors or spies. For me, boycotting Israeli, Chinese, or Russian tech companies isn’t so much a moral critique as basic prudence and due diligence, a common sense security measure against the commercial arms of foreign states notorious for spying on us and stealing our technology.

#11 Comment By Dimitri Cavalli On June 19, 2015 @ 10:18 pm

The question is why pick on Israel?

How come no one ever boycotts the United States in response to 1) two horrible wars, 2) the use of drone strikes to kill enemies, 3) the use of enhanced interrogation techniques, 4) the continued use of capital punishment, 5) NSA surveillance, etc.

#12 Comment By richard vajs On June 20, 2015 @ 8:57 am

There are several well established concepts in American thought that are about to self-destruct: 1. “free market capitalism” is the best economic model for America, 2. the middle class runs America, 3. Israel is a democratic country valuable to America. Because of wretched excesses, all three of these concepts are becoming obviously false upon close view of the facts and are about to be successfully opposed.

#13 Comment By Biff On June 20, 2015 @ 1:28 pm

Can someone tell me how to boycott something I wouldn’t buy in the first place?

#14 Comment By Aviel On June 23, 2015 @ 10:51 am

As pointed out in the article many Jews and Israelis along with their supporters view a successful BDS movement as a threat to the viability of the Jewish State on a par, or greater than a nuclear Iran.As both a Jew and an Israeli it seems to me that one positive aspect of this movement is that it has the capacity to unite most all factions of the Jewish people [no easy task]except for the far left against it. I believe that those who do oppose the BDS boycott are thank God more committed, and more powerful than those who support it. It may be poor politics but it is refreshing to hear many current Israeli Gov’t officials speak openly about the nature of this conflict. The two State solution was never a real option.Only the Jews were serious. The Arabs did not agree to it if one was a secure Jewish State within any realistically defensible borders. As written in Mr Giraldi’s article the BDS movement demands the right of return for the descendants of the pre 1948 Palestinians who were living there before either they fled on their leaders’ orders in order to return after the Jews were killed, or they were forced out during the fighting by Jews depending on which narrative one believes. I think that if the Arab right to return was only a bargaining chip this conflict would have been resolved before now. One can’t be certain but like all previous attempts to destroy Israel the BDS movement will also with God’s help end in the defeat of those seeking Israel’s demise.

#15 Comment By Michael Fine On July 4, 2015 @ 2:33 pm

FYI, the capital of Israel is Jerusalem, not Tel-Aviv. Thought you would like to know.