The Palestinian attempt to remove Israel from FIFA and the warning of the CEO of Orange International about his desire to disconnect from his Israeli franchises put the movement to boycott Israel in the headlines. This was helped by belligerent statements from the Prime Minister and some of his ministers, who signalled that the boycott was a strategic threat on the state of Israel.
The boycott injures every Israeli citizen indiscriminately, it causes political extremism and it fuels a hostile public discourse. The BDS movement wants to replace the Israeli state with one that is neither Zionist nor Jewish. These are strong reasons to oppose BDS. Therefore, the New Israel Fund does not support organizations that engage in BDS. However, the response of the Israeli government to threats of boycott ignores one central fact: the main factor in the recent success of BDS is related to a large extent to the lengthy Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, and to the governmental policy that turns its back on a two-state solution. It is the fuel of the boycott movement. Without this, it would not exist at all outside of the most radical political fringes.
Prime Minister Netanyahu explicitly stated on the night of the elections that the two-state solution is not acceptable to him, and most of the ministers in the new government swear faithfully to strengthen the settlements and to continue Israeli military control in the territories. The world listens to these voices, and concludes that their intention is to continue to deny the right of citizenship of millions of Palestinians for the foreseeable future. To this fact, is added the racist statements, plans to destroy Arab villages in the West Bank and within Israel, and outrageous ideas like separate buses. It is the platform on which the boycott movement grows.
It’s true that there is Anti-Semitism in the world. A hate for Israel exists for which there is nothing behind that hate but the hate itself. But we are not in the 1930s. The western governments distinguish between the need to stand with the Jewish community and with the state of Israel, and the scathing criticism they have for our actions in the territories. When the Prime Minister and his ministers intentionally blur this distinction between Anti-Semitism and legitimate criticism of the settlements and the occupation, they cause two types of damage: not only to the struggle against real Anti-Semitism but also to the war against BDS. Instead of dealing with the roots of the criticism against Israel, the government prefers to chase after imaginary enemies, inside and out.
The irony here is that the government is providing additional arguments for the supporters of boycott. Whoever blames the human rights organizations for the growth of the boycott movement is shooting the messenger instead of dealing with the problem. Rather, poignant political discourse strengthens the democratic character of Israel and proves that there is no place for sweeping measures like the boycott, but instead there is room for dialogue with Israel.
Listen to a friend of Israel. Journalists, heads of state and activists in Jewish organizations clarify over and over that without a serious political initiative to end the occupation – and not just token statements – they will not be able to continue to defend us on campuses, in parliaments or in the Security Council. The government’s policies, our friends say, are making the separation between the Israeli occupation and Israel the democracy more and more complicated. Our friends will be happy to defend us every time, but the majority of them are not interested in defending the occupation.
The New Israel Fund opposes BDS, and took part in the public campaign against the Palestinian initiative in the FIFA congress. The New Israel Fund has been investing the donations of Zionist Jews for more than thirty years in civil society, education and democracy – activities that stand in clear contrast to calls from the BDS movement to boycott Israel and its institutions. For this reason, the NIF has defined its opposition to BDS as one of its central guidelines.
But opposition to the boycott will fail if it won’t deal with the roots of the problem. As Israel occupies more, and becomes more nationalist and racist, the BDS movement will achieve more victories. Human rights, democracy, peace and equality are the most effective weapons we have to oppose the boycott. It’s time to use them.
Rachel Liel is the New Israel Fund’s Executive Director in Israel.