The roots of the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) were planted in radical left wing and Islamist soil, and its extremist goal is eliminating the State of Israel. Since 2018, powerful evidence has emerged exposing BDS’s anti-Semitic physiology, its “DNA” that includes ideological “genes” from Islamic and Palestinian nationalist terror organizations.
The BDS movement is embodied by an anti-Semitic anatomy that categorically denies Israel’s right to exist. BDS is not, as is commonly thought in Western circles, a political critique of the Jewish State’s longstanding security policies against Palestinian terror. Neither is BDS intended as legitimate criticism of decades-old governmental policy of building and developing communities east of the 1949 armistice lines in the West Bank and the Golan Heights. BDS founder Omar Barghouti has stated in no uncertain terms that, “Definitely, most definitely, we oppose a Jewish State in any part of Palestine.”
Understanding the anti-Semitic and terror physiology of the global BDS crusade is important for two reasons: it facilitates governmental and parliamentary action by democratic countries; and equally far-reaching, it unmasks BDS’s tyrannical character and helps shift the public discourse from considering BDS a grassroots, political protest campaign, to recognizing it as the radical-left version of the better-known right-wing extremists’ totalitarian crusades that have demonized Jews as pretexts to massacre them.
It’s About Israel’s Existence.
Though BDS presents itself to the West as a peaceful, nonviolent, grassroots organization that seeks social justice and human rights for Palestinian Arabs, it obscures its operations via Palestine Liberation Organization and Hamas-affiliated NGOs (non-governmental organizations) in the Palestinian Authority-controlled city of Ramallah and the BDS leadership in the Gaza Strip. BDS activities in both areas are integrally connected to Islamic and Marxist-Leninist terror organizations. BDS has masked its goals in the language of justice and human rights.
To be clear, the Palestinian-led global BDS movement does not exist just to criticize Israeli policy; it categorically rejects Israel’s existence as the nation-state of the Jewish people. BDS rejectionism explains why the movement by definition contravenes both the U.S. State Department’s 2010 definition of anti-Semitism and the internationally accepted International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) 2016 working definition of anti-Semitism, which includes, “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”
BDS Denies Israel’s Existence as a Jewish State
Despite the IHRA’s definition of anti-Semitism, BDS leaders and activists have remained uncompromising in branding Israel an illegal and illegitimate implant in the Middle East. Barghouti has said, “No Palestinian, a rational Palestinian not a sell-out Palestinian, will ever accept a Jewish state in Palestine.” Lara Kiswani, executive director of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center stated, “We’re resisting colonialism in Palestine, and colonialism entails all of occupied Palestine, from Haifa, to Jerusalem, to Ramallah.” Denying the Jewish people the right to self-determination, including by claiming that the existence of the State of Israel is a racist endeavor, is precisely described in the clauses of the IHRA definition.
Even more egregiously, anti-Semitic statements made by the Islamist terror organization Hamas, which sits on the BDS National Committee, have called for genocide of the Jews in its charter, which states (Article 7): “The last hour would not come until the Muslims will fight against the Jews and the Muslims would kill them, until the Jews would hide themselves behind a stone or a tree and a stone or a tree would say: Muslim, the servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me; come and kill him.”
It is no surprise that the new anti-Semitism calling for the destruction of the Jewish state is voiced by Hamas and Hezbollah, whose paymaster is Iran, a regime that has promised the annihilation of the State of Israel since the mullahs took power in the late 1970s.
The BDS National Committee in Ramallah and Gaza
Palestinian terror groups outlawed in the United States and European Union, including Palestinian Islamic Jihad, (a branch of the Iranian regime), Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, PFLP General Command, Palestinian Liberation Front, and other largely European-funded political organizations sit as co-equal members of the BDS National Committee (BNC), which was founded in Ramallah in 2007.
The above-mentioned organizations fall under the umbrella of the PNIF – the Palestinian National and Islamic Forces in Palestine. The PNIF was founded in 2000 during the so-called “second intifada” (known in Israel as the “al-Aqsa terror war”) by Yasser Arafat and Marwan Barghouti, head of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, an offshoot of Fatah. (Arafat’s Fatah is the largest PLO faction.) It was inspired by both pan-Arab and Islamic ideologies. PNIF’s aim during the intifada was to coordinate terror and political action against Israel, which led to its constituent terror group members being outlawed by the U.S. and the EU.
The Ramallah- and later Gaza-based BDS crusade has exported its ideology and tactics to university campuses across the United States and Europe. Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) has become its arm on approximately 250 university campuses across North America. BDS is a classic anti-Semitic political warfare campaign, masquerading as a human rights, social justice, and equality organization while harassing, intimidating, and even assaulting Jews and Israel-friendly students on campus. The AMCHA Initiative headed by Professor Tammi Ross Benjamin at the University of California Santa Cruz has documented the demonstrable and intensifying anti-Semitic activity of BDS organizations, particularly in its 2018 report.
SJP activity has included swastika graffiti on campus following a Gaza solidarity weekend at the University of North Carolina, and the posting of mock eviction notices on doors of Jewish students’ dorm rooms at Emory University in Georgia, to name two examples among scores. These expressions of anti-Semitic intimidation and harassment have silenced pro-Israel and even “Israel-neutral” students.
The SJP national network was founded by a former mid-level Hamas affiliate, Hatem Bazian, who today is a professor at University of California-Berkeley. Bazian has called for the subversion of the United States in addition to his denial of Israel’s right to exist. He is chairman of AMP, American Muslims for Palestine, a direct outgrowth of three Hamas-supporting organizations: the Islamic Association for Palestine, Kind Hearts, and the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, which were either disbanded or closed following the al-Qaeda Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania. Holy Land was designated a terror-financing organization and shuttered by the American government. AMP was the outgrowth of and populated by unindicted members of these three organizations. Unsurprisingly, Hatem Bazian also serves as president of SJP. It doesn’t take a microscope to detect the anti-Semitic DNA of the leading BDS movements today on American college campuses.
Historical Roots: Arafat at the U.N.
The anti-Semitic rhetoric that is characteristic of the BDS movement was previewed by PLO leader Yasser Arafat, who, in his 1974 speech at the United Nations, labeled Zionism “racism.” He called for a “world free of colonialism, imperialism, neo-colonialism, and racism… including Zionism.” Arafat, together with anti-Western “non-aligned” states, managed to push through the UN General Assembly adoption of the infamous “Zionism is racism” resolution in 1975, which was annulled in 1991. “Zionism is racism” as an idea, was hatched in 1965, when the Soviet Union, the arch anti-Semitic power at the time in the General Assembly, refused to recognize anti-Semitism as a form of racism, such as apartheid or Nazism. In the USSR, “Zionist” was a euphemism for Jew.
Arafat and his comrades learned to employ political warfare from the Soviets and the North Vietnamese, who encouraged the PLO to market its terrorist insurgence as “resistance” in the “people’s war” strategy they themselves used in their wars with the West. Arafat’s cries of “Jihad, jihad!” in Morocco, immediately after the Oslo Accords, was doublespeak revealing his lack of sincerity in the peace process. His successors in the Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank and Gaza are like-minded, using one set of terms in Arabic, and another that is palatable to Westerners.
Arafat’s strategy to mainstream Palestinian political anti-Semitism against the Jewish state climaxed in 2001 at the UN-sponsored World Conference Against Racism (WCAR), also known as Durban I. In South Africa, at Durban’s NGO Forum, Israel was targeted as the embodiment of evil, and like the apartheid regime in South Africa, would have to be dismantled. Durban’s final declaration affirmed Israel’s “Acts of genocide and practices of ethnic cleansing as a racist system, which is Israel’s brand of apartheid.” Durban’s NGO declaration is widely considered the anti-Semitic fuel that powered the global BDS movement. This movement was conceptualized in 2002, piloted by the Palestinian Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel in 2004, and formally launched in 2007 as the BDS National Committee.
One way of combatting BDS’s anti-Semitic character is to refer to the IHRA definition, which was adopted by the U.S. State Department and virtually all European governments. The IHRA definition is based on the principles of the “three Ds” test (Demonization, Delegitimization, and Double Standards) formulated by former Israeli Minister and Soviet Prisoner of Zion, Natan Sharansky, together with Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer. The 3 Ds determine what constitutes anti-Semitism against Israel as the collective Jew. Claims of dual loyalty by Jews, using classic anti-Semitic symbols or tropes against Israel, Holocaust denial or revision, denial of Jewish self-determination, branding Israel “a racist endeavor, applying double standards, or holding Jews collectively responsible for what happens in Israel” – all fall under the IHRA definition.
With anti-Semitism rampant in the British Labor Party, and violence against Jews in France and Germany reaching unprecedented post-World War II levels in 2018, some European leaders are beginning to wake up. In May 2019, the German parliament passed a resolution condemning BDS as anti-Semitic, noting that, “the pattern of argument and methods of the movement are anti-Semitic,” and that “their ‘Don’t Buy’ stickers recall the most terrible chapter in German history,” reviving memories of the Nazi motto, “Don’t buy from Jews.” French President Emmanuel Macron has declared BDS to be anti-Semitic, as have Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party and outgoing British Prime Minster Theresa May.
The Challenge to America
In the United States, Elan Carr, President Donald Trump’s Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating Anti-Semitism, has said that there is no distinction between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. Governors of all 50 states, 27 of which have outlawed BDS, have spoken out against the movement. On the other hand, some American politicians such as Congresswoman Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) have perpetuated the charade of anti-Semitism hiding as political critique of Israel. Omar who famously tweeted about American Jews exhibiting loyalty to a foreign power, has also stated, “Drawing attention to the apartheid Israeli regime is far from hating Jews.” These quotes masquerade as criticism of Israel, drawing in political progressives, when in reality, they are demonstrably anti-Semitic polemics, under the IHRA and State Department definitions. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) has similarly delegitimized Israel by engaging in Holocaust revision, saying that Palestinian Arabs assisted Holocaust survivors in Israel, a complete fabrication and even inversion of the historical record.
Anti-Israel activists insist that anti-Semitism can only be perpetrated against Jews as individuals or groups, but not against the State of Israel. However, the language they employ when referring to Israel includes the terms Nazi, apartheid, racist, and genocidal regime, which all fall under the IHRA definition of vilification of Israel that represents the same historical patterns and messages embodied in classic anti-Semitic incitement.
Overcoming the anti-Semitic BDS crusade is a challenging task that requires moral clarity and strong political will. The underlying principle motivating this mission was stated cogently by Natan Sharansky at a March 2019 consultation on the new anti-Semitism held at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. Sharansky invoked the former Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, saying, “History has come full circle, and just as in the ‘good old days’ of Stalin when they spoke of Zionist, they meant Jews, and when they spoke of Jews, they meant Israel.”
Dan Diker is a Fellow and Senior Project Director at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs where he heads the Program to Counter Political Warfare and BDS. His most recent book is Deception: Unmasked, with Adam Shay (2019).