BDS: The world’s best failure, and what to do about it

To: BDS Board of Directors


Subject: My resignation

Dear friends,
Despite all our efforts over the past decade to persuade people, companies, universities, nations, artists and others to boycott Israel, pull investments and impose sanctions, we have failed abysmally. Therefore, please accept my resignation.


From: BDS Board of Directors

Subject: Your resignation

It is true that BDS has failed miserably in its stated goals, but it has, under your direction, become a world force in anti-Israel activity. Some even credit us with starting a new wave of anti-Semitism. We don’t know how you did it, but keep doing it. Your resignation is hereby rejected.

The mythical CEO is wrong. Despite facts to the contrary, BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions against Israel) is a success. The Board of Directors is also wrong. The CEO didn’t do it.

We Jews did. By overreaction that borders on mass hysteria, we have helped create an imaginary monster that threatens our health and safety.

First, here are some facts:

EU trade risingIn the 10 years since BDS began its campaign, Israel’s exports to the US have increased 43 percent. Exports to Europe have risen by 33 percent. That’s despite the world economic downturn of 2009, when trade dropped about 20 percent, through no fault of BDS. Also, exports to Asia have tripled since 2010.

That’s the complete failure of the “B” part, boycott.

About divestment, the “D” part: News sites gave joyous headlines to reports that direct investment in Israel dropped precipitously in 2014, to $6.4 billion from $11.8 billion the year before. But it’s a small sample of acquisitions, and experts say the difference has more to do with interest rates than most other factors. A more accurate measure is foreign investment in Israeli stocks and bonds. That jumped from $1.8 billion in 2013 to $9.8 billion last year—a fivefold increase.

That leaves the “S” for sanctions, and that’s the easy one—despite a decade of BDS badgering, there aren’t any. Europe has begun labeling products from Israeli settlements in the West Bank, but that’s not a ban on buying them. In fact, probably 90 percent of EU consumers couldn’t care less where a product is made, as long as it’s a good product. And the tiny number of people who would care about such a label would be the same fanatics who wouldn’t buy Israeli products in the first place.

Here’s a good example of how we relate to BDS with unwarranted hysteria.

An Israeli newspaper screamed in a headline referring to the EU, “Boycott could cost NIS Only 0.2 percent2b.” First of all, there’s no boycott, and more importantly, the story itself points out that even if it does cost two billion shekels—about $500 million—that amounts to all of 2.5 percent of Israel’s exports, and 0.2 percent of Israel’s gross domestic product. Two tenths of one percent. A burr under a saddle. A mosquito bite on an elephant. So the headline should have read, “Boycott would cost only 0.2 percent of GDP.” Despite the Israeli government’s overheated reaction, the labeling affair will have even less an effect—and whatever effect it has will be amplified by that very reaction.

But what about all the performers who cancel their trips to Israel because of BDS threats? The truth is, there’s not much more room for visiting performers, because so many come here. In recent months we’ve hosted Mariah Carey, Lady Gaga, Robbie Williams, Bobby McFarren, Chris Brown, Gloria Gaynor, Bon Jovi, top classical musicians, and pop stars I’ve never heard of because I’m too old. They come because Israel offers sold-out halls and outdoor parks, top facilities, and a good payday. BDS is irrelevant to them. Also, BDS took a resounding slapdown last summer when it tried and failed to get a Spanish event to ban Jewish singer Matisyahu from the US.

So that leaves the main question: Why are Jews so afraid of BDS, when it’s such a failure?

It’s mostly because of the noise its supporters make on North American university campuses. No doubt their demonstrations are unpleasant, and Jewish students feel genuinely threatened—but figures show that pro-Israel campus groups are growing faster than they are, and anti-Semitic events are actually dropping. Israel’s North American supporters still outnumber Palestinian backers in all age groups by about three to one, according to the latest Gallup poll. So Jews both in Israel and in North America are really in good shape. It should be comforting to know that the loud disrupters represent little of substance and nothing of justice.

Yet we’re making BDS worse by empowering the haters with overheated reactions.

fergusonBDSJews voiced outrage when BDSers marched down the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, after the riots there. But most people who saw the photos linking Israel with American racial violence would either cringe in disgust or laugh in derision. That kind of behavior shows what the BDS fanatics really are—obsessive Israel haters and anti-Semites who are prepared to pervert any cause to their own ends.

So let’s stop helping them. Here’s a suggestion:

There is nothing to gain from debating fanatics who make up lies. Let’s shame them instead.

We should ask them, “Why are you so concerned about a conflict that’s thousands of miles away, when there are so many problems to solve right here?”

Our response is the Jewish concept of “Tikun Olam,” repairing a broken world. Hundreds of Jewish congregations across North America have broad Tikun Olam projects to help the needy in their cities. A quick search turns up Anne Frank House, a shelter for homeless people in Washington, DC. A daily bread program, feeding the hungry in Baltimore. Volunteer tutors in Memphis. Food collection and distribution in New York housing projects. A project to feed the homeless in Toronto. All sponsored by synagogues, and there are many, many more.

So you answer BDS with a question: “This is what we’re doing. What are you doing?”

The key is to put BDS in its place, first of all in our own heads. They are just the latest fringe group of haters, blown up out of all proportion by social media and our over-the-top response. It is inconceivable that we would allow a few violent protesters to break up one of our events and watch an Israeli official or speaker hustled from the room for “safety.” In that context, we’re the ones with the rights.

From now on, then, we must deal with BDS from our actual position of strength and confidence, not weakness and fear.

—   —   —

MARK LAVIE has been covering the Mideast since 1972. His book, “Broken Spring,” sets the record straight about Arab Spring and Mideast reporting.


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