BDS on the March? Don't Panic - Really

The series of hollow "victories" achieved by the boycotters over the past several days proves one thing only: BDS is a paper tiger, and only as dangerous as we allow it to be.

Ari Soffer,

OpEds Ari Soffer
Ari Soffer
Ari Soffer

The global campaign to "delegitimise" the State of Israel is in the headlines again, as it increasingly seems to be.

Since the FIFA controversy there has hardly been a day without some kind of boycott threat and subsequent fallout. 

After weeks of steadily-escalating (and carefully choreographed) hype, the Palestinian Authority's bid to have Israel expelled from FIFA hit its anti-climactic crescendo on Friday, with PFA head Jibril Rajoub withdrawing his motion to expel Israel, after it became clear it would not obtain the required majority vote in favor. Instead, Rajoub made do with holding court for a while at the FIFA congress and using it as a prime stage for some anti-Israel theater, and submitting several alternative motions aimed at marginally ratcheting up pressure on the Israeli government.

Just as that saga appeared to die down, on Tuesday the UK's National Union of Students voted to officially join the boycott of Israel (again). The symbolic vote by a body with a long history of hostility towards Israel was hardly a surprise, but drew angry condemnations nonetheless. 

And then on Thursday, the harsh reality for the BDSers, as the body which officially represents Britain's universities, Universities UK, responded by firmly stating that no such boycott would be carried out in practice, rendering the NUS vote purely symbolic.

Finally, just one day after the NUS vote, came the statement in Egypt by the CEO of Orange that he wants to boycott Israel... but can't afford to do so. Those comments were reportedly motivated by pressure from pro-BDS groups in Egypt and elsewhere, who have launched a boycott of Orange over its business in Israel which has prompted some customers in that Arab country to leave.

In a sense, these latest incidents aptly sum up the BDS campaign as a whole: lots of grandstanding and symbolic commitments to boycott, but very little actual harm to the State of Israel for all their dogged efforts.

There is no denying that even such hollow achievements reflect the steady strengthening of the chorus of anti-Israel sentiment in parts of the western world, and that the failure by Israel and its supporters to formulate and communicate an effective counter-narrative is a serious one. There is also no denying that the BDS campaign is a major catalyst in the worrying resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe and, to a lesser extent, north America. For those two reasons alone Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked is right that Israel - as well as Zionists worldwide - must fight back more aggressively and effectively.

But for all those hyperventilating: please, a sense of perspective. BDS is not an existential threat - unless we allow it to be. 

It is an attempt to erode our collective morale; and it is - like the Nazi boycotts and propaganda of the early twentieth century - geared towards "softening us up" as targets for annihilation, by dehumanizing and maligning the Jewish state enough for its elimination to be made palatable.

However, the difference between the 1930s and now is crucial: the State of Israel. While the Jewish people were then a totally vulnerable, stateless minority, without any means of defending ourselves, today we are not. No matter how much some (or even many) people may want to annihilate us today, the State of Israel means we have the ability to deter our enemies and defend ourselves with devastating effectiveness in the face of attack - as we have done each and every time we were forced to do so, even when Israel was far weaker than it is now.

That is precisely the reason why Israel - the most crucial element of Jewish self-defense - is the new favorite target of anti-Semites. And, ironically, it is also the reason they will fail.

The only existential danger the BDS movement and its fellow travelers pose to Israel is as a stick in the hands of the "enemy within" - namely, those elements on the Left who use it as leverage to pressure Israel into retreat.

It is up to the rest of us - and specifically the Israeli government - to retain our perspective and not be cowed into concessions by a paper tiger, no matter how loudly it roars. Apart from the fact that even a retreat from all of Judea and Samaria will not satisfy the boycotters but merely embolden them, as they regularly make clear themselves, simply look upon the deadly results of withdrawals from Gaza, from south Lebanon, and from parts of Judea and Samaria (under the Oslo Accords), and the prospects of more humus boycotts - and, yes, even threats of ejection from that international beacon of morality that is FIFA, or the eventual divestment of Orange from its Israeli partner (which it will likely be forced to pay dearly for) - will rightly seem laughable in comparison.

Again, that is not to say we should not be pushing back against the hate, lies and incitement. We most certainly should. But to do so requires less hysteria, less "reaction," and more focus on creating our own counter-narrative.

The precise shape that fightback should take is a topic for another time - although it clearly must involve less bikinis, hi-tech and talk of the Holocaust, and more focus on forging a robust counter-narrative based on our very real historic and legal rights to the land of Israel, including Judea and Samaria. (Clearly, Bibi smashing the foreign ministry into several disparate, often competing, shards is hardly helpful.)

Nevertheless, this is a battle we can and should win.

Just remember: Israel will survive regardless, just as long as we stand firm and don't blink first.




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