To defeat BDS, stop 'fighting BDS'

The fight against the haters begins and ends with Zionism. Instead of reacting to their brand, let's re-create our own - it's been sitting right in front of us all along.

Ari Soffer

OpEds Ari Soffer
Ari Soffer
Ari Soffer

Another day, another "anti-BDS conference." Surely they must be defeated by now?

But alas, no. Even a truly impressive conference featuring a panoply of American and Israeli Jewish leaders could not generate enough energy to magically vaporize the organized grassroots efforts to delegitimize and demonize Israel, while bullying and intimidating Diaspora Jews into silence or complicity.


The question really shouldn't need to be asked. After all, successful politicians like Danny Danon and businessmen like Ron Lauder know full well that, had they spent their entire lives in meetings and conferences (even at the UN), they most certainly would not have gained anything like the status they enjoy today.

Yet this is a common malaise among the Jewish community. An odd, self-deluding belief that meetings, conferences and "declarations" - and maybe some social media "activism" - are a substitute for real action. Perhaps it is because the real-life arena is more intimidating now than ever, having been abandoned to the militant-left, Islamists and even elements of the far-right for so long.

But the problem stretches beyond ineffective execution - it is more fundamental than that.

Among the more predictable speeches and one-liners, there were several important truths expressed. In particular, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, in a pre-recorded message, correctly noted that the BDS movement will never succeed in its declared goal of enacting a global boycott of Israel. Even within Europe, the hub of much anti-Israel agitation, Israeli trade figures are rising. The odd B-list celebrity's cancelled tour, or a boycott of an Israeli cosmetics store in London, isn't going to bring the Jewish state to its knees. (Shortly after publication of this column, a Bloomberg report illustrated just how massively the BDS campaign is failing.)

Even if the forces of anti-Zionism were somehow to succeed in mobilizing a global boycott and sanctions campaign, anyone remotely familiar with Israeli society knows that, far from cowing us into submission, such an effort would merely rally Israelis from the Left and Right together in resistance. A nation which has withstood a series of wars of annihilation launched by its neighbors, followed by wave after wave of deadly Islamic terrorism, isn't going to surrender in the face of boycotts. 

And they know that. At most, those behind the BDS campaign see a genuine global boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel as a far-off, very long-term goal, certainly not realizable at this time, if ever. Their main and immediate objective is in fact far simpler, and aimed closer to home: Create a brand, rally the troops behind it, and set about dismantling and shouting down all organized opposition in the grassroots arena - be it on campus, on the streets, or in the halls of power.

In that, they have been far more successful. Indeed, their brand is so powerful that even pro-Israel groups use it, coming up with new "anti-BDS" campaigns and initiatives almost every other day it seems. We are being played like the proverbial fiddle. By perpetually "fighting BDS" we further energize its brand, puff up the egos of a mostly pathetic array of extremist activists by screaming about how dangerous they are, while simultaneously succeeding only in accentuating the sense of fear and intimidation felt by "our own".

As I have written before, the pro-Israel camp is not lacking any of the funds of our opponents. Nor is it true to say that we are so hopelessly outnumbered. As recently illustrated in an insightful investigation by Haaretz, the anti-Israel movement on campus is in fact propelled by a small, vocal, active and highly-organized minority of extremists. Most students don't care either way - and this is something which anyone who actually attended an American or European university in the last 10 years will attest to.

Instead of wasting money, time and energy on yet more conferences which grant free PR to precisely the phenomenon they profess to combat, I would humbly suggest trying something radically different.

Create our own brand.

Or rather, recreate it. Because really, the formula for winning over the hearts and minds of the public - on university campuses, in the media, on the streets and in the halls of power - has been lying in our laps this whole time: Zionism.

No, not "pro-Israelism". Not beaches, diversity, high-tech and liberal democracy. All of these are lovely things, and promoting "brand Israel" as an aside won't do any harm at all. But none of that can ever replace our most powerful conceptual weapon: the Jewish story.

Imagine: An indigenous nation - one of the oldest still around today - ethnically-cleansed, scattered, oppressed, murdered, forcibly assimilated, brought to the very edge of annihilation, returning to its ancestral homeland after 2,000 years, against all the odds. And then, when confronted by the forces of imperialism, the tiny, beleaguered people which defies history fought and defeated scores of far mightier armies. They outlasted the Ottomans, defeated the mighty British Empire, and smashed the (first British- then later Soviet-led) Arab armies whose openly stated goal was to exterminate us and re-install the "pax-Arabia" (mostly in the service of their masters in London or Moscow). 

Today, free and independent in our land, regressive forces from both the East and the West continue to buffet our liberated homeland, all as we continue to slowly and painstakingly rebuild Hebrew civilization in Eretz Yisrael, and shake off the legacies of two millennia of slavery, exile and oppression.

Our leaders - with all their many flaws - continue to defy the modern-day Sykes-Picots, who arrogantly arrange "international peace conferences" to which the native peoples whose conflict they are addressing are not invited.

Our people - despite being mercilessly assaulted and brutalized - continue to defy terror by living, thriving, and fighting back (sometimes armed with little more than selfie sticks, umbrellas or their bare hands). In what other country do civilians run towards the scene of terrorist attacks rather than away from it, both to tend to the wounded and neutralize the attackers?

What more compelling narrative do we need to formulate our own, independent brand - one which will certainly eclipse that hateful gaggle of Marxists, Islamic fascist and obsessive, attention-seeking bullies?

That's not to say pro-Israel organizations shouldn't mobilize to counter BDS as well, encouraging people to buy Israeli goods, being sure to counter the lies spread by anti-Israel groups, and so on. In fact, it is extremely important to go toe-to-toe with the anti-Zionists at every possible occasion, to never abandon the playing field to them or give them room to influence the public unchallenged. But "activism" is merely the tool, and must be carried by a powerful idea. Efforts to respond to anti-Israel lies, while necessary, are only a side-dish; the meat of pro-Israel advocacy must be the narrative of pure Zionism.

And we must certainly stop defining all of our actions by the other side's terms. Every "anti-BDS" conference, every social media meme screaming "Is THIS an apartheid state?!", is simply pouring fuel on the fire and further perpetuating those very myths.

While many pro-Israel activists have by now grasped the basic concept of being "proactive" instead of "reactive" in the realm of ideas - including some of those who spoke at the UN conference - most fall foul of this point. They shy away from any talking points which cannot be fitted within the liberal consensus, and are positively allergic to any mention of "the West Bank"/Judea and Samaria - which, inconveniently, just so happens to be the cradle of Jewish heritage and civilization in Israel - or, God forbid, anything which sounds too much like "nationalism" (er... Zionism?).

This tendency is in large part a reaction to the hyper-aggressive anti-Israel campaign itself. But the tactic of avoiding the most vociferously-fought arguments as a means of outmaneuvering their purveyors is a humiliating exercise in futility and contributes to the cycle of defeat.

Instead, we must embrace the narrative of Zionism, wholly and without any ifs or buts, and confront "BDS" and every other hateful acronym armed with our own, far more potent, independent narrative.