The US must do more against European BDS

The US has taken some measures against European BDS - but it needs to act more drastically, says Benjamin Weinthal of a Washington security think tank.

Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld

OpEds ארגון BDS בפייסבוק
ארגון BDS בפייסבוק
Manfred Gerstenfeld

“BDS was launched as a campaign against Israel in 2005. The basic idea was promoted at the 2001 NGO antiracism conference in Durban, South Africa. Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions, commonly known as BDS, has gained traction in the past decade. The same phenomenon, without the name, existed already as a potent organizational force in Europe since 1967.

“There is no systematic study delineating all BDS organizations in Europe. Based on my research, there are scores of formidable BDS organizations mainly in Western European countries. A petition on the website of BDS France attracted the support of nearly 70 French organizations.” 

Benjamin Weinthal is a fellow for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies— a non-partisan national security think tank in Washington— and a correspondent for The Jerusalem Post.

He adds: “The BDS organizations are like a rapid fire virus that spreads into all walks of European life. BDS entities exist in trade unions, allegedly human rights groups, and church institutions, among others.”

“European governments fund BDS organizations that are active in Europe and the Middle East. The Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor has published much information on European governmental support for BDS activity.

“To fathom the hardcore, deeply embedded, pro-BDS attitudes in European society, one can look at the EU decision in 2015 that sanctioned Jewish products from the disputed territories with a labeling system. Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians was the only territorial row subjected to EU punitive measures. Predictably, the EU ignored Turkey’s occupation of North Cyprus and Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara.

“There have been countervailing forces against funding BDS in Switzerland’s legislature. However, the EU countries have largely remained inactive regarding attempts to rope in taxpayer funds for BDS activities. 

“There are also indications of links between terror financing and BDS in Europe. The case of the convicted PFLP terrorist, Leila Khaled, is a text book example of the interplay between BDS and terror finance. Although the PFLP is an EU-US classified terrorist organization, Spain, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and other European countries allow Khaled to engage in speaking tours that promote BDS and violence against Israel.

“After I reported on bank accounts with BDS groups that fund and aid Khaled, banks in Austria such as BAWAG shut accounts with the BDS group, Austria-Arab Cultural Center.

“The head of BDS South Africa, Farid Esack, an Islamist theologian has also come under fire as a fundraiser for Leila Khaled. Esack frequently tours Europe. A private hotel cancelled a contract with BDS Austria because of his unsavory past. There are photographs of Leila Khaled on the website of South Africa BDS where money is raised for the PFLP. Unfortunately, research into the largely ignored issue of terror finance within BDS campaigns is at a nascent stage. 

“The United States can help strengthen Israel, its most important Middle East ally, by pushing the EU to crack down on BDS. Nearly half the states in the US have anti-BDS laws. Congress is set to pass a tough anti-BDS federal law. 

“The United States has already taken some measures against BDS in Europe. For instance, some banks have been asked to close accounts. Senators and congressional representatives have both called for investigations into German banks aiding BDS groups, as well as closures of BDS accounts. Former Senator Mark Kirk’s call for an investigation into BDS accounts held by German banks caused Commerzbank—Germany’s second largest bank—to shut a BDS account in 2016.

“I hope that the US government will make it clear to foreign banks that provide accounts to BDS not only that it does not support BDS but that banks and financial organizations could face stiff penalties. This should also include US banks, PayPal and other online service providers. Such punitive
Disallowing access to US markets to such companies would be the best of all remedies against European enterprises that are wedded to discriminating against Jewish Israelis.
measures would have to be codified into law.

“Passage of the US anti-BDS law on a federal level would also be an important first step in sending a message to European corporations involved in BDS. Disallowing access to US markets to such companies would be the best of all remedies against European enterprises that are wedded to discriminating against Jewish Israelis.

“Civil society groups should mount campaigns to blunt and reverse BDS activities of trade unions, the academic world and churches. The American labor movement is largely pro-Israel. US unions should reach out to their European counterparts to raise awareness about BDS as a fascist anti-worker movement. 

“The Jewish Labor Committee in New York City has done some outstanding work in the trade union arena to stop BDS. In 2007 it secured the support of Germany’s main labor organization, the DGB, to oppose BDS. 

“Effectively battling BDS will require also the strength of grassroots organizing. More resources and actions need to be developed in civil society arenas.”