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Plots and characters in the Five Books of Moses are a foretaste of what the descendants of Israel, who was Jacob, will encounter. So we’re told. Is the Bible so prescient? Go to the Book of Numbers, to the portion, Balak relating a preposterous clash between a king, a curser for hire and a talking donkey. The clash was borrowed by the boycott movement for its business model: since war after war failed to bring down Israel, try cursing it.

The intrigue begins with the King of Moab at wits' end how to stop Hebrew escapees in their tracks. Unlikely material for a military juggernaut, they had notched improbable victories over real armies. Military might, so King Balak understood, had nothing to do with it. The real weapon was communication. During battle Moses their leader communicated with the Israelite God.

And it sets the king thinking. If words their God likes to hear empower such rabble, what about words that anger him. Curses in fact. So he contracts with a man of words, a curser like no other, related to the Jacob that was. Balaam was born for the job. A grandson of the swindler Laban, Jacob’s father-in-law, he learnt the art of the grudge on the knee of a granddad out-swindled by Jacob.

Up to now Balaam has made a good living from cursing work. The Near East was rife with professional spoilers who relied on the spell for their weapon of choice. The results understandably were erratic. Balaam stood out – you could rely on his work because he relied on God to bring misfortune or death on the target. He had the special gift of fathoming the moods of the Almighty. He knew the efficacious time to bring a man’s misdeeds before God; it was when the Heavenly Court convened. Around midday all mankind’s misdemeanors come before it. No man is without sin but, bring the attention of God to one, and He’ll pass judgment that day. So says the Midrashic literature.

So Balak pays a king’s ransom for Balaam to bad mouth not a person but a whole troublesome people, God’s favorite. The end game is not to wipe the Israelites off the face of the desert but to keep them from going onto the Promised Land.

“Let us drive them out,” the king says to the elders of Moab and Midian who fear the power the Israelites will have in their sovereign state. Let us remember that, even now, some do fear Israel the country. Homeless and stateless, God’s chosen are not a problem. For all the elders care the Israelites can keep their difficult laws anywhere they like – anywhere but the land of Israel. It would make them a spiritual force to reckon with. Pagans at peace with their deities and quaint perversions fear that a sovereign Israel would fundamentally impact the world. Moses and his multitude have to be cursed into the spiritual wilderness.

Listen, say plot-makers in the mists of a far-ahead time. Israelis are living and thriving in the Promised Land, and delegates meet on the side of a game-changing conference at the Indian Ocean city of Durban. The year is 2001 and plots are afoot. The modus operandi is borrowed from the Book of Numbers. Not that the boycotters have Balaam in mind – probably they don’t know the Bible.

Did Hitler know that Pharaoh solved his Jewish problem with slave labor? Are the anti-Semitic rulers of dry South Africa aware that the Philistines were also prepared to do without water rather than depend on Isaac’s wells?

The boycotters take a leaf out of Balaam’s book. The way he acted is effectively their manual. They call the strategy ‘Lawfare’. Israel accused of breaking international law will make it an outcast among the nations, a lone prey for waiting wolves. From Durban the non-military assault, a war of cursing, was launched.

Weaponise bad PR. Condemn and demonize Israel in forums and the media, on campuses and cable networks. Haul it before kangaroo courts. Bring human rights protectors with a fake halo brand on board. Turn the Jews into a pariah people. Infuse and unite the world with a loathing for Zionists. It was going to be a war that Israel can’t win.

The vision intoxicated, and many entities and people bristling with pent-up scores to settle are cock-a-hoop. What could be simpler than picking the worst crimes in the book of statutes and piling them onto Israel:

  • Apartheid – who wouldn’t hate a country that practiced it.
  • Ethnic cleansing, war crimes and occupation followed close behind.
  • Add some imaginative marketing, draw on deep pockets to grease the wheels, and in no time you had a full-blown campaign.

Before Israel knew it the court of public opinion was onto its case. From there it was all downhill. Set an impossible bar to clear Israel was coerced into fighting terrorism with kid gloves. A plus for the boycotters is that it cost Jewish lives. ‘Be not over righteous, nor too clever,’ Ecclesiastes 7:16 warned the nation. Shimon b. Lakish added: ‘Whoever shows mercy to the cruel will ultimately be cruel to those deserving of mercy.’ The victims of terrorism were victims of morality, of the army of Israel’s kindness to the cruel.

Zionist brutality. Zionist oppression. Zionist occupation. Zionist Nazi.

The curses made Israelis, young and old, duck and dive like criminals. The cursers have been trained to avoid the ‘Jew’ word; it would be unpardonably self-destructive. Curse the Zionists all you like but don’t call them Jews. Protect our prime asset, the human rights halo. Keep it shining. Brandish the halo while you curse Israel into a corner.

Getting nowhere as the devil’s advocate, BDS hopes were dashed by Israel’s burgeoning growth and success...and Balaam uttered the most sublime blessings in human annals.
A whole club of cursers is led by the Big Five: Amnesty, Oxfam, Human Rights Watch, Christian Aid, the UN Human Rights Council. Nominally those entities are humanitarian, not-for-profit and apolitical. In reality they are none of those things.

There are hundreds of second-tier bad-mouthers of Israel, a bewildering number of them in tiny Israel. B’Tselem, ‘Committee Against House Demolitions’, Jewish Voices for Peace,’ Breaking the Silence – all compete fiercely to bad mouth their own country.

With cursing comes money; ultimately the human rights business, whether BDS or BLM, is about money. A load of cash awaits anyone with a bad word to say about Israel. George Soros coughs up millions; the European Union is the cursers’ wallet. Trade is brisk, the money big and the players earnest. Activists live on Israeli 'crimes', the geese that lay golden eggs.

War by unarmed means was born in Durban. On its heels tumbled the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement. Awake to the smallest fault, inventive, bearers of tall tales, racists who presume to know better than Palestinian Arabs what’s good for them an greedy. Boycotters are models of Balaam.

Will his newfangled fan club meet the fate of the wily wizard? In keeping with the Bible the boycotters’ vision fell painfully short. Getting nowhere as the devil’s advocate, BDS hopes were dashed by Israel’s burgeoning growth and success. The idea of stalling the mini juggernaut was no more than a tantalizer, a pipe dream.

When the Almighty told Balaam to hold his tongue he carried on. Dreaming of celebrity-hood he ransacked his whole bag of tricks. But the Almighty had other plans for Balaam. At the king’s bidding he went to the heights of Baal with him. He went to curse. Despite God, he meant to. At the finishing post the wrong words tripped off his tongue, that mouth organ of militant curses, gadget of fortune and misfortune, master of a donkey wife. Born to curse, Balaam uttered the most sublime blessings in human annals.

He would have departed this life with the hurt rioting and rotting in his head. How beautiful are your tents, oh Jacob, your dwelling places, oh Israel. For the tribute recited in prayer houses to this day thank a curser for hire. Odder yet thank a lifetime hater of Israel.

Steve Apfel is an economist and costing specialist, but most of all a prolific author of fiction and non-fiction. His blog, ‘Balaam’s curse’ is followed in Europe, America, Canada, Asia, S. Africa, Israel, Australia and New Zealand.