BDS is Only a Small Part of the Demonization of Israel
BDS is Only a Small Part of the Demonization of Israel

University campuses are venues where hatred of Israel is promoted by largely identifiable groups of inciters. The hatred can manifest itself in a variety of ways. Biased teaching about the Middle East, often accompanied by prejudiced required reading material, is but one of them.

Various sources indicate that many of the inciters have either a Muslim or left-wing background. Much less is known about who finances them. Yet it is known that large sums are spent by Arab countries on grants supporting a variety of Middle East Departments and studies.

In the United States, the anti-Israeli movement on campus started around 2002 with attempts to promote divestment of Israeli securities -- and/or of shares of American companies who supply certain equipment to Israel -- by university foundations. These efforts, supported by both teachers and students, were unsuccessful on all targeted campuses.

Over the past few years, the main focus of the inciters against Israel on campus has been on attempts to boycott Israeli universities. A few boycotts were even announced by various academic associations. Most members of these academic bodies did not take the trouble to vote, which gave the inciters the opportunity to obtain a majority among those who did. One example is the American Studies Association. Its former president, Curtis Marez, did not dispute that many other countries, including other Middle-Eastern ones, have a human rights record that is comparable or worse than that of Israel. In explaining the ASA’s decision to boycott Israeli universities, Marez was reported to have said, “One has to start somewhere.”[1] Such comments indicate the discriminatory character of the Association’s decision.

The concept of a systematic boycott of Israel was initially promoted at a major NGO conference in Durban, South Africa, in 2001, held in parallel to the UN World Conference Against Racism. The idea gradually developed into an international campaign which is known as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS.

The initial NGO promoters of the boycott wished to include a variety of Israeli activities, such as trade, cultural events, sports, academia and so on. They were aware that the chances of actually boycotting Israel were minimal. Yet at the same time they understood that even if all boycotts were to fail, the public relations effect would become far more important.

If the slander about Israel were true, the last Palestinian would have been killed long ago. Various organizations, both on and off campus, have been fighting the BDS.  Prominent American businessmen Sheldon Adelson and Haim Saban recently organized a conference for those involved in the fight against BDS to discuss how to effectively counterattack the movement. 

The BDS movement, however, is only a small part of a much wider phenomenon: the systematic delegitimization of Israel, which is often accompanied by anti-Semitism. Arab and other Muslim states, such as Iran, play a major role. Their anti-Israeli propaganda uses genocidal motifs which are identical to those of Nazism. 

In Europe, these hate promoters are helped by a variety of agitators, who, mainly, but far from exclusively, come from parts of the immigrant Muslim communities and from the left. One finds these inciters in the political world, trade unions, NGOs, liberal churches, academia, and so on. 

The hate mongering has led to a fairly widespread demonization of Israel. Six separate studies, most of them conducted in Germany and covering eight additional European countries, show that more than 40% of citizens of the European Union agree with the statement that Israel is conducting a war of extermination against the Palestinians, or, alternatively, agree with the claim that Israel behaves like the Nazis.

Such findings mean that more than 150 million of the approximately 400 million EU citizens who are 16 years of age or older have demonic views of Israel. The leadership of the European Union and of its member countries have methodically ignored this issue. Yet the first data on such demonization of Israel were already available more than ten years ago. If the slander about Israel were true, the last Palestinian would have been killed long ago. In reality, and in stark contrast, the Palestinian population has greatly increased. 

The demonization of Israel within Europe is not only due to the hate propaganda. The EU and many of its members have frequently condemned Israel in a prejudiced manner. Those who are quick to condemn Israel for any particular action have looked away from similar actions taken by other countries. According to the US State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism, double standards – such as those held by the top of Europe’s leadership -- are anti-Semitic.

My recent book, The War of A Million Cuts: The Struggle against the Delegitimization of Israel and the Jews, and the Growth of New Anti-Semitism describes, in detail, the various motifs used by the hate inciters, their origins, how they bring their messages into society, and how the phenomenon can be fought.

Although the delegitimization of Israel is much less advanced in the US, one must conclude that in Europe an atmosphere is slowly developing which reminds one of the 1930s. It derives from a simple truth - that anti-Semitism is not only integral to Europe’s history, but is part of its culture.


[1] Manfred Gerstenfeld, “THE WAR OF A MILLION CUTS:  The Struggle against the Delegitimization of Israel and the Jews, and the Growth of New Anti-Semitism,” RVP Press and The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, p. 141.